Writing for Children’s Magazines

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Children’s magazines? You may not have considered writing for the children’s magazine market, but perhaps you should. Children’s magazines are growing in number, especially with the addition of the e-zine, which seems to be particularly attractive to our “tech-savvy” young ones. A comprehensive list of over 600 children’s magazines is available from The Writer’s Institute Publications, Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers 2010.

As with adult magazines, children’s magazines carry almost all types of articles from fiction to nonfiction, how-to, word puzzles and other learning activities. Articles are sought on a variety of topics for ages 3-12. Article lengths for the 3-6 year olds are usually no more than 400 words, 7-9 from 400-800 words, and 10-12 from 500-1200 words. These word counts are strictly enforced, but vary considerably from one magazine to another.

Currently, many magazine editors are saying they’d like to see more nonfiction for ages 3 to 6 and 7 to 9, as well as craft projects and word puzzles. How-to and How-Things-Work articles are especially sought for the 7-12 group. Teaching children the way to do or understand something you know well is an excellent way to break into a magazine market. Not only are how-to and how-things-work articles fairly easy to put together, your personal enthusiasm will fuel reader interest.

It is important to remember, though, readers know your topic less well than you do. Especially if you’ve been writing for adults and this is your first foray into writing for children, it is easy to assume your readers know the basics. Young readers may not. They may not know relevant terms. They may find a project doesn’t work because you left out a fundamental step, one that is simple and obvious to you but not to them. Never rely on editors to uncover errors or gaps in an article or project. If they can’t visualize how a project will work or your point in an article, your chances for a sale will drop to nil.

Although many writers want to create enduring children's fiction, they're much more likely to sell a non-fiction piece. Juvenile magazines do publish a fair amount of short stories, but they're generally outnumbered by articles and activities. And, an increasing number of magazines focus on non-fiction topics, such as science, nature and technology. Interestingly, most editors want non-fiction that reads like well-written short stories. The best juvenile magazines run articles that paint vivid pictures of historical events, or that use colorful, down-to-earth imagery to explain a scientific phenomenon. Children want to “hear” the crash as Thomas Edison's prototype light bulb shatters on the floor.

To begin, you need to put aside any preconceived notions about childhood. The world has changed since your own formative years. Children are a lot more sophisticated these days, and they want articles and stories that are relevant to their world. Pastimes and hobbies may be a lot different than you remember, too. Small-town kids may still visit the old swimming hole in the summer, but suburban and urban youngsters are more likely to play youth soccer or take to the streets with their skateboards. You need to familiarize yourself with what kids are doing if you want to write for them. Borrow a friend's children, teach a Sunday-school class, coach a sports team or eavesdrop in the children’s section of the local bookstore – anything to get an idea of what kids are like.

Keep in mind before you sit down to write, how computer-literate and visually perceptive today's children are. Having been raised on video games and MTV, modern kids aren't going to sit still for a story that doesn't grab them right away. (Truth be told, they never did!)
Editors are looking for the same things you look for in adult writing: a solid plot, interesting characters, humor, sharp detail, good research. One of the most common mistakes, editors say, is writing "down" to children – being too sweet, too jaunty or too didactic. Children don't want to be patronized or instructed. They're very sensitive, as most people are, to being talked down to. Also, talking animals or other anthropomorphic devices are a “no-no.”

Nature is a perennial favorite, but most magazines already have backlogs of articles about “Really Interesting Animals” or “Fascinating Natural Phenomena.” It's not that these ideas can't make good reading, it's that they need a new approach. The worst crime of all is to try to wedge in some kind of moral. If there's a lesson to be learned, fine, but you have to show it, not tell it.

Here, then, are eight easy steps to writing articles for children:
1. Choose a topic. It should be something that many children will be interested in. But it should also be something you know well or are interested in learning more about.
2. Narrow your topic. Concentrate on just one aspect of it.
3. Research your article. Use both online resources and books and articles.
4. Organize your research. Jot down the main points you want to make, then go through your notes and plug them into your outline.
5. Write the article. Decide what age you are writing for, and then try to keep your writing on that level. The Children’s Writer’s Word Book is a valuable resource for this step. MSWord is also equipped with the Fleisch-Kincaid reading scale. You can access this through the Spell-check feature.
6. Revise and edit your article. To make sure it flows smoothly, read it aloud to yourself or to willing family members.
7. Research the markets. Get a copy of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market or research children's magazine publishers online.
8. Submit your article. Then, get busy writing another one.

That’s all there is to it. It’s really not different from writing articles for adult magazines. The basic procedure is the same. The only things that need additional consideration are reading level and magazine titles specific to children.

Published in Outdoors Unlimited, June 2010
www.owaa.org
www.marynickum.com

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