Many new writers find that writing for children’s magazines is a good way to break into the children’s market. However, some writers — especially writers who don’t care much for reading magazines — don’t care for the magazine market and prefer writing books. While writing for magazines is never a prerequisite for writing and publishing books, it is certainly one way to break into the market, and can provide experience in working for editors.
Did you like reading short stories when you were a child? Did you love getting magazines in the mail? Can you still remember some of the stories you read? If so, you might find your niche in writing short stories for magazines.
Magazine fiction, like all children’s fiction, needs to be lively, original, and well-grounded in the child’s world. In general younger the child you are writing for, the more real the story needs to seem. Very young children like stories about the things they’re most familiar with: mealtime, bath, bedtime, going to the library, playing with friends. A story about losing a favorite toy at the grocery store and finding it again under the vegetable bins can be an exciting adventure for a toddler. A story showing another child or animals in their bedtime routine can be a soothing read for a child who is getting ready for bed. These stories may or may not be written in rhyme, but they should have a cadence and rhythm to them. If you want to write for toddlers, read magazines geared for toddlers, such as Babybug. Think about your own experiences at that age. How did you view the world? What was important to you? What were your fears? Jot down these ideas and compare your ideas to what you see in the magazines. How could you turn these ideas into short stories?
Five-to-seven-year-olds are learning to read, and need stories that they can read with out help. They may still read concept stories that they enjoyed as toddlers, they’re branching out into folktales, fantasies, and other types of literature. Stories for this age group need real structure, a plot with a beginning, a middle, and and end — and always a happy end. Children expect their world to be orderly, and prefer stories where everything comes out all right in the end.
While the market for older readers is small, there are still a few places to publish stories for older readers. Boy’s Life, the official magazines of the Boy Scouts of America, is one long-standing and well-respected fiction market. If you study a few issues, you’ll soon have a sense of what boys this age like: exciting stories about other boys having adventures. Girls also like well-constructed stories with strong plots and plenty of action, but in addition girls like stories about people relating to other people.
Modern distractions such as television, video games, and hand-held games have reduced the time that children give to reading, and consequently writers have seen a reduction in the magazine market, as well as a move toward more graphics, less text, fewer pages, and fewer stories. The magazine fiction market has gotten tougher to break into, but a good story can often still find a place.
The meat-and-potatoes for many magazines is their non-fiction, from short columns to long articles. Most children’s magazines today emphasize non-fiction, but the kind of articles they publish varies from magazine to magazine. Even two magazines that publish the same topic may approach it from very different angles. You may see in the market guides that several dozen magazines all ask for crafts, but a craft for a teen magazine will be different from a craft for a toddler’s magazine. Even different teen magazines will want different kinds of crafts. One may prefer complex crafts, while another wants crafts that can be done with materials around the house. Another may want crafts suitable for church clubs.
The best way to become familiar with the non-fiction magazine market is to read the magazines you’re interested in writing for. Visit the children’s section of the library frequently, or buy sample copies from the magazine publishers. If there are a few magazines you’re very interested in, consider subscribing to them. It is imperative that prospective writers research the magazines they’re interested in. Otherwise, submissions are a waste of time.
Before submitting your work, find out if the magazine accepts all types of articles, or if it is are theme-based. Cobblestone publishing, for example, publishes theme-based magazines, and they publish their theme lists and deadlines on the websites for the magazines. Writing for a theme-based magazine helps solve the question of “what shall I write,” and gives the novice writer some practice in research, planning, and meeting deadlines. However, Cobblestones magazines are among the highest-quality magazines and the editors expect scholarly research behind the articles.
For magazines that are not theme-based, the writer may want to study at least a year’s worth of back issues, noting what ideas have already been published. This way, the writer doesn’t waste time and postage sending an article about Abraham Lincoln to a magazine that only recently published an article about Lincoln.
Crafts and other short material
Magazines need lots of short pieces, including crafts, puzzles, rebuses, short poems, party ideas, plays, material for columns and departments, and similar pieces. As always, the writer must study the magazine and the descriptions in a good writer’s market to understand what the magazines want in the way of short material. While these pieces seldom pay much, they are a neglected part of the children’s writing market, and often a good place for the beginner to make that important first sale.
Magazines and rights
There was a time when magazines routinely bought First North American Serial Rights for all articles and stories. This meant that they bought the rights to be the first to publish the work, and then the author was free to re-sell the work. Because stories and articles often ended up in anthologies, this could mean considerable extra income for authors who produced quality work.
Today, however, more and more magazines are buying all rights, and the First Serial Rights are becoming the exception. When a magazine buys all rights, it means that they own the work outright and can do what they want with it: publish it, anthologize it, even rewrite it with the author’s name still on it. Publishers justify the move by citing the expense of tracking down authors who have moved. Authors, however, are less than happy about giving up the rights to their work, especially fiction pieces that could end up in anthologies, or even be made into picture books.
Selling first rights or all rights is a personal decisions. Some new authors are willing to give up all rights just to make a first sale. Some established authors have given up on the magazine market altogether. Some authors don’t mind selling all rights if selling an article that was tailor-made for the magazine, but will try to negotiate to get back their rights after a set period of time.