Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Writing for Magazines: Start Small and Focused

I’ve been talking about writing magazine nonfiction for young people (click the “writing for magazines” link in the labels list). This week covers advice on how to get started. The following is excerpted and adapted from You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

While new writers often aim for the best-known magazines, it’s easier to break in at smaller specialty or regional publications. Highlights for Children may be found in homes, libraries, and doctor’s offices across the country, but because it’s so well known, the editors receive about 800 manuscript submissions every month. That’s a lot of competition.

Meanwhile, the lesser-known classroom magazine Current Health Kids only receives one or two submissions each month. Magazines with a narrow and unusual focus may have a hard time getting enough material, so when they find a good writer, they want to build that relationship. You’ll find thousands of specialty magazines listed in market guides.

Even if your focus is writing for children, you might also consider writing for publications aimed at teachers, parents, librarians, or local families. Maybe a city or regional magazine would be interested in an article about a children’s museum or a great family vacation spot.

Or consider profiling local kids who are doing something interesting. Local or regional magazines can be open to newcomers. “I believe in giving new writers an opportunity to write for our publication,” says Susan M. Espinoza, Editor of enchantment. The magazine, published by the New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Association, is targeted at adults but sometimes profiles local young people. “It spices up the writing, and a new writer may have a new story idea we have never come across before.”

Just be prepared to work hard to get that first job. “Research the publication ahead of time,” Espinoza suggests. “What is the magazine’s target audience and focus? As a new writer, establish a relationship with the editor. Meet the editor’s deadlines. Don’t hesitate to ask the editor for feedback.”

What Are Your Strengths?

Consider your own interests, talents, and experiences, as Bobi Martin did. “When my daughter became interested in Junior Showmanship, a special class for young people at dog shows, I saw an opportunity to write an article for Dog World Magazine. I did my research and sold the article, happy just to have made a sale.”

Then the editor asked her to cover two kennel club shows a year for the magazine, which led to doing related feature articles and eventually to six years of writing a regular column for Junior Handlers. “Write about topics that matter to you,” Martin advises. “You can always research for more information, but if you don’t care about your topic, that will show in your writing.”

Was she incredibly lucky? Yes and no. A good way to build a magazine career is to cultivate long-term relationships with a few magazines. After you make that first sale, the door is open a little wider. At the Cobblestone magazines, Lusted says, “If someone has written for us just once or twice, they generally follow the same query process as everyone else, although the editor will definitely look at them more favorably because they’ve already written for us. They might also be more willing to give some feedback on a query or tweak it a little.”

Get in and Stay in

As the relationship develops, it typically gets even easier to make a sale. “Their queries might be slightly less detailed, and they won’t need to send a writing sample,” Lusted says.

Most editors are delighted to find writers who will take on regular assignments. Espinoza says, “You get to know the writing style of the writer, and know what type of stories to assign the writer. A regular writer knows what enchantment is about, who the readers are, so he or she knows what types of stories to pitch. Regular writers also understand your deadlines. We build a relationship over time.”

That can turn into steady work. At Cobblestone, some writers query for nearly every issue, and the editors may even ask these regulars to fill empty slots. “They know these people write well and will deliver a quality product on time,” Lusted says, “and there aren’t any unexpected nasty surprises when someone’s actual article doesn’t live up to their query. I can think of five or six writers for each of our magazines who are published in almost every issue, and some have even ended up doing regular departments. However, to get to this point, a writer has to be willing to write on any topic that the editor gives them.”

To build a magazine career, the path is clear: find your passion, explore a niche, target specialty magazines, and develop long-term relationships with editors.

And if you still dream of being featured in a well-known magazine? You can submit work there as well. But looking at less competitive magazines can help you build your skills, get some writing credits, and maybe even earn a few dollars.

Stop by next Wednesday for advice on writing nonfiction books– or subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe or Follow by E-Mail buttons to the right, or add to Feedly or another reader.

You can get the extended version of this essay, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Sign up for Chris’s Workshop Newsletter for classes and critique offers

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Writing for Children: Analyze Magazines for Content and Style

I've been talking about writing articles for children (click the "nonfiction" link in the labels list). Today I'll go into more detail on analyzing magazines, so you can target your work properly. The following is excerpted and adapted from You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

You've discovered a magazine you'd like to write for, perhaps by browsing a market guide. The first step is to pick up a copy of the magazine, if you don't already have one. Fortunately, today many magazines have sample copies online, so you won't have to order one from the publisher or track it down at a newsstand. By studying the magazine along with any writing guidelines on the publisher's website or in a market guide, you'll learn how to pitch your work to the magazine.

First study the cover and slogan (for example, Highlights has the slogan "Fun with a Purpose."): what is the magazine’s focus?

Turn to the table of contents. What can you learn there?

·    Are many articles written by one person? Is that person listed in the masthead as staff? Articles that are written "in-house" by staff mean you probably won't be able to sell something to that section.
·    Are there regular departments? Who writes these? They may have a regular writer, or it may vary.
·    This page may include submission guidelines.

Study the content:

·    What types of stories/articles does the magazine use? Be as specific as possible, listing genres, topics, types of activities, and so forth.
·    Does everything relate to one theme? Many magazines, especially those with a nonfiction focus, have a theme list for each month. For example, a history magazine may cover ancient Egypt one month and ancient Greece another month. You can typically find theme lists for future issues on the publisher's website, along with writer's guidelines.
·    What is the breakdown of fiction, nonfiction, activities, and regular departments? Many magazines are primarily or exclusively nonfiction, which is an advantage to nonfiction writers!
·    How long are most pieces? This will help you determine the length of your piece. Note also that short pieces have to be very focused on a narrow topic.
·    How are pieces illustrated? What kind of sidebars do they use, if any? (A sidebar is a short piece of extra information, possibly set off in a box. It may include fun facts, a bulleted list, an example, or other information that relates to the main topic but doesn’t quite fit in the main article.) Could you include photos or sidebar information, which would make your article even more appealing?
·    Does the magazine use advertising? What kinds of products are advertised? (This can give you insight into reader interests and the magazine’s goals.)

Study several stories or articles:

·     Are they geared toward girls, boys, or both?
·     What age range?
·     What can you tell about the magazine’s style? Is it wholesome or edgy? Is it focused on health, history, science, religion, or celebrity gossip? Is there a certain tone? As one example, if a magazine uses recipes, are they healthy, or very easy, or fun to look at, etc.

Appropriate ideas:

What kinds of stories would your target magazine want? You could start by figuring out what topics the magazine might like and see if any interest you. Or you could write down a list of your hobbies and interests, and then check which ones might fit that magazine.

When developing an idea, keep the focus narrow. Think “how hummingbirds hover” rather than simply “hummingbirds.” Try “the invention of the fork” rather than “a history of utensils.” You’ll only have a few hundred words, so it’s better to go deep into a narrow topic than to skim over a broad topic.

Then Ask:

·   Is this idea appropriate for the magazine’s readership age? Will they understand and be interested in the topic?

·   Can I write this article within the magazine’s word limits? Do I need to focus it more?

·   What will readers take away from my article?

·   Why would the reader be interested?

Some types of articles:

Craft/ Recipe
Personal Experience

Stop by next Wednesday for advice on breaking into the magazine market – – or subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe or Follow by E-Mail buttons to the right, or add to Feedly or another reader.

You can get the extended version of this essay, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Sign up for Chris’s Workshop Newsletter for classes and critique offers

Friday, January 15, 2016

Writing In No Time: Where does writing fit in your life? #amwriting #writing #writinglife #writerslife

At a recent SCBWI meeting, people mentioned one of the big challenges is finding the time to write, even when it's what you want to do most. That inspired me to reprint this article (originally from Children’s Writer).

Writing In No Time

So many things demand our time – job, spouse, children, volunteer work, housework. It’s tempting to say, “I’ll write during vacation, or when the kids are back in school, or when the kids leave home, or when I retire ….”

Yet if you want to be a writer, you must find time to write.

Becoming a writer requires commitment. If you don’t take your work seriously, your family and friends certainly won’t either. Let them know how important writing is to you. Insist that writing time is your time, and you must not be disturbed. Carve out a few hours each week. Then close the door and ignore your phone and e-mail, or take your laptop to the library.

Finding even a few hours may seem hopeless when you have young children. Louise Spiegler, author of The Amethyst Road and The Jewel and the Key, said at that time, “It is impossible for me to write with my kids awake and active. I either tried to get both kids to nap at the same time or I spent my non-existent savings on two hours of babysitting.”

Try trading babysitting with other writing parents. Or start a play group/writers group: the kids play, the parents write or critique.

Molly Blaisdell, author of Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs and dozens of other books and mother of four, found another creative way to keep her kids busy when they were little. “I kept all the special toys in my office. When I wanted to work on a scene, I’d pull down that box and say, ‘This is quiet time for special toys.’ It would always be good for about half an hour and sometime would go for two hours.”

Involve older children in your writing activities. Brainstorm story ideas together. Have them draw pictures for your manuscripts. You’ll get more done, and they’ll learn to respect your work. Plus, your time together is research. Claudia Harrington liked driving the carpool for her daughter in middle school, because “the ride home is great for eavesdropping.”

No Use for a Muse

When your writing time is limited, you can’t afford to waste a moment. After having a baby, freelance writer Michele Corriel, author of Fairview Felines: A Newspaper Mystery, said, “I still managed to get up before my daughter and cram in even half an hour. The problem with a shorter amount of time is you really have to ‘switch’ it on.”

Successful writers agree: no waiting for the right mood. Spiegler says, “As soon as the kids were asleep or safely dropped off, I would sit down and start working – no waiting for inspiration.”

The most productive writers work anywhere and everywhere. Jean Daigenau said, “I take advantage of the few minutes of downtime I have at school or home – while I’m eating lunch or supervising the homework group at our after-school latchkey program or soaking in the bathtub.”

If you can’t do serious writing in five-minute bursts, use the time in other ways. Daigenau suggests, “Get it written on the computer and then use those few minutes here and there to revise.”

Christine Liu Perkins, author of At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui, commented, “When I’m constantly being interrupted, chauffeuring, or sitting in waiting rooms, I brainstorm and prewrite. Wherever I am, I focus on a specific problem for that short session. What points do I want to include in this article? What happens next in the story?”


The best organized life can sometimes just get too full. Spiegler, who also teaches college now, cautioned against buying into the super-woman myth. “It is almost impossible for me to work at a demanding job and take care of kids and write regularly. The only way I can write is to be teaching something familiar that I can spend less prep time on.”

You can’t do it all, so decide what’s most important. Then look for areas to cut back. Reduce your work hours, or cut commute time with a job closer to home. Commute by bus and write as you ride. Arrange car pools or play dates for your kids. Dictate into a tape recorder as you walk for exercise. Let the housework slide, and make quick meals. Cut back on email, web surfing or TV.

Put your family to work as well. Train your kids to do housework and cook one dinner per week – they’ll learn important skills while you get free time!

Don’t let volunteer work take over your life either. Blaisdell, who writes YA romantic comedies as Cece Barlow, commented, “When my volunteer schedule [as regional advisor for SCBWI] burgeoned to 80-hour weeks before conferences, it occurred to me that I could be doing a lot more writing. Yes, I made contacts as a volunteer. I learned stuff from the best writing teachers in the world. Volunteering was a part of paying my dues, but not my lifelong occupation. My time was best spent writing.”

When a real crisis intrudes – sick kids, ailing parents, a job change or divorce – you may need to take time off from writing. Just don’t let it drag on forever. Plan how you’ll handle the crisis, and schedule a time to return to writing. In the meantime, read writing magazines or books for a few minutes each week to keep your focus. Spending even five minutes a day thinking about your writing can make it easier to transition back into writing more, without feeling like you’re starting from scratch.

How about your time? Where does writing fit in your life?

Decide, and make a commitment to your work. Then repeat this mantra: I am a writer, and writers write. And if physical discomfort is interfering with your writing, be sure to see the recent posts on "Writer and Reader Comfort" in the ergonomics category.

Chris’s writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with 100+ published books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs, plus many nonfiction and educational titles.

As Kris Bock, she writes novels of mystery, suspense, and romance. In the Accidental Detective series, a witty journalist solves mysteries in Arizona and tackles the challenges of turning fifty. Kris’s Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat café. In the Accidental Billionaire Cowboys series, a Texas ranching family wins a fortune in the lottery, which causes as many problems as it solves. Sign up for the Kris Bock Mystery and Romance newsletter and get a free Accidental Detective short story and bonus material, a free 30-page sweet romance set in the world of the Furrever Friends cat café, and a printable copy of the recipes mentioned in the cat café novels.

Kris also writes a series with her brother, scriptwriter Douglas J Eboch, who wrote the original screenplay for the movie Sweet Home Alabama. The Felony Melanie series follows the crazy antics of Melanie, Jake, and their friends a decade before the events of the movie. Sign up for the romantic comedy newsletter to get a short story preview, or find the books at Amazon US or All E-book retailers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Writing Nonfiction for Children: Magazine Market Research

Last week I discussed Why You Should Write Magazine Nonfiction. This week let's explore magazine market research. The following is excerpted and adapted from You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

A lot of people are intimidated by nonfiction but then find writing articles fun and interesting once they try a few. As a bonus, it can be easier to sell nonfiction because there’s more demand for nonfiction articles, but fewer people write them. Most children’s magazines use some nonfiction but not get many submissions. For example, Highlights publishes about equal amounts of fiction and nonfiction, but I’ve heard the magazine receives about 90% fiction submissions. And then there are many magazines focused on topics such as science and history, which only publish nonfiction.

Plus, if you are fairly new to modern children’s lit, studying magazines is a way to learn more about writing for different ages. The Cricket Magazine Group is a great place to start. They publish 14 magazines. Some are fiction and some are nonfiction, and they cover age ranges from birth to teen. You can read an online sample of each magazine on their website.

You may have a good idea of what you want to write; for example, maybe you are primarily interested in fiction for ages 4-6. But give the other magazines a look anyway. You may have a great idea that would be better for a different age range.

Magazines Everywhere

With some digging, you can find hundreds of other magazines targeted at children, or at parents or teachers. Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers and Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market have listings. (You can see if your local library has a copy, though it's nice to have your own copy so you can add notes.)

A search for “children’s magazines” will also bring up lots of links. Many are sites selling magazines, but they give you an overview of what’s being published. If you are interested in writing about a particular sport or hobby, you might find a children’s magazine that addresses it. Most religious groups also have their own magazines for children.

Learn from Reading

Once you identify a couple of magazines that interest you, check out their writer’s guidelines. An internet search for the magazine’s name plus “writer’s guidelines” or “submission guidelines” usually does the trick. It’s important to study those guidelines, and also actual copies of the magazine, before you submit work.

Even magazines that seem similar can be quite different in their requirements. For example, some religious magazines focus on Bible stories, while others want modern true anecdotes. In some, the message can be subtle and God need not be mentioned, while in others, the focus should be on God providing guidance.

You might also get ideas for how best to craft an article or story that will appeal to that magazine’s editor. Studying National Geographic Kids several years ago, I noticed that most articles were broken into short bites of information, such as “10 Cool Things about Dolphins.” If I wanted to pitch an article to them, I’d try to do something similar.

Study the magazines and submission guidelines, making a note of the type of content and target audience. Here are some questions to ask:

·                     What is the target age level?
·                     Do they use both fiction and nonfiction? If so, what is the rough percentage of each?
·                     What is their maximum word count? Do most of the stories/articles seem to be at the longer end of the range or at the shorter end?
·                     Are they open to submissions? What do they want (e.g., a query letter, a proposal, the complete manuscript, a writing sample)?
·                     Do they list any topics or genres they don’t want? (e.g., no articles about insects) Note that some magazines may use their own staff for certain items. For example, they may publish puzzles, but do them all “in house” so they don’t take submissions of puzzles.

Explore the Magazine Markets:

The SCBWI “Magazine Market Guide” is in The Book, included with membership:

Get magazine samples at your library, school, or house of worship; requests sample copies from the publisher; or visit publishers’ web sites to see if they have online samples.

A list of children’s magazines with links to their websites:

Stop by next Wednesday for more advice on analyzing the magazine market – or subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe or Follow by E-Mail buttons to the right, or add to Feedly or another reader.

You can get the extended version of this essay, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Sign up for Chris’s Workshop Newsletter for classes and critique offers

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Why You Should Write Magazine Nonfiction

The following is excerpted and adapted from You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

Beginning writers often focus on trying to publish picture books or novels. However, many career writers – those who make their living from writing – do at least some nonfiction work for magazines. For example, in the tax year before this writing, I sold over a dozen articles, earning over $3000. That's more than I made from novel advances and royalties combined.

Nancy I. Sanders, author of Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, describes the advantages of magazine writing. “There’s an unending opportunity to get published and build your writing credentials, especially in the smaller magazines. There are countless topics to write about for each different magazine’s focus, so it’s easy to find one that matches your personal passion. And finally, there are a significant number of magazines that pay and pay well.”

Author, instructor, and free-lance editor Bobi Martin says, “If I come across a topic that intrigues me, I study Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers to find magazines that my idea might be a good fit with. Next, I check to see if the age range and word limits of the magazines I’ve targeted fit with what I had in mind for the article. When I don’t have a topic in mind, I study the listings to see what magazine editors are looking for. When I have two or three magazines in mind, I visit their websites for their most current information. This is a great way to generate new topics to write about!”

Follow the Guidelines

Checking writer’s guidelines is important, because magazines often have strict rules for article lengths and the topics they cover. Some even use theme lists, with each issue covering a specific topic, such as a particular aspect of history or science.

Marcia E. Lusted is an Assistant Editor and Staff Writer for e-Pals Publishing, working with the Cobblestone group of children’s nonfiction magazines. “My advice would be to really pay attention to what magazines’ needs are, particularly if they are themed,” she says. “We get so many good queries that just don’t fit any of our upcoming themes and we can tell that the writer hasn’t bothered to notice that we are themed! The marketing aspect of writing – figuring out what a magazine needs and matching ideas – take time and effort.”

One advantage to writing magazine nonfiction is that you can sometimes pitch an idea instead of submitting a completed article. Even if a magazine only accepts finished articles, you can suggest other ideas in your query letter.

“When you submit a manuscript or query a magazine with your idea, it also helps to add a list of three to five ideas that might fit well into their particular magazine if your main topic doesn’t fit their current needs,” Nancy Sanders says. “I’ve landed more magazine writing assignments over the years by including a short list of other ideas in my query or cover letter for the editor to consider. Giving them the chance to choose another topic if they find merit in your writing helps avoid the constant stream of ambiguous rejections from editors saying, ‘Doesn’t suit our current needs.’”

Stop by next Wednesday for advice on researching the magazine market – or subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe or Follow by E-Mail buttons to the right, or add to Feedly or another reader.

You can get the extended version of this essay, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Sign up for Chris’s Workshop Newsletter for classes and critique offers