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.

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