For many children's literature writers, the goal is a book contract--picture, chapter, middle-grade, or young adult. Publication in children's magazines is often considered a stepping stone--practice for the real deal, a means to an end. However, there are many reasons to write for children's magazines that go beyond padding writerly resumes that make it a worthwhile objective in and of itself.
Because of the serial nature of magazine publication--an issue comes out, a month or two later it's replaced by the next--success may feel fleeting, but the reality is that a story in a children's magazines is likely to be enjoyed by a far greater number of children than that of an average book. The typical print run for a first novel is around 5,000 to 7,500 copies, with picture books coming in at around 10,000 copies. But check out these circulation figures for some of the top children's magazines: Highlights for Children, more than 2 million subscribers; Boys' Life, 1.1 million subscribers; Children's Better Health Institute magazines, 1 million subscribers (which includes Children's Digest with 110,000 subscribers); the Cricket Magazine Group, over 450,000 subscribers (which includes Cricket with 50,000 subscribers). And that's not counting the magazine copies which end up in dentist and pediatrician waiting rooms, school classrooms, and public libraries that will be seen by even more kids.
Magazines are also very appealing to children1. They're chock full of crafts, puzzles, activities, and articles in addition to stories and poems. They're graphically lush, loaded with illustrations and photographs visually attractive to children. Moreover, they provide content which is focused, ideal for quick consumption, current, and informative and can be flipped through and enjoyed however the reader chooses. There's also an interactive element that books don't have; many children's magazines publish a Letters to the Editor segment. Young readers can send in their feedback and experience the excitement of seeing their comments published in their favorite magazine.
Another consideration to keep in mind, especially for new writers, is that the majority of magazines, from the nationally distributed professional ones to the niche semi-pros, take unsolicited submissions. Magazines are typically friendlier to new writers than book publishers. You don't need an agent or previous publication credits to have your work considered. Your submission will be judged solely on its quality and whether it is appropriate for and fits the needs of that magazine.
Furthermore, while the publishing industry isn't a big lottery where writers send in their manuscripts and hope theirs gets pulled when the time comes for the editors to fill their allotted pages, writers have a better chance of breaking into magazines. It's not because magazines publish a lesser caliber of material or have lower standards--quite the contrary, the top children's magazines are routinely praised by librarians, teachers, and parent groups for their high quality and the role they play in encouraging kids to read2--rather it's due to the nature of their business model and the amount of new content they publish. Magazines buy a lot more manuscripts than book publishers do, and magazine editors have the luxury of being able to hold onto manuscripts for a subsequent issue if the one they're reading for gets filled.
Writing for magazines can benefit writers in less obvious ways, too. For those who find themselves perpetually at a loss for ideas and wondering what they should write about, many children's magazines have themed issues that they announce in advance in their writers guidelines. Not only do themes provide a prod for a reluctant writing muse, they are an editor's way of telling writers exactly what they need and what they're looking for.
Likewise, magazine themes can be a beneficial tool for establishing sound writing habits. Theme lists have deadlines, and a deadline is a powerful motivator. Knowing that you must get your story or article on Jeju folk songs of Korea submitted by an inflexible date gives you focus and a reason to keep to a set writing schedule.
And, even if you still see that elusive book deal as your ultimate goal as a writer, being published in magazines is indeed a good route to getting there. Writing for magazines gives you a chance to become acquainted with the business end of the industry--cover letters, queries, proper manuscript format, rewrite requests, contracts, and, yes, rejections--while you practice and develop your craft to a publishable level. Book editors do read the top magazines and have been known to "discover" authors whose magazine works they like, and they and agents are more likely to give your query, synopsis, and/or manuscript a more considered appraisal if you've got an established publication history.
Before submitting to magazines, always read the guidelines. Most are available online. Be sure to follow them exactly. If the guidelines say to provide an exact word processor count, don't approximate. If they tell you to use Courier 12 point and that they only accept postal submission, don't use Times New Roman 10 point and fax the editor your manuscript.
Get to know the magazines you submit to. Order some sample issues and read them to get a feel for the content, editorial styles and preferences, and tone. As a cost-free alternative, swing by the public library, your local newsstand or bookstore, or the media center of your child(ren)'s school and see if they have back issues or a current subscription to the magazines you're interested in. Being able to target your submissions to the most appropriate markets will give you a much better chance of making a sale. And even if the editor passes, if you're close, they may give you feedback and encourage you to try again. Better yet, your next submission might even get to bypass first readers and submission editors, plucked out of the slush by a well-disposed editor for their personal perusal. The only thing better than that is a bona fide sale.
1Stoll, D. R. (Ed.) (revised ed.). (1997). Magazines for Kids and Teens. Glassboro, NJ: Educational Press Association of America; Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
2Patron, S. (2004, March). Miles of Magazines: Kids, like Adults, Find Magazines Irresistible. But with so Many to Choose From, Which Ones Are Worth Having? School Library Journal, 50(3), p. 52.
Copyright © 2007 Eugie Foster
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.