Writing a Marketable Children's Short Story

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The children's magazine market is not dead--it's just changing like everything else in publishing. There are more e-zines for children, like Guardian Angel Kids and Knowonder; and even traditional magazines, like Highlights for Children, have a web presence. But one thing that is NOT different is the fact that these editors still need quality and entertaining stories for children that fit their word count, themes, and general overall magazine purpose.

Writing a fiction short story under 1,000 words for a magazine IS NOT THE SAME as writing a picture book. Picture books have the illustrations to help tell the story--as a matter of fact, the text and illustrations should both do about 50 percent of the work in a picture book. However, in a magazine story, the illustrations are there more for decoration and to draw a child to the story--the text has to do most of the work. So, before you write anything, you need to know what you are writing--a fiction short story or a picture book.

Another thing to consider is the types of stories that are in children's magazines. These are generally upbeat with a small, subtle lesson. If you want to write a story about child abuse or runaway children, a short story for a children's magazine is not your venue. And magazine editors get TOO MANY stories about divorce or dealing with a dying parent, grandparent, or pet. Yes, children go through these issues all the time, but writers write about these subjects all the time, too; so stay away from these if you want to write a marketable children's story.

Okay, so I've been writing a lot of DON'Ts so far in this post, so what should you do if you want to write for a children's magazine? (By the way, it is a great way to start out your children's writing career, OR if you have a book published, it's a great way to let children know about you as an author and get a whole NEW audience.) Here are a few tips:

  • Read the submission guidelines carefully. (Consider checking them out online AND in The Writer's Market.) Editors will often give tips on what they are looking for or NOT looking for and how to break into the magazine. You also need to pay attention to theme lists and word count. 
  • Read past copies of the magazines you are submitting to and/or check out their online archives. Libraries will often have past copies, or you can get a sample copy for a small fee. Once you read some stories in a particular magazine, you will see the style and tone of their fiction. Never, never blindly submit a fiction story to a publication. 
  • You have a small amount of words in most cases. Don't put too many characters or subplots in your story. You generally have two or three child characters and one major problem to solve in a short fiction story. Adults should be absent or in the background.
  • I've said this before on The Muffin, and I will say it again. The main character needs to be able to solve his or her OWN problem. If he or she can't, then the story will not work.
  • Magazines are always in need of humor and stories for boys. Also, many children's magazines like re-tellings of old fables and stories from other cultures.
I've provided a lot of tips here; and if you follow them all, will you produce a marketable children's story? Hopefully! But I can't tell you how many  I have in the files of my computer that will probably never see the pages of a magazine--and  I know the rules. However, my writing would not be where it is today if I would not have written each and every one of those stories. And who knows? Maybe one day, some of them will work their way into the hands of kids. Write the stories in your heart, but keep the publishing rules in mind while you do! 

If you are interested in writing fiction for children's magazines, my online writing for children's magazine class starts on May 24. It's a great introduction to the magazine/e-zine world, and we also talk about writing for parenting and teaching magazines. After all, who buys the books you are writing for children? If you are interested, you can sign up at Writing for Children online class.  The class currently has a $25 discount for spring!

Thanks and happy writing,
Margo L. Dill


YA Sleuth said...

Great advice! I've been toying with the idea of writing some short stories; you just inspired me to do some homework and get writing. Thanks!

Nancy said...

Thanks for clarifying the fact that a children's story for a magazine or ezine is not the same as a story written for a picture book. I think too many toss them all in the same pot.


Margo Dill said...

F.T.--that is so nice to say! :) I hope you write a wonderful and marketable story.

Nancy-Yes, I've run into this many times, and it is a hard distinction some times, but an important one. :)

Rose said...

Margo's class is excellent!

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