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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rewards and Struggles of Writing Stories for the Young

If you write for young children, as in the preschool to first grade range, you know that this is often more difficult than writing for adults. Writers who have never attempted this can't believe it when I say how hard it is. "How can that be? There are hardly any words. The stories are so simple."

I challenge anyone to try it, and you will see. The reason why it looks so easy is because the authors who write for our favorite little people are just good at it. They have it down to a science and can find creative, new ways to introduce the big, wide world to three-year-olds while not boring them or talking over their heads. Trust me, it's not easy to do.

Besides picture books, which are also very difficult (and I'm not even going to get into how a writer can work on a picture book manuscript for a year or more!), what markets exist for 3 to 6 year olds? Ladybug is a popular one and Highlights for Children also has some stories geared toward this younger audience. Besides these two well-known magazines, you can also get your fiction (and possibly nonfiction) for the young child published in  Turtle, Humpty Dumpty, Appleseeds, Knowonder, and Guardian Angel Kids to name a few These are all paying markets with clear guidelines on what the editors want to see and don't want to see.

If you want to write for this audience, where do you start? I always recommend finding back issues at the library or online archives and reading as many stories as you can from that magazine. This is the best way to take the ideas you have and craft them into a format that works for the magazine--today. Most of us remember Highlights for Children from our pediatrician and dentist's waiting rooms, but it's different today--kids are different today, and so make sure to check out recent issues and stories. Study the stories: how long are they? What are the topics? Are they written in first person or third? How many characters? How much dialogue compared to narration? It's my experience that once you are familiar with the market, it will be easier for you to write your idea for this audience.

Next, go online and READ THE GUIDELINES. Some editors and publications go to great extremes to write down what they want and what they don't. Don't ignore these. For example, Knowonder wants stories in third-person limited, so you don't send them the first person story you just wrote last night. Either change the point of view or write a new story for this market.

Stories for this age group are usually under 1000-words and tend to average about 500 words. You don't have a long time to establish a setting, characters, problem, and solution. This is why writing for this age group is so hard. It's like poetry and picture books--every single word counts--you don't have any space to waste on "pretty writing."

Have you ever seen a preschooler enjoy a story or book? Their smile lights up their whole face. They will read it again and again and ask to have it read to them a million times. They carry it around, read it to their dog or cat, and fall asleep with the book or magazine in bed. This is why people write for this age of child. It's an important job, and don't let anyone tell you it's easy--because we know it's not.

Margo is teaching a short fiction class for children's and YA writers online, starting on April 11. To view the syllabus and sign up, please go to this link:


  1. Great post, Margo. Your comparison to poetry and picture book writing is so true. If people can write poetry (or a picture book) they can write anything. (Just add more fluff when writing other things. ;)

    Also, your suggestion to check out past issues--that's always a wise thing to do.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Great overview of some excellent publications for this younger age group!

  3. Oh, SO true, Margo! Writing for kids is harder than it looks, and it definitely pays to take a class, to get off on the right foot. (Even if you're accomplished in other writing--because honestly, it may be the same tools, but you have to figure out how to use 'em in the sandbox!)

  4. @Sioux: I couldn't agree more!

    @Patricia: Thanks!

    @Cathy: Yes, using them in the sandbox is exactly right--hey the sandbox, that just gave me a story idea. :)


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