Many years ago, when I began my writing career, I took classes from two great teachers. They guided me through my first steps into the publishing world and gave me the following advice, which was the prevailing wisdom at the time. The best way to get published in magazines, they said, was to write the article or story I had in mind and make it the best I could by critiquing, editing and re-writing. The next step was to write up a list of 10-20 markets and begin sending the manuscript out. Then, as soon as one rejection came in, cross that publication off the list and immediately put the manuscript into another envelope and send to the next magazine on the list, until a sale was eventually made.
The first part of that advice is still very true, but the second part, while it may have worked years ago, won’t work at all today! Back then, I wrote mostly for the adult magazine market (religious, parenting, crafts, etc.) and I had limited success with the above approach. But when I began focusing on magazines I read every month, such as St. Anthony Messenger, Catholic Digest, Needlepoint Plus, and Growing Child, I found my success rate was much higher. And, since I had studied exactly what these publications were looking for and the writing style they preferred, then queried them first, my articles often sold the first time out. The money I saved on postage could then be spent on copies of other magazines that I was unfamiliar with, allowing me to study them for future submissions and sales.
When I began writing almost exclusively for children, I realized that studying children’s magazines was even more important. There are no “generic” children’s publications. The magazines published by the various religious denominations each have their own slant and message they want to convey. Other publications may focus on health, crafts, boys only or girls only. But even those that seem to be quite similar, such as American Girl and Discovery Girls, have different audiences, different types of articles and stories they want to see, and unique ways of presenting them.
I have been a “magazine maven” all my life. I enjoy studying magazines, taking them apart and trying to figure out each one’s particular mission and to whom the publisher is trying to appeal to, and then trying to fit my work into their vision. While copies of some of the bigger magazines may be available in libraries, I usually buy copies of magazines I am targeting. I consider this a part of the cost of doing business, and it’s tax-deductible! The time and money spent may not appeal to others the way it does to me, but I believe it’s a necessary step to success in getting published in children’s magazines.
One humorous incident points up, I think, the true necessity of going through this process. About 15 years ago, I took a course in writing fiction for children from one of the leading correspondence schools. For the most part, my teacher was knowledgeable and helpful. When I wrote YA short story, with teens as the main characters, she strongly encouraged me to send it to Living With Teenagers, published by an arm of the Baptist church. However, from my research, I had already discovered this magazine and had sold them a short piece about myself and my son. This magazine was definitely not FOR teen-agers. The target audience was parents, to help them cope with the challenges of “living with teenagers.” Someone obviously had not done her homework!
So, study those magazines in whatever way works best for you, follow their submission guidelines, and your rate of acceptance is sure to improve!
Contributed by Marjorie Flathers