Recently in Before You Begin Category


How do I get started writing for magazines?

1. First, read a variety of children's magazines and determine which magazine(s) appeal to you and which age groups attracts you most.

2. Decide what you are drawn to most: fiction, articles, poetry, activities.

3. Read and analyze lots of those pieces--look at more than one issue of your chosen magazine(s).

4. Check out market books and get guidelines and, if available, theme lists/editorial calendars for the chosen magazine(s). Some guidelines are available on-line. Others you may need to write for, enclosing an SASE.

5. Write your piece in a similar tone as the pieces in the magazine. Make sure it fits the word length, etc. in the guidelines. When it's the best you can make it, submit it. (Don't start with the hard to get into magazines such as Highlights for Children and Cricket--get some publishing experience first.)

6. Move on to writing another manuscript.

Some people call articles stories, while others only refer to fiction as stories. How do I know what's what?

I personally differentiate these two by nonfiction (article or essay) or fiction (story), and of course, each of those categories can be broken down more. That said, I will at times call a piece a "true story" versus an article. That usually happens in response to a magazine looking for "true stories about..." Sometimes these are also called true experiences.

When submitting a manuscript, I usually indicate "article" or "nonfiction" for those true stories and "fiction based on a true story" or "fiction" on those I've made up.

Should I always send a cover letter with my submission?

I don't. The reasons I do are:

1. The magazine requests manuscripts with a cover letter.

2. I have more information I want them to know (e.g. why I wrote the piece, or my submission fits a theme, etc.).

3. It might be pertinent for them to know my other writing experience and I don't think a full résumé is needed.

What do I say in a cover letter?

1. Grab the reader with something exciting - this may be a direct quote from the manuscript, or a catchy line or something about the theme of your piece.

2. Give a brief summary of your story, essay, article.

3. Tell title, genre, word count and rights you are offering. If reprint rights*, tell where and when it has appeared.

4. Mention anything special you are including: color slides, digital photos, sidebars, related websites, etc.

5. Include your writing credits: either "I'm enclosing my résumé" or a list of some magazines you've been published in. Don't apologize for not having credits. Don't say you're a first time writer.

6. Bring up other issues that might be important. For example, if a story or article is set in a particular town and you lived there, tell the editor so. If you have experience in a particular job, craft, or hobby, and it relates to your piece, say so.

7. If sending a manuscript by snail mail, mention you've included a self-addressed stamped envelope. You may want to include an SASE for their reply instead of for the return of the manuscript. I found I was reprinting manuscripts all the time anyway, and can save postage by sending a smaller SASE. Some publishers are now only replying with acceptances, which in that case you can state something like, "I understand you only reply if interested. You may discard this copy of the manuscript." This information is usually available through their guidelines.

Note: If sending a manuscript electronically, make sure you follow the directions of "pasted the manuscript into body of the email" or "attachment" as the guidelines say.

8. Close.

Overall, remember to be brief, professional and to the point.

Is writing for children's magazines for everyone?

Of course not. But it might be for you!

*Want to know more about magazine rights? Read this post.

(image courtesy of and

Picture Book Month


I once heard an editor say she wanted the following in pictures books:

  • humor

  • unique settings

  • memorable characters

  • emotionally engaging

I doubt every picture book needs humor or a unique setting, although those are great of course, but I bet the ones that last are the ones where we remember the characters and our emotions are stirred.

In honor of the first annual Picture Book Month, here is a sampling of picture books where characters have pulled my emotional strings in one way or another:

These I first read to my daughters:
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban; illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Crictor by Tomi Ungerer
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion; illustrated by Margaret Graham
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber
The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

One my youngest daughter loved, that I actually found a bit odd:
Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch; illustrated by Sheila McGraw

These I first read to my grandsons:

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg; illustrated by Judith Dufour Love
Library Lil by Suzanne Williams; illustrated by Stephen Kellogg
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman; illustrated by Marla Frazee

Others I love:
Big Bad Wolves at School by Stephen Krensky; illustrated by Brad Sneed
Coyote Steals the Blanket by Janet Stevens
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Mrs. Biddlebox by Marla Frazee
The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
See You Later, Alligator! by Laura McGee Kvasnosky
The Wide-Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner; illustrated by Jonathan Lambert

After making this list, I've come to the conclusion I'm not reading enough recent picture books. Time to visit the bookstore!

Here are some Best Picture Book lists:

49 brilliant picture books from the past 5 years as chosen by award winning illustrators

Best Picture Books 2010: David Wiesner, Jon J. Muth, Louise Yates and Other Spectacular Illustrators Honored - 10 from the Huffington Post

The Best 25 Picture Books of 2010! -

From 'Brothers Grimm' to 'Stuck,' the 11 Best Picture Books of 2011 - The Atlantic

Best picture books of 2011 - Lindsay Weiss on

Are you sharing your favorite picture books? Or giving them as presents next month?

Picture Book Resources

boy reading.jpg
(Picture courtesy of Gracey Stinson.)

Here's a collection of picture book resources I've found. Enjoy!

Books about Writing Picture Books

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul*
You Can Write Children's Books by Tracey E. Dils
Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz (See sample here: How to Make a Storyboard)
Illustrating Children's Picture Books: Tutorials, Case Studies, Know-How, Inspiration by Steve Withrow and Lesley Breen Withrow

Picture Book Resources on the Web
You'll find on some of these sites you should keep looking around for more info.

Getting Started Writing Picture Books

So you want to write a picture Mem Fox
Writing Picture Books:The Basics by Margot Finke
If You Wanna Be a Picture Book Writer by Pam Calvert
How To: Write a Picture Book by Sue Bradford Edwards
Jane Yolen*: Creating and Recreating the Picture Book
Picture Book or Short Story? by agent Mary Kole

Layouts and Standards for Picture Books

Picture Book Construction: Know Your Layout by Tara Lazar
Picture Book Standards: 32 pages by Darcy Pattison
Dummies for Smarties by Sarah S. Brannen
How to Mock-up a Picture Book by Darcy Pattison
Picture Book Dummies by Julie Hedlund
Storyboarding by Katherine Battersby

Tips and Do's and Don'ts for Writing Picture Books

20 Do's and 20 Don'ts by Mem Fox
Twenty Tips for Writing Picture Books by Pat Mora*

Got Rhythm? Rhyme and Meter in Picture Books

Rhymes and Misdemeanors by Hope Vestergaard*
How to Write a Picture Book with Fabulous "R & M" by Margot Finke
Rhyming Picture Books: A Rhyme With Reason by agent Mary Kole
Writing in Rhyme by Laura Backes
Rhyme in Picture Books by Tiffany Strelitz
Icing the Cake: Writing Stories in Rhythm and Rhyme by Dori Chaconas

Plot and Character in Picture Books

Plotting Your Picture Book by Writing Your Pitch First by Mandy Yates.
The Plot Clock in Picture Books by Rob Sanders
Irresistible Picture Book Characters by Tammi Sauer*

Revising Your Picture Book

Revise the Picture Book Text by Darcy Pattison
Jane Yolen on How to Revise Picture Books: Revision Example to Create Lyrical Prose
Make Your Picture Book Sparkle! by Peggy Tibbetts
How Many Times Can I Revise 500 Words by Brianna Caplan Sayres

Illustrating Picture Books

An Illustrator's Guide to Creating a Picture Book by Meghan McCarthy
Does the Guild have any advice for aspiring illustrators of children's books? (The Children's BookGuild of Washington, D.C.)
Loren Long* - Creating Picture Books: My Process

Other PB Resources

PiBoldMo - Picture Book Idea Month [November Writing Challenge]

What Makes a Great Picture Book?

100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know (New York Public Library)

Picture Book People Pointers FREE Ezine & FREE E-Book, Write a Dynamic Picture Book

Monster List of Picture Book Agents by Heather Ayris Burnell

*I've heard these people speak, run, don't walk, if you ever get a chance to hear them! A number of the others I'd LIKE to hear...

Double Identity - Pen Names

"I wish I'd thought to use a pen name," children's author Jennifer J. Stewart says after discovering another children's author with the same name. "I've been confused with her (wrong books ordered for events)." Using her middle initial J, as she does now, might have helped avoid confusion. "But what's worse," Jennifer says, "is the 'Jennifer Stewart' without the J who is an 'actress.' Yeah, she acts without any clothes on! You get more than an eyeful if you go to her website instead of mine." Most creators of children's books don't have Jennifer's identity problem, but for writers not yet published, searching the internet for their real name or potential pseudonym could save some later grief.

Pen names are also developed because they are easier or more memorable than a writer's real name. Pam Bachorz thought about writing as Pam Bayshores. "My last name isn't exactly pretty and could be hard for kids to remember when talking about my book and looking for it on the shelf." Spelling her name how it is pronounced would simplify the issue, but in the end she went with the correct spelling.

Other women authors use their maiden name as a pen name. Alexis O'Neill says she had already established a reputation in her field before she was married. "I decided to use a pen name, my pre-marriage name, because I had always liked it and because Quimby is a much less common surname than Johnson," says Katherine Quimby. And, "It is who I was when I first thought about writing and storytelling..." Of her pen name, Carol Nevius (rhymes with devious) says, "It honors my parents, and there is no other pb author using it."

Another reason for employing a pseudonym is to separate it from a writer's every day life--personal privacy or job related--or from their writings in other genres. "I wanted some variation of my name so friends and family would know what I'd written, but not a name that would appear in a phone book or a lookup search engine," says Michele Ivy Davis. Using yet another name for articles for law enforcement/safety force magazines keeps Mickey's adult articles separate from her children's writing. Similarly, Lynda S. Burch says, "I only use a pen name for my books written in another genre. I write romantic suspense and have had published over 20 children's books. I did not want a person picking up a book of mine and thinking they were getting a kid's book instead of an adult." Cheryl Zach agrees. "I wanted to distinguish the adult books from my teen and children's books, both for readers and book sellers." Verna Safran says, "My legal name is the name of my ex-husband, who was a reporter for the New York Times. Since I am no longer associated with him, I wanted a name of my own."

Pen names are sometimes created by two authors collaborating or at editor request. The latter was the case for David Harrison. "I used a pen name on a dozen or more books, mostly in the 70s. At the time I was writing a lot of assignment work for Western Publishing. Because of the number of assignments, an editor asked if I would consider taking a second name." Ruth Vander Zee wrote some board books with friends and they used a pen name to make it easier for the publishing company. Robin Koontz says, "I also use them for work-for-hire (curriculum texts mostly) when the publisher doesn't want to seem to have a bunch of books by the same author." Stephanie Jacob Gordon and Judith Ross Enderle ended up with the pen name Jeffie Ross Gordon, because they wrote for a series of historical YAs that had set covers with little room for the author's name. "Two names wouldn't fit, so rather than leave one of our names off the cover, we combined our names."

If a writer decides to use a pseudonym, how do they pick one? Some choose family or friend's names that have special meaning. For an article for adults, Susan Kneib Schank chose "a combo of my mother's nickname and my 'other mother's' name--representing two very strong women in my life." Lori Cardwell-Casey needed multiple pen names for a magazine. "For one, I used the middle names of my two children. For another, I used my first two initials as my first name and my favorite book of the Bible as my last name." Lisa Rojany Buccieri took an interesting route; "I chose my middle name and Latinized it and the Hebrew name of my rebound boyfriend at the time." "I chose Kennon (my wife's maiden name) and Graham (for the college Professor who inspired me to become a writer)" says David Harrison.

Others select a name that hides gender or links to the book's audience. J.M.G. Anderton decided to use initials for the former purpose. "Also, I think middle readers and YAs like the initials." "I use my Armenian family name," Marianne Markarian says. "I decided to use a pen name in order to connect more directly with my target market. My children's book is an Armenian cultural story."

Another possibility is to assume an allonym, which is the name of another person--usually someone historical. Robin Koontz uses the name of her great aunt. "Nettie Mullins was also a writer. I have a rejection letter to her from 1890. She is one of my muses."

Newcomers to the field might wonder how editors know whether a writer wants to use a pen name or not. It's really quite simple: the writer's real name is at the top of the manuscript and following the title is the "byline" to indicate the "to be published" name.

Writers should think about the pros and cons of having a double or triple identity--anonymity, privacy, and freedom versus confusion or not receiving kudos for what you wrote.

"I can be incognito when I want to. I'm 'famous' locally, so introducing myself as Lee Jaffurs instead of Lee Wardlaw will give me a certain amount of anonymity when I want or need it." "It can produce an interesting psychological effect," says Lee Braff. "When I was starting to write, it fell very protective and freeing; I could say anything I wanted to, because who would know? I was protected by my pseudonym! I hadn't expected to feel that way." "As to using a pen name, I love it. It frees me to be me. It uncovers a very silly side of myself that was hidden away in my sketchbooks," says HildaRose. "I have less evaluation of myself as my pen name. It is like having another person in myself who I can joke with as I draw." On the other hand, Lori Cardwell-Casey wishes she hadn't agreed to use pen names in a parenting magazine. "Every time something was published, it felt as if it was lying to the readership, somehow. I also felt odd about sending these clips when I sent queries."

Elizabeth C. Bunce says, "It confuses people initially." But to lessen confusion she has both her real name and her pen name printed on her business cards. When Alexis O'Neil books a hotel room or flight, her hosts can't find her since she's booked under her married name. "People who know me first and foremost as my husband's wife or my daughter's mother don't necessarily connect me with my pen name," Katherine Quimby says. Hope Slaughter concurs. "Friends and acquaintances who don't know this don't recognize work by me, or articles written about me, but that's not a big thing." When Stephanie Jacob Gordon and Judith Ross Enderle started writing picture books under their joint pen name, people at appearances sometimes wondered where the "guy" Jeff was. Cheryl Zach says, "You become used to answering to two names at conference and book signings!"

Writers might want to take a field trip to the library or bookstore to see where books would be filed under a potential pseudonym. Will it be alphabetically next to some best selling author? Will its neighbors be complimentary or detrimental? It's a minor factor, but interesting to consider.

And what is it like signing this name? Will the author be wishing he'd chosen a shorter one or does he struggle against writing his real name? Practice can help in both cases, making the signature automatic in the appropriate setting.

How does a pen name affect a writer legally? Books can be copyrighted under the creator's pseudonym, legal name or both. Copyright laws provide protection either way (see length differences on a copyright site). Many legal documents do ask for other names a signer goes by and it would be appropriate to list any "bynames" at that time. Another option is to go to your city, county or state and follow their instructions to create a DBA - doing business as - name. Your DBA pen name becomes a legal name.

It's mostly a personal decision whether to use a pseudonym or not. But writers or illustrators, who have considered the angles, will be happier than those who just wish they'd done it differently.

Here's a recent blog with the opinion of another author on pen names: Why Pen Names Suck & Can Make Us Crazy.

I do use a pen name. Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic.

Glossary of Publishing Terms

ABA:  American Booksellers Association

ALA:  American Library Association

ADVANCE:  Money paid to an author or illustrator by a publisher after the book contract is signed.  Advances are paid against royalties.  Usually, the author or illustrator won't receive any additional payments until the royalty earnings have surpassed the amount of the advance.

AGENT:  Person who sells an author's work for them, negotiating any contracts, etc. for a fee, however, no fees should be paid up front.  Also known as Literary Agent.

ALL RIGHTS:  Sale of material where the publisher becomes the owner of the material.  The author may not sell the material again.

ARC:  Advanced Reader Copy - a bound galley sent out to reviewers.

BACKLIST:   Books still in print from previous seasons.

BELPRÉ MEDAL:  An award for outstanding children's literature and illustration that celebrates the Latino/Latina cultural experience.

BOOK DOCTOR:  Someone who will examine your manuscript and critique it for a fee.  These vary greatly in quality.

BOOK REVIEW:  One person's opinion of a book, printed in a newspaper, magazine, newsletter or online.

CALDECOTT MEDAL:  An annual award* to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Administered by the Association for Library Service to Children.

CBA:  Christian Booksellers Association

CBC:  Children's Book Council - nonprofit national trade association for children's trade book publishers.

CHILDREN'S CHOICE BOOK AWARDS:  A new award (2008 first year) voted on by young readers. Sponsored by CBC.

CLIP:  sample of a published work

CONTRACT:  Legal agreement between author or illustrator and publisher which lays out details of  how and when the material will be published, what rights are sold,  payment, etc.

COPYRIGHT:  Legal protection of a work.  Most publishers copyright the text in the author's name of the author.

CORETTA SCOTT KING BOOK AWARD:  Presented annually by the Coretta Scott King Task Force of the American Library Association's Ethnic Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT). Recipients are authors and illustrators of African descent whose distinguished books promote an understanding and appreciation of the "American Dream."

COVER LETTER:  Brief letter to introduce your manuscript.

CRITIQUE GROUP:  Group of writers or illustrators who help each other hone their work.

E-BOOK:  A book only published electronically.

EDUCATIONAL MARKET:  Book publishers whose purpose is to sell to schools and libraries.

ELECTRONIC RIGHTS:  The right to print a work in an electronic form (i.e. via the Internet.)

FIRST RIGHTS:  Or First Serial Rights.  The right to be the first to print a work in a magazine.
FLAT FEE:  The author or illustrator is paid one lump sum for their work, and receives no royalties.

FRONTLIST:  The books being published in the current season.

GALLEY:  A collection of unbound signature pages of a book. A bound galley is bound into book form.  A galley is an uncorrected proof.

GENRE:  Writing category, i.e. romance, children's, nonfiction, mystery.  Often have subcategories.

GOLDEN KITE AWARDS:  The only children's literary award judged by a jury of peers.  Given by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

HARDCOVER:   Books bound with a hard, cloth-over-cardboard cover and covered with a paper dust jacket.

HORN BOOK:  Well-known magazine about children's and young adult literature.

INSTITUTIONAL SALES:  Books sold to schools and libraries.  Both trade and mass market books can have institutional sales.  Institutional sales often makes up a large portion of the sales for Children's books.

IRA:  International Reading Association, a nonprofit network committed to worldwide literacy.

KIRKUS:  Kirkus Reviews, a well-known magazine that reviews books prior to publication.  A starred review indicates a book of remarkable merit.

MASS MARKET:  Your standard-sized paperback book aimed at a wide audience.  Smaller than a trade paperback, usually with a different cover illustration than the hardcover edition, and considerably cheaper.

MASS MARKET PUBLISHERS:  Companies that produce paperback books inexpensively and in large quantities.  Book titles may follow trends and sell high volume in a short amount of time.  Some may be reprints of hardcover books. 

MICHAEL L. PRINTZ AWARD:  An award for excellence in young adult literature.

NET PRICE:  The money the publisher actually receives from each book sale after discounts are given to book stores or buyers.  Some publishers base the royalty paid to the author or illustrator on net price.

NEWBERY MEDAL:  An award for the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.  Awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association

NON-EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS:  The right to print and reprint it, but others may print it as well.

  The right to print a manuscript one time.  i.e. one issue of a magazine.

OOP:  Out of Print.  Not printed anymore.

OVER THE TRANSOM:  Unsolicited submission.  See Slush Pile.

QUERY LETTER:  A letter to gain interest in a manuscript or idea.

  A manuscript an editor personally requests either in response to a query letter or at a conference, retreat or workshop.

REPRINT RIGHTS:  The right to print a manuscript that has already been printed.

RETAIL PRICE:   Cover price of the book.  Most larger publishers pay royalties based on the cover price.

RETURNS:  Books that booksellers return to the publisher.

ROYALTIES:  The percentage of the proceeds from the sale of each copy of the book that the author or illustrator receives.  Royalties vary depending on the publisher, the type of book, amount of experience author has, etc.  Authors and illustrators are both paid in royalties unless a flat fee arrangement has been made.

SASE: self-addressed stamped envelope.

SASP:  self-addressed stamped postcard.

SCBWI:  Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARD:  This award honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

SECOND RIGHTS:  The right to print a work that has been printed once before.

SELF-PUBLISHED:  Author has a book they feel strongly about and pays to have it published themselves, with or without the help of a company who does this.

SIDE-BAR:  An additional piece of information accompany8ing an article or story--often printed to the side.

SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSION:  Manuscript submitted to more than one publisher at the same time.

SLUSH PILE:  Term for unsolicited manuscripts received at a publishing house.

SUBSIDIARY RIGHTS:  Sales of a book to other outlets such as book clubs, foreign publishers, magazines, or movie studios.

SUBSIDY PUBLISHING:  Author pays part of all of book publication, promotion and sale.

TEEN CHOICE BOOK AWARD:  New award in 2009 for teens to choose their own award winners.  Sponsored by CBC.

TEXAS BLUEBONNET AWARD:  Awarded by the students of Texas** through a voluntary reading program.

TRADE PAPERBACK:  A book bound with a heavy paper cover, either larger than the standard-sized paperback or the same size and with the same cover illustration as the hardcover edition.

TRIM SIZE:  The outer dimensions of the finished book.

A manuscript not specifically requested by the editor.

VANITY PRESS:  Publisher who requires author to pay all costs of producing the book.  Often these manuscripts are not edited.

  Awards for books for children in 3rd through 5th grade and for children in 6th through 8th grade, voted by the students.

*National book awards
**State and regional awards 

Picture Book Month

Picture Book Resources

Double Identity - Pen Names

Glossary of Publishing Terms

Genre Resources

Children's Book Genres

Why Write?