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.
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.