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How Do You Choose?

light-bulbs-1822112_1920.jpegI've heard people say they have so many ideas they don't know which one to write. Having a lot of ideas is great, but it can also be a form of procrastination or indetermination. Don't get caught in a trap of endless idea generation that means you never write.

Here's what works for me when choosing ideas. I'll address different categories of writing.

Magazine Piece Ideas

I've sold over a hundred and fifty short stories and articles. If I'm in the midst of writing a story and another idea comes to mind, I open a file write down my ideas and save it in a folder labeled Story Starts or Article Ideas. Then I get back to the original story. When I finish my first draft of the piece, then I can move on to a new idea or an unfinished story or article.

But let's say today I have no stories or articles in progress--just ideas. How do I choose? I look at my ideas. Some may feel "meh." (At least at the moment.) Others may look interesting, but I'm missing something to make it compelling and I'm not sure what, so I set it aside. Another idea is intriguing, so I start writing. Why look for other ideas if this one looks good? Go ahead and write it. If no ideas grab me, I look at editorial calendars and theme lists. I may have something already written that fits or need minor adjusting, or this outside input may be the missing inspiration I need for an idea on file. Or it may inspire me to write something totally new.

It helps me to finish stories by knowing these things:
1. The main character's problem
2. How he/she will solve the problem
3. Something of the character's personality
4. Setting

For most articles, some research will be required. What information can I find? Are there books on the topic? Good internet sources? Good articles written for adults? Interviews? Diaries? While I'm looking at this material and taking notes, I ask myself, "What will be the focus on my article?" "What will be especially of interest to kid readers?" Sometimes the research will point at another idea, which goes in my idea file.

I've also done interviews for articles. That takes preparation too. Finding someone interesting to interview, arranging the interview, preparing intelligent questions, taking notes on their answers and taking pictures. If allowed, I tape the interview. My notes might include details about the person and setting and observations about what they do as well as direct quotes. Then I have to look over my notes, perhaps listen again to the interview, look at the pictures, and start organizing my article. I find it helpful to make a mini-outline after I've written a piece to see if it works or needs rearranging. (I'm not an outliner.)

When I'm done with the first draft of a story or article, I can move on to another idea. Giving the draft a week or more to settle while I work on other things helps me come back with fresh eyes to do editing. After that, I share with my critique group and do another rewrite (or two or three) before submitting.

TIP: If you never finish any stories or articles, you'll never have the satisfaction of a complete piece. Nor sales.

Picture Book Ideas

Picture books are usually going to take a lot more work to get right than a short story. I have to be really motivated by the idea. Does that mean I jump in and write it? Often, not. I might look and see if there are similar books out there on the topic. If too many, then it's not a good topic to write unless I have a fresh twist. I might abandon the idea or throw it in an idea file.

I may need to do some research on character or setting before I begin to write. What will work the best for this story idea? Who will be the right character for this story? I have to think of character names that fit. I might do research on objects or an experience I want to include in the story.

Sometimes ideas come almost full blown. I lie down at night and keep thinking of the story. I wake up in the morning and the story is nagging me. I may not want to get dressed, eat breakfast or do anything, but get to the keyboard. Does that mean the picture book comes out perfect first time? Absolutely not! But it usually means I'll get a first draft written in a hurry.

Again, all my picture books go through revisions before my critique group sees them. They may go through several rounds with my group as well. Sometimes I get a professional critique, too.

TIP: Write to the end, even if you don't like your first draft. You'll learn something by doing so.

Novel Ideas

Novels are a big commitment--usually a number of years for me. I have to know the main problem, have a character, and have an idea how the problem might be solved before I write anything. I have a number of novel starts--a page or two or even a chapter--where I didn't know enough and couldn't get going because of it.

Ideas I'll develop into a novel have to have a theme that resonates with me. I've discovered that many of my manuscripts deal with the theme of facing fears. Having a theme helps provide a partial roadmap for the story.

These story ideas may be inspired by past experiences, by the voice of a character, or by a predicament I've read about or imagined. I start with the one that is tugging me most.

I try to finish a draft of one novel manuscript before starting another. However, sometimes a new story is pressing me so much, I work on two projects. Of course, at any time, I may stop and make notes on a new idea that I'll attack later. While writing that first draft, I spend a lot of time thinking about what my characters are doing, do any necessary research, and keep plugging away until I reach the end. Once I have a completed draft, I may let it "sit a spell" and work on something else so I can come back to it with fresh eyes for revisions.

Just like with the other forms of writing, my critique group gives me feedback.

TIP: As a pantser (versus an outliner), I find the use of a story timeline or story ladder helps me keep track of the who, where, and when of each of my scenes and chapters.

Assigned Writing

Sometimes writers are asked to write on a specific topic which means they didn't have to find the initial idea. This often includes a deadline. But I'll leave that discussion for another time.

Does It Matter Which Idea I Choose?

Eventually. But I've found all writing, helps develop my writing muscles and skills. I find the more I write, the more I want to write. Picking an idea and going with it will get you in the habit of writing. So, don't agonize too long over which idea to develop--write!

I love this quote from John M. Cusick, "Writers, your job today is to sit down and start. Finishing, getting better, getting through it--that will happen on its own. Just start."


Resources for Writing for Children's Magazines

Resources for Writing for Children's Magazines.jpeg
ARTICLES/BLOG ENTRIES/PODCASTS

"5 Reasons Novelists Should Write & Publish Short Stories" by Chuck Sambuchino

"7 Online Magazines for Kids That Are Worth a Read" by Saikat Basu

"Best Magazines for Kids Who Love Getting Mail as Much as We Do" by Mary Fetzer

"The Christian Children's Market: A Place for Beginning Writers" by Marcia Laycock - although dated, it has good info

"Creating Characters for Children's Magazines" - ICL Podcast

"Magazines for Kids" (online)

"Tips for Breaking Into Children's Writing Through Magazines" by Mary Lou Carney

"Top 10 Kids Magazines" - these are the ones it will probably be more difficult to break into

"Top Ten Writing Mistakes Made By New Children's Writers" by Suzanne Lieurance

"Writing Children's Nonfiction for Magazines - Mistakes to Avoid"

"Writing for Children's Magazines" by Eugie Foster

"Writing for Teen Magazines" (nonfiction) by Ursula Furi-Perry

"Writing for the Christian Children's Market" - Guest Interview with Author Kathleen Muldoon

The following are links to relevant posts I wrote on this blog:

"Do You Remember?" (writing for teen magazines)

"Is That Right?" (magazine rights)

"Keeping Track" (of submissions)

"Magazine Story or Picture Book"

"Nonfiction Writing" - includes more resources

"On the Hunt for Ideas"

"Professional Problem Maker"

"Selling Photos to Magazines"

"Swift Fiction: The Short Story in Focus"

"Theme List Tactics"

MAGAZINE GUIDELINES (and THEME LISTS/EDITORIAL CALENDARS)

Magazine Markets for Children's Writers - buy the current year here

Markets for Children's Writers - databases separated into children and teens and paying and nonpaying

Writing for Children's Magazines, An Ezine - quarterly - plus info about whether magazines are open or closed and links to guidelines



kidmag.jpg


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 pixabay.com and canva.com

Selling Photos to Magazines

photo courtesy of morguefile.com
camerabygaborfromhungary.jpg

Do you have your own images that would make a great addition to your article?

Do you know if the magazine you're submitting to accepts photos?

Since images are often purchased separately, offering photos can increase your rate of pay. However, just as there are rules and guidelines for writing, you'll find the same for photo submissions.

First, consider:


  1. 1. Do these photos add value to the article or short story? Do they help illustrate or demonstrate the content?

  2. 2. Do you own these photos? You either took the pictures with permission in a private location or they were taken in a public place.

  3. 3. Or, do you have permission of the photo owner to use these images? If so, note photos courtesy of "first name last name." Your editor may want contact info to verify this permission.

  4. 4. Are they quality photos? Do they have good composition, originality, good color and lighting? Are the images in focus or deliberately out of focus for effect? Are they cropped and/or modified well? Compare your images with pictures in the magazine you're targeting. Be honest with yourself. Can you see your photo in this magazine?

  5. 5. Do you have a photographer's release? If the picture shows a recognizable person, the editor may need a copy of this form. Here's a good site with information on release forms: http://www.free-legal-document.com/sample-model-release.html. You may also search online for model release or photo release to see similar forms.

  6. 6. Does the photo format fit the magazine's photo guidelines? You'll find some information in market books, but check the magazine's own submission guidelines, which are often available online.

  7. 7. What rights you are selling.

How to sell your photos:


  1. 1. Find out what format the magazine wants. Yes, it's so important, I'm repeating it. Formats usually are:

  2. a. Digital, including number of pixels

  3. b. Color slides or transparencies

  4. c. Black and white photos, a size is often specified


  5. 2. When submitting a query letter for an article:

  6. a. Send a sample of the best photo. This can pique an editor's interest.

  7. b. Similar to a bibliography, list the photos available with a brief description of each.

  8. c. Communicate the format of your picture(s) to the editor in a way which shows you know what format the magazine expects.


  9. 3. When sending the full article either on spec or by request:

  10. a. Send a list of the enclosed or attached photos. Include a label for each photo, a brief description, and if the magazine puts captions on photos, possible captions.

  11. b. When sending by snail mail, put photos in protective sheets, and protect them with cardboard. Don't send your only copy.

  12. c. Send a photographer's release, if the magazine indicates they want one. At least mention you have it available.

  13. d. Depending on the type of article, you may need to indicate where each photo goes in the article. This can be done simply by putting "(photo #)" in the text and including numbers on your list of photos.


  14. 4. Some magazines may be interested in photos of children involved in activities or in photos of animals and plants. They would probably not purchase them outright, but have them on hand to use when needed, or contact you when looking for a specific type of photo.

  15. a. Send photocopies, tear sheets or other nonreturnable samples.

  16. b. Include previous photo publishing credits (where your photos have been published before, if any).

  17. 5. Never send your only copy of a photo. Photos are usually returned but can get lost or damaged.

  18. 6. Label any physical copies with your name and photo identification (name or number).

Sample photo guidelines--note how much they vary and remember they can change at any time:

U.S. Kids magazines: "We do not purchase single photos. We do purchase short photo features (up to 8 or 10 images) or high-quality photos that accompany articles and illustrate editorial material. Digital format is best with high resolution (300 dpi in an image size of at least 4×6 inches). We purchase one-time rights to photos but reserve the right to use the images on our websites. Please include captions and signed model releases."

Nature Friend: "Photographs are selected, month-by-month, based on articles selected that need illustrations, along with a front and back cover photo. What this means to a photographer is that photographs are secondary to writings and cannot be anticipated and selected in advance. Photographic submissions that require us to return material in a specified number of weeks will likely not be useful to us. Photographs that are in our files the day we are making selections will stand the greatest chance of being selected for use."

Dramatics: "Photos and illustrations to accompany articles are welcomed, and when available, should be submitted at the same time as the manuscript. Acceptable forms: color transparencies, 35mm or larger; color or black and white prints, 5 × 7 or larger; line art (generally used to illustrate technical articles); JPEG and TIFF files of high-quality scans. Unless other arrangements are made, payment for articles includes payment for photos and illustrations. We occasionally buy photo essays.

Just as it is work to sell an article or short story, selling photos takes effort. However, following the guidelines may give you the reward of seeing your own pictures in print.

Plodding or Plotting

photo courtesy of Don Ford
rootbeerfloat_1.jpgAre you plodding along in your short story or plotting your story?

Plodding stories are often preachy stories. For example, a disobedient girl finally gets in so much trouble she has to get help. Or a small animal learns he can't do what he wants at the expense of others. Or a child who is different from everyone else finds out it's okay to be who she is.
Does that mean you can't ever teach something in a short story? Of course not. But it can't be the whole point of the story. It can't be something that only adults are interested in (i.e. children minding or having clean rooms). Nor can the lesson learned be a moral tagged on at the end. Instead the child character must have a problem that is important to him to solve.

Plodding stories can also be a day-in-the-life-of-the-main-character or what we call slice-of-life stories. First this happens, then that, etc. etc. But the child does not have a problem, nor does she solve it. Often these start with the child waking up in the morning and end with going to bed at night. There's no plot.

Following a child through imaginative play or a dream is also usually a plodding story. Again, no problem or solution is involved. No plot. In a blog post, freelance editor Mary Kole compared these to having to listen to someone's fantastic dream. It's really only interesting to the teller.

So how do you turn a plodder into a plotted story? It's fairly simple: you need a problem, an obstacle or two, and a solution. Sometimes, the obstacles are a failed solution, so another solution, and maybe even another is needed.

Think of a situation or a problem appropriate for your main character's age. Yes, I mentioned age. A problem that a five-year-old experiences is not the same as one a ten-year-old experiences and definitely different from a teen's. Think of mistakes made, fears, etc. for that age. These are not usually major life issues, but are a big deal for the child. What does your main character want right now? And what is preventing him from getting it? What can he do to get it?

Having trouble with ideas? Think back to that age when you were a child. Can you remember your fears, disappoints, mistakes? Do you remember getting in trouble? Remember wishing you'd done something different? Take one of your problems and win with it. Mine those memories and feelings for your characters. Examples often help me learn so here's one for you:

Once as a teen I gave into peer pressure and regretted it. I wrote a story with a character in the same situation; she also gave in and had the same regret, but instead of doing nothing about it as I did in real life, my character goes back to her friends and does something to make it right. Was my goal to say "don't give into peer pressure?" No. Did the story perhaps help some teen when they were facing peer pressure? I hope so. It might have also encouraged a teen who'd made another mistake. But mainly, it presented a story of a teen with a real life problem and her solution.

Okay, so what if you can't remember anything from your childhood? Do you have children, nephews and nieces, grandchildren, friends with children? Pay attention to what is happening with those kids.

My daughter told me my middle grandson got to learn a life lesson recently. His second grade teacher gave them an optional homework assignment. Each student who did it, would get a root beer float the next day. Our second grader has quite the sweet tooth and a root beer float was motivation. However, despite Mom's reminders that he'd better start on the assignment, he kept playing and putting it off. Dinner came--another reminder. Bedtime came and he still hadn't done it. Uh oh! There's his problem--no finished assignment, therefore, no root beer float tomorrow. Could he solve the problem? Yes. His solution: he asked his mother if he could stay up late to work on it. He did for a while, then got too tired. That's an obstacle. His next solution: he asked if his parents would wake him up early. They did, he got the assignment done before school and got the reward. Notice whose idea it was to stay up late and to get up early. In real life often the adults give these ideas, but in your story, the kid needs to come up with the idea(s).

Life is full of problems. We can't always solve those problems, but are encouraged when we hear how others have solved a problem. It gives us hope. Hope is part of the purpose of a short story. When the main character resolves her problem, the reader feels hopeful and the writer has accomplished something important.

Perhaps this article has given you hope about turning plodders into well-plotted stories.


How Do You Choose?

Resources for Writing for Children's Magazines

Selling Photos to Magazines

Plodding or Plotting

Theme List Tactics

Do You Remember?

Ready, Set, Goal

On the Hunt for Ideas