How to Write Short Fiction for Children’s Magazines

These tips will help you write and sell your short fiction for children to magazines.

A great place to break into writing for children is magazines. Unlike book publishers who have limited needs, magazines are constantly looking for submissions, especially for short fiction. Magazines like Cricket, Spider, and Highlights are published nearly every month and they need great fiction in all genres for their readers!

Why write for magazines?

Publishing Credits

I chose to start with magazines to build a resume. Coming from a teaching background, I had a lot of experience with kids and children’s literature, but very little experience in actually writing professionally. I looked at writing for magazines as a way of building my writing chops and get some professional experience under my belt. Magazine writing can give you a list of bylines that looks great on a resume, provides you with writing samples to show potential agents or editors, and helps build your confidences as a writer.

Experience Working with Editors

Much of writing is a solo endeavor, especially in the beginning. But if you want to see your name in print, you will be working with several other people to bring out the absolute best in your writing. Working with magazine editors is a great way to gain experience working with people who will critique and offer feedback about your writing. This can be a very hard pill for writers to swallow, since we are so close to our work and it is very personal. But having the experience of collaborating with an editor who will suggest changes, and even make tweaks, will help you grow and adapt to the business of writing and publishing.

I have had some very good experience, and some less then stellar experiences working with editors, but I’m glad for all of it. It’s made me a better writer.

A Paycheck

One of best perks about magazine writing is you can start earning money for your writing much more quickly! Everything in publishing takes ages, but being able to earn some money while you work toward you writing goals is amazing. Check individual magazine guidelines to see their rates, but a little extra cash in your pocket never hurts!

Now, that you’ve deciding to give magazine writing a try, let me give you some tips on how to do that successfully

Write what you know

It’s easy to get distracted in a sea of writing ideas, especially if, like me, you have a million ideas a day. One of the best tidbits of advice I believe is the old writing adage: write what you know. This may sound cliche, but it works.

Let me give you an example: The first story I ever sold to a “major” magazine, was based on experience I had scuba diving. Now, I added drama and tension to the story, the characters were made up, the problem that arose never happened to me in real life, but I know what it is like to go scuba diving. All of the description and actions were familiar to me, so I was able to write about them with accuracy and confidence.

What do you know? What experience do you have that you could create a story out of? Do you hunt or horseback ride? Do you have a culture or background that isn’t as represented in children’s literature? Do you have a hilarious family memory or experience that would make and awesome story? Pull from these things in your writing. It will make your story shine with confidence and believability.

Dial back the descriptions

One thing that writer’s find difficult–ok, I find difficult–is dialing back the descriptions. Back in magazine writing, especially for children, you have to. You simply do not have the luxury. Word count guidelines are so tight, you can’t waste time with description. In fact, for very young readers description can be limited to just what is essential to the story.

Don’t worry about readers not “seeing” the story; that’s why magazines have illustrators. Leave room for the illustrate to create the image for you. So unless it’s crucial to the story that Robin wore a red dress, leave it out. The reader doesn’t need to know that.

All About Action

As I said before, as much as we writer’s love to paint pictures with words and wax on about beautiful locations, character descriptions, or character emotions, in short children’s fiction. You don’t have time for that. The story has to keep moving. And to keep the story moving, you need action.

It doesn’t have to be wild, explosive action (although it could be), but your characters need to doing something. Don’t keep them standing around talking to each other about how they feel. Sure, little Billy might be sad and angry that he lost a soccer game, but don’t waste your time talking about the complex range of emotions he’s going through. Show him mad, but them move him to the next stage. Get him kicking a ball or going to practice. Put him in another soccer game. Passive characters who sit around and mop are boring characters that no one wants to read about.

Tighten the Pacing

Because your readers are young, you have to keep the story moving. (see above) The story has to clip along at the perfect pace so that kids don’t lose interest and go on to something else.

A few ways to increase pacing:

  • Use dialogue – dialogue reads quickly, and breaks up narration. I often think of it as a break from readers.
  • Shorten sentences – simple sentences quicken the pace, just don’t use only simple sentences
  • Add a “ticking bomb” element – give a time restraint. In the piece I sold to Cricket, the divers in the story were trying to make it to surface before they ran out of oxygen. If that doesn’t tighten your pacing, nothing will.
  • Choose your words carefully – “meander” and “march” indicate two different ideas. Choose your words well.

Insert Kid Appeal

Finally, there needs to be kid appeal. Always. While it might sound like an elusive concept, “kid appeal” is just including things that kids love.

So what do kids love?

  • Humor – kids love to laugh, the sillier the better
  • Sports – sports are a huge part of many kids’ lives
  • Animals – a huge favorite, just be sure to take a new approach
  • Mysteries – albeit hard to do in such short word limits
  • Explosives/action – as mentioned above.

Writing short fiction for children is fun and deeply satisfying, and by using some of this tips, you are more likely to get an acceptance letter. And to find out where to submit those finished pieces, I have an entire post full of magazines that accept short fiction.

I have sold pieces to magazines using some of these same tips in my own writing. For a full list of my writing credits, see here.

If you found this post helpful, please share! Did I miss any tips that you would have included? Leave me a comment below!


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