My short fiction piece, “Sink or Swim”, was published in the July/August 2022 issue of Cricket magazine.
When I first started pursuing publication, I decided that I would start with magazines. I wanted the practice, the resume, and frankly, the income. Magazines have a greater need for short pieces since many put out an issue multiple times a year.
But breaking into magazines isn’t easy. It takes a long time, a lot of work, and persistence—just like with all things writing and publication. and just because the magazines are for children, doesn’t mean the work is easier; if anything it’s harder, in my opinion. Kids aren’t going to read a story just because. They want to be entertained. And you need to catch their attention in a only few words.
Where I Got my Story Idea
Cricket regularly puts out a call to submissions for themes they are looking for and one last year was “Game On,” focusing on sports and games.
I had had success with my piece “The Dive” about swimming and scuba diving, so my mind immediately went to swimming and swim meets, but I thought, what if the protagonist didn’t win? What if, instead the battle wasn’t taking first place, but rather finding the courage and strength in yourself to do something hard you weren’t sure you could?
The story started to come together as my main character had to swim an event she wasn’t good at and didn’t want to do. In this case: breast stroke. (Incidentally, breast stroke is my favorite stroke and why I chose it; I know how to swim it.)
Writing the Story
The story is something we’ve all been through, whether we swim or not. We all know what it’s like to be faced with a challenge that we don’t know if we can win. (Like, oh, I don’t know, writing and publishing perhaps?) This is a universal theme that anyone, regardless of age can relate to and immediately empathize with the protagonist.
One thing I didn’t like about my original draft was the first impression my character gave. She originally sounded whiney and super negative, and I didn’t want readers to get annoyed with her, while still understanding her struggle. It was one of the biggest revisions I made, trying to show a deeper and more likeable character.
I share this because it’s important not to get stubborn about things and to learn to see your writing through your audiences eyes. No one wants to read about a bratty or whiney character. But a likeable, relatable character with a problem? Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
One thing about writing for younger audience is that is a challenge is stay within the word count guidelines. Cricket has guidelines of no more than 1800, which isn’t that much room to pack a lot of action in. So to keep things moving and stay within the word count, I keep descriptions to the minimum. Illustrators can decide what characters look like, I don’t need to. I want to give enough information and narrative to give readers a footing in the story, but not waste my word count describing details they don’t need.
The Submission Process
Cricket accepts submissions through Submittable. While it might seem less personable, I love Submittable because it super simple, and you get a response. (Nothing drives me crazier than never getting a response!)
Since this was for a specific call, there was a due date that I had to meet. I love due dates and deadlines because I respond well to limits and knowing my time frame.
I submitted via Submittable, following their guidelines and including a cover letter. I’ve written so many cover letters over the years, I have a pretty good idea of how to do it now. You can see an example of how I write a cover letter here.
Most magazines will give you a general idea of their response time. Cricket lists their as up to six months, and I think it was about that long before I heard anything.
It can be incredibly frustrating to wait to hear back from a magazine, agent or publisher, but believe me, you don’t want to be the nagging writer that emails repeatedly. That’s unprofessional and annoying. Don’t do it. If, after the listed response time you still haven’t heard, then follow up. I’ve done that before, but never before the the time indicated in their submission guidelines.
One thing to keep in mind, the longer you wait to hear back, often the better your chances. So if you’ve been waiting for a year (yes, that has happened to me), take that as a good sign, even if the piece isn’t accepted. Often it means the piece was good enough to take the time to consider it.
What about you?
Any submission success? What are your experiences in submission and rejection or acceptances?