Spring into Magazine Writing for Children

by Leah Heilman Schanke

In the April 2018 Professional Series presentation, participants learned that writing for magazines is a good way to break into children’s publishing because:

  1. It’s a repeat market – magazines need nonfiction, fiction, recipes, etc. every month.
  2. It’s often overlooked.
  3. It’s more open to new writers – publishers are often not open to unagented and never published talent.


Emily Goodman, author of fiction and nonfiction in children’s magazines including Cobblestone, Highlights, and AppleSeeds, and author of the award-winning picture book Plant Secrets, cautioned, “It’s still not easy to have work accepted by magazines.” Yet it’s easier than breaking into the children’s book market. As soon as a writer sells an article, he or she is then a professional writer. The pay is modest but enables one to build a resume as a professional writer.

Karen DelleCava has had several stories published in Highlights including two in in 2018. She is also the author of the young adult novel, A Closer Look, named a 2011 Top 40 title for realistic fiction by the PA School Librarians Association.

Most magazines such as Highlights, Cricket, Jack and Jill are looking for fiction. Examples of nonfiction magazines are Ranger Rick, Cobblestone, and National Geographic Kids.

DelleCava said a good place to start is researching magazines in the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market and then finding issues at the public library, bookstores, and on the web. DelleCava and Goodman advised reading at least a few issues, but two years of back issues is ideal to get a sense of article length and tone of the magazine. What is the magazine’s focus? Health and fitness like Jack and Jill? Fun with a purpose like Highlights?

If publication in a particular magazine is preferred, subscribing to it will enable the writer to be up-to-date on what the magazine has done. Some magazines have monthly themes which are listed on their web site. Magazines like Cricket do not have published themes but writers who sign-up for emails will receive the topics.

What makes a good submission? For fiction, DelleCava said stories should have the following:

  1. Main character must have a problem.
  2. Characters must solve their own problems.
  3. Character must grow in some way.

Remember to show, don’t tell; use metaphors and similes and lively dialogue; and have action that leads to a satisfying ending. Since many magazines use Submittable, DelleCava said, “It’s a good way to see what you have submitted and where it has been accepted.”

For nonfiction, writers send a proposal and only write the article if approval is received. Proposals may be due six months ahead of publication, and the writer may only have two weeks to one month to write the article, but as Goodman pointed out, “The research has already been done.”

Goodman shared it helps to write from personal experience or interview someone with personal experience. For her first magazine article, “A Bridge to History” in Cobblestone, Goodman drew upon her past experience working for the Department of Transportation in New York City and wrote about what it takes for bridge maintenance at the Brooklyn Bridge. Both DelleCava and Goodman said to look for fresh angles in fiction and nonfiction.

While the pay is modest, in some instances, like with Highlights, the story may be resold, to education testing company, for example and result in another payment to the author. DelleCava’s “Surfing Iowa” story in Highlights originally sold for $200 but has earned her many times that over time. However, DelleCava and Goodman emphasized one should write for magazines for the love of it, not to make money. They both agree, “It’s worth it.”

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Leah Heilman Schanke was a winner in the 2017 KidLit College Picture Book Contest and finalist two consecutive years in 2014 and 2013 in the PNWA Literary Contest. Leah is represented by Allison Remcheck of Stimola Literary Studio and can be found on Twitter at @LeahSchanke.

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