Carving Your Path

Today, please welcome guest blogger, Katriena Knights!  Katriena is the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances, including Where There’s a Will, from Samhain Publishing, which reached number 22 on the overall Kindle bestseller list. She is a full-time writer and editor. Visit her website at katrienaknights.com or her blog at katrienaknights.blogspot.com

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If you keep track of the publishing industry via blogs and industry articles, you know that today is a great time to be a writer. There is so much opportunity for writers right now—traditional publishing, self publishing, small publishers, big publishers, short stories, flash fiction—it’s a great big, crazy world out there where we, as authors, can carve out our own careers exactly the way we want to.

You know this until you start reading the industry articles and blogs that say today is a terrible time to be a writer. Writers are abandoning the traditional path, taking sides, belittling others who make different choices. What will happen to “literature” if the traditional publishing paradigm is broken? It’s a literary apocalypse, and we’re all going to be crushed to death under the steel boot of Amazon.

I tend to subscribe to the former mindset. However, in this age of nearly infinite opportunity and options, it’s more important than ever for writers to know as much as possible about all these options, and be prepared to carve a path that doesn’t look like anyone else’s.

 This is the biggest problem I have with a lot of those industry blogs, articles, and “experts.” Each one has its own agenda. Which is fine—we all have agendas. But there seems to me to be far too many people stating that their way is the best way, or even the only way. Such-and-such writer made a million dollars self-publishing, therefore everyone should self-publish and anybody who doesn’t agree is willfully blind at best and stupid at worst. Then so-and-so writer sings the praises of traditional publishing and states that if you haven’t been vetted by the “gatekeepers”—agents and Big Six editors—you’re not a real writer.

And this is why we can’t have nice things. Because as soon as something new enters the picture—self-publishing, or Big Six publishers trying new distribution models, or Amazon throwing out a new sales model that changes the rules—we all take sides. We line up on each side of the line. One group is vehemently in favor of the Big New Thing, while the other group insists the Big New Thing will lead to nothing short of an apocalyptic implosion of the entire publishing industry, if not the world and possibly the solar system.

The writers I truly respect are the ones who are able to look at all the Big New Things and figure out which ones work best for them. The “hybrid author”—someone who takes advantage of several different publishing avenues, including self-pub and traditional publishing—is starting to look like the author who will have the highest levels of success in the future. This is an author who can look at a new opportunity, evaluate it, see how it works in her personal business model and how it can help her reach her personal goals, and then embraces or abandons it as she sees fit. She doesn’t then tell everyone she knows that it’s a horrible idea and no one should ever go that route. She takes the attitude that it works for her, but might not for someone else. It works for Joe and Jane down the road, but isn’t really our hypothetical author’s cup of tea at the moment.

This doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to new ideas that are not a Big New Thing but more like a Sucking Hole of Suck. Publishers throw out horrible contracts, or come up with new business models that alienate the reader or the author or both. The more balanced view evaluates these dangers in an objective manner and points out the problems. In fact, some authors have been able to influence publishers to change these Sucking Holes of Suck into Slightly Less Sucking Holes of Suck by writing about them and bringing them to the attention of the writing community at large. I think it’s important to know what’s going on in this sense, and to be able to look at well-thought-out evaluations of different new opportunities, rather than relying on the knee-jerk reactions of people who have already made up their minds about one route or the other.

My advice is to make up your own mind. Read what you can about anything new that comes by. Read what you can about the old, established ways, too. Keep in touch with the industry. Decide what opportunities fit your goals or help further your brand, if you like to think that way. Don’t become so entrenched in one viewpoint that you can’t look objectively at the others. In the long run, picking bits and pieces from all the available opportunities will probably give you the best foundation for a long-term, successful career. But you have to find the combination that works for you, which will take some trial and error. Your path through this vast forest won’t look like mine. It won’t look like Joe and Jane’s down the street. It will look like yours. It might cross mine or Joe’s or Jane’s from time to time, but in the end it won’t be identical. And that’s okay. And don’t let anybody ever tell you differently.

How to Get Published in Children’s Magazines

Getting published in a children’s magazine is difficult, but not impossible. Though you may get paid for your work, it’s not likely to be a huge amount. That’s the bad news, but stay with me here, folks. The cool part is that you will be able to say that you are a published writer and you will get to see your work in print! You’ll also have something quite impressive to add to your resume, which can ultimately help you in getting a literary agent and/or getting the attention of a publisher for your book. Plus, you’ll have something to brag about at parties and you can even hand out copies of the magazine on Halloween to all the neighborhood children.  Won’t they be delighted!

The most important piece of advice for when you’re trying to get published in a magazine is to be sure you’ve read the submission guidelines very carefully. Nothing annoys editors more than writers who submit work that’s inappropriate for their magazine. Except maybe papercuts. That might annoy editors even more. The point is, you’ll need to tailor your writing very specifically to the magazine’s audience and focus. Pay close attention to the target age group of the magazine as well as the general tone and subject matter. A few magazines may focus exclusively on fiction stories, while many have a nonfiction slant based on world cultures, nature, science, history, and so forth. Though you may be a fiction writer in general, nonfiction articles in most magazines greatly outnumber fiction so you may want to keep that under consideration when planning your submissions. Just sayin….

Before submitting to a publication, make sure you’ve actually read the magazine. You can write to request a sample copy or see if it’s available in the library or bookstore. They also may have some information and sample articles on their website. It’s important to review as many past issues as you can to make sure they haven’t recently covered the topic you’d like to write about. Be sure to target your submission so that it jives with the magazine’s overall mission. For example, the focus might be on keeping kids fit and healthy, so your story or nonfiction article will need to reflect and reinforce that mission. Don’t write about how much fun junk food is when submitting to a pro-health magazine. THAT will annoy editors more than papercuts…

There are a great number of magazines out there and it can be quite overwhelming to review them all. The best place to start is to narrow your focus to just a few magazines that publish the type of material you’re interested in writing. It might be helpful to purchase the latest edition of Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers.  I have also compiled a children’s magazine list, complete with the magazine’s general focus, target audience, and a link to their submission guidelines. That list took me forever. You’re welcome…Anyway, if you narrow your focus to just a few of these magazines, you can really familiarize yourself with exactly what those magazines publish and you can increase your chances of creating an article that the editors simply must have for their magazine.

It’s important to come up with an idea that is both interesting and specific. Don’t just write an article about the Titanic, write an article about children on the Titanic or what kind of dessert they served. Something entertaining that hasn’t been done a millions times before.

Don’t talk down to the kids, whatever you do. Children’s magazine editors have tremendous respect for their audience and so should you. Also, don’t preach. You know, like I’m preaching to you right now? It’s fine when I do it. You’re not allowed to – at least not when writing for children.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, it is vital to conduct comprehensive research on your subject using both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources may include interviews, original documents, professional research, and so forth. Secondary sources may include books, articles, museums, science centers, and other sources that do not stem directly from an expert in the field. Though your bibliography will likely not be included in the actual print of the article that may be published, you’ll need to document your sources and send the information with your query and/or manuscript submission. The more good sources, the better. Wikipedia’s not gonna cut it, people.

Depending upon the individual magazine’s submission requirements, you may be required to submit a query, an outline, and/or the entire completed manuscript. If you need to send an outline, make sure it contains detailed facts, statements, resources, and it should cover the whole proposed article from beginning to end. Be sure to adhere to the stated word count limit. Staying on the lower end of the word count may be preferable, depending on the editor. Fewer words are cheaper – for the magazine. If you get paid by the word, don’t try to you know kind of intentionally and on totally on purpose stretch out the word count for as long as you humanly possibly can if you kind of know what I mean and totally get my drift. Editors, like teachers, are on to that trick….

Be sure to do your homework, kids. This article is like the Cliff’s Notes of getting published in a magazine. The next step is to read up on the actual magazines and maybe purchase (or get from the library) the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market and/or the  Magazine Markers for Children’s Writers. You can also join the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators.

Now come up with a cool idea. Research the hell out of that cool idea. Go get published and thank me when you’re famous.

My extensively researched and really time-consuming Magazine List I developed JUST FOR YOU.

More helpful links:

Writing for Children’s Magazines

Six Tips to Help Sell Your Nonfiction Magazines 

Five Ways to Begin a Children’s Magazine Article 

Want to Make Money Writing? Write Magazine Articles for Children.