Associate agent Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency recently posted an interesting article on whether a picture book manuscript makes the cut for publication as a stand-alone book, or is better suited as a short story in a magazine. While those of us writing picture books dream of seeing our story on bookshelves, complete with colorful, inviting covers, the picture book market is difficult these days. And if our goal as writers is to write for enjoyment, share it with others, and gain publishing credits, then what's holding us back from seeking publication through a children's magazine?
Last month, Highlights Editor Debra Hess and Highlights High Five Art Director Kelley Cunningham spoke at an SCBWI conference in Maryland. Their presentation made publicaton with their magazine seem both appealing and accessible. They encouraged writers and illustrators to look into their submission guidelines and submit articles and art samples as a way of gaining exposure. They specifically indicated that they are looking for new talent, but reminded conference-goers to do their homework.
Debra and Kelley's Submission Tips
- Know the market. Look through current issues of Highlights and other children's magazines and see what's being published.
- Separate yourself from your work and prepare yourself for feedback.
- Create a brand for yourself. Have a website and create a mailing/emailing list to spread the word about your work.
- More isn't always better. For illustrations specifically, quality art is more appreciated than numerous samples of lower quality.
- Your manuscript must have merit. If you are submitting non-fiction, they strongly advised including a bibliography. Debra Hess said she won't even look at your article without one.
- Wikipedia is NOT a resource to cite.
- Manuscripts that begin with, "Imagine you are a..."
- Manuscripts that read like a term paper, i.e., they're not child-friendly.
- Writing that isn't clear or concise (they want no more than 750 words per submission).
- Submissions that don't have a clear, consistent point-of-view.
- Not including a reading level or word count.
- Cover letters that lack personality or don't demonstrate that you can write for kids.
- Queries. That's right, they don't want queries. Articles and short stories are brief enough that they want a cover letter and your complete submission.
- Stay open-minded to changes they propose in the editing process.
- Kelley Cunningham emphasized the need for true artistic talent, and commented that nothing replaces good, old-fashioned drawing skills.
- They don't want links to complicated, slow-loading websites showcasing your work.
- Work samples need to be strong and consistent.
- Images should be 300 dpi, low-resolution jpeg files.
- Don't be shy to interpret things in your own way. They shared one particular hidden picture puzzle assignment they gave where the artist interpreted the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill in a completely new and unique way. This artist has been called upon many times since then because they were impressed with his creative vision.
If submitting to Highlights, here are some final considerations...
- Highlights requires writers and illustrators to sell all rights.
- When submitting a story that features a character we hope to write about in the future, Debra mentioned that we cannot go on to submit a picture book manuscript featuring that same character.
- Highlights doesn't sell advertisements and only makes a profit from their subscriptions.
- Writers and illustrators who worked for Highlights in the past should mention it in cover letters.
- They don't assign articles, but mentioned checking their site for topics of interest. Debra Hess requested female contemporary athletes. She always likes articles about a person who has overcome an obstacle and gone on to succeed.
"I have to think: 'Is this a $50,000 story?' If it’s not, it very well could have a life in print."
If the love of writing for children is our ultimate goal, we owe it to ourselves to consider giving our stories that life in print that they deserve. It just may be in a capacity we hadn't considered right away.
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