Tuesday, August 3, 2010

15 The $50,000 Question: Picture Book or Children's Magazine?

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.
Debra and Kelley's Peeves
  • 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.
Kelley's Tips for Illustrators
  • 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.
In today's tough market, publication in a children's magazine is something writers can consider for more options. It's roughly a $50,000 investment for a publisher to buy our story for publication as a picture book. In the words of Mary Kole:

"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.

Happy Writing!

Other resources:
Cricket Magazine
National Geographic Kids
TIME For Kids
Zoobooks Magazine
KIDS Discover
Top 10 Kids Magazines


  1. This is fantastic. I have a few children's stories all bundled up, ready to go but had no idea what/how/when/where to do with them. I am so blogging about this post, if it's alright with both of you. Do you mind? I'd like to site some of what you mentioned and build upon it.

    Thank you for posting it.

  2. Um...yeah, that was 'sight' not site. Sorry.

  3. Thanks so much for another of-the-moment informative post. I love your blog!

    I subscribe to both Highlights and Highlights High Five. I will most likely be sending off a story in the near future.

  4. This is very helpful! I submitted to Highlights once before. I received a rejection, but it was a nice one! It came with a short checklist with the things I did right and then the reasons they couldn't accept it at the time. I think if all rejections came so kindly like that, writers wouldn't need to inhale so many cupcakes and ice cream, LOL! Thanks for the tips and the links!

  5. Great advice - thanks so much :)

  6. Thanks for the tips! Very helpful, but I have a question. Under Kelley's Tips for Illustrators, the 5th point says:
    "Images should be 300 dpi, low-resolution jpeg files."
    This statement is confusing to me. 300 dpi files are considered high resolution. If they are talking about images on your website, do they mean 72 dpi files, which are considered low resolution? Or are they talking about images you submit to them, which would probably be high resolution (300 dpi) files?

  7. Great advice, thanks! I submitted to Highlights once and was rejected. Maybe I should try again.

  8. This is so true. I took the ICL course which focused on magazine writing, and it really opened a lot of doors. Writers want to be 'read' and magazines are a great way to accomplish that goal.

    Highlights is THE market I'm trying to get in to. They've rejected everything I've sent them except for one article. They've asked for revisions, I've sent them, and now it's on to Honesdale for final approval. My fingers are crossed so much they're twisted in knots. It would awesome to be able to add that to my cover/query letter. I've heard editors respect and appreciate a publication in Highlights.

    Thanks for the great post!

  9. Sheri, can't wait to hop over to your blog and see what you share!

    Heather and Jemi, we're glad this was helpful!

    Laura, thanks for letting us know that! Ha, I'd think of another excuse to eat sweet treats :)

    Redheaded Stepchild, I'm out of my league on that one. I would recommend emailing Kelley because she was very open and friendly. Good luck!

    Nicole and Julie, we're cheering you on!

  10. another incredible post and OMG YOUR SIDEBARS!!

    holy cow, ladies. HOLY COWS DUCKS AND MONKEYS.

    my jaw is somewhere on the floor.

  11. The only downside to the children's magazine market is that most publications ask you to give up all rights to your story, which can then be used in anthologies or textbooks with no further compensation.

    However, any publisher that can be cited in a writer's bio is certainly worth considering. Just remember, "all rights" means "ALL rights". As Ms. Hess mentioned, once you've given "Highlights" a character, they own it.

  12. Great tips! I seem to remember reading somewhere that a Highlights publishing credit is a good writing credit to have, too.

  13. Hi there!

    Shortstorybook.net is organizing a short story writing contest.

    We do think that you too might have a marvelous story to tell, one that is your own! So if you can compose it in not more than few words, we would want to hear from you. Also, you stand a chance to get your story published on our site and win cash prize of USD 100.

    “Then what are you waiting for? …put on your thinking cap and get writing. For registration and other information check - http://bit.ly/short-story-contest-2010

    Happy writing!

  14. Great post--thanks for sharing this excellent information. I recently made my first sale to Highlights.

  15. Thanks for this. I've been thinking more about the magazine market, and Highlights is the gold standard. Great info here!


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