I love reading nonfiction submissions for Kid's Imagination Train. Recently, I received an article that needed a little editing before it could be accepted for publication. This piece inspired me to make a list of some common submission problems and ways to fix them.
1. Problem: A weak beginning.
Fix: Start with a fascinating hook. It can be an unusual fact, an amazing statistic,
an entertaining anecdote, or an interesting quote.
2. Problem: Starting every paragraph with the same word.
Fix: Use prepositional clauses to begin some sentences.
3. Problem: Misspelled words.
Fix: Use spell check, but watch out for homonyms.
4. Problem: Failure to group similar ideas together.
Fix: Outline and organize your article before you begin to write.
5. Problem: Misuse of contractions:
Fix: The word "it's" is the contraction for "it is." The word "its" is a possessive.
6. Problem: Improper formatted bibliography; unreliable sources.
Fix: Alphabetize the bibliography. Refer to examples in The Chicago Manual of Style. Aim for primary sources.
7. Problem: Writing like an encyclopedia article.
Fix: Keep the writing light and lively. When using a simile, make the comparison
relevant to the age group for which you are writing.
8. Problem: Failure to edit.
Fix: Read your work multiple times. Have a trusted friend also read your work before you submit. Don't expect an expert to catch all of your mistakes.
9. Problem: Submitting without a cover letter. Forgetting to include contact information.
Fix: Always include a brief cover letter with your submission. Make sure it has your home address and email.
10. Problem: Exceeds word count
Fix: Keep to the specified word count as noted in the writer's guidelines. Some editors don't mind if word counts exceeds by fifty words; going over by one hundred words might be pushing your luck.
Though an editor probably would not reject a manuscript without a cover letter, it is considered polite and professional to include one. Most editors however, may reject manuscripts that contain any of the other problems mentioned above. They usually don't have time to correct a manuscript.
Writing nonfiction for children is challenging—there are so many things to consider. But you can increase your odds of publication when you avoid these ten common mistakes.