July 14, 2014

Tips for Writing and Publishing Nonfiction for Children

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.

July 3, 2014

Scary stories

What kind of stories do you write for children?  Are they funny or whimsical?  Do they have a happy ending? These are the kinds of stories that Kid's Imagination Train likes to publish.  

Every now and then, a few writers submit scary stories.  Though there are markets for these kind of stories, they just aren't right for KIT.  We publish for a young audience—our lower age group is five-years old.  Children of this age 
have not learned how to express their fears verbally and because of this, we may never be sure of the impact of scary stories. 

Young children may however, send other clues or signals to indicate that they have been frightened.  For instance, years ago my husband and I could not figure out why our four-year old daughter suddenly became afraid to go to sleep by herself.  She needed one of us in her room every night.  After a few weeks of this behavior, I talked to Sister Marsha, one of my daughter's teachers.  Marcia asked if we allowed our daughter to watch a scary movie or television program.  I remembered that the three of us had watched the classic The Wizard of Oz, but we had fast-forwarded through the frightening scenes.  

“There’s your answer,” said Sister Marcia.  

While our young daughter seemed to enjoy the movie, it had actually scared her. And, we were clueless. She simply couldn't express her fears to us. 
Though this personal episode is about a movie not a story, l always think about it whenever scary fiction is submitted to KIT.  If you are writing for very young children, I would suggest staying away from scary and save it for the older kids.  Instead, focus on creating an upbeat story. Give it a positive message and end it on a cheerful note.        

Take a look at the July issue of Kid's Imagination Train:  www.kidsimaginationtrain.com

June 9, 2014

More on Revising

You’ve chopped all the ingredients for soup.  You’ve sautéed the veggies in a skillet.  You’ve poured the cooked contents into a crock pot, added broth or cream, and allowed the soup to simmer.  You know that the longer it cooks, the better it will taste.

I like to use this analogy when it comes to revising a manuscript for Kid's Imagination Train.  A revision should simmer on the back burner a good while before it is returned to the editor.  But recently, I’m finding that writers are rushing the process.  Sometimes when I ask for a revision, I get it back the following day.  Once, I got the revision back in one hour (I wish I was kidding).

Please don’t rush revision.  You should take into account what the editor has requested and edit your work.  But put it away for a few days and then come back to it.  Read it with fresh eyes.  Read it out loud.  Then edit again.  When you handle revising this way, you may see mistakes that you may have missed, or you may find more creative ways to edit your work. 

When you rush revision, it makes you look desperate.  So give your work the time and love that it needs.  An editor will notice and appreciate a thoughtful revision.  They know that the longer something simmers, the better it will turn out.

Don't forget to check out this issue of Kid's Imagination Train. Children interested in drawing for next month's issue can send in pictures of dragons to kitillustratorsubmissions@gmail.com 

May 28, 2014


If you are a frequent visitor to Children's Writers World, you know that I make suggestions to writers on their submissions to Kid's Imagination Train.  Usually, writers will revise their work.  But sometimes, writers never respond—which I don't understand. Are they arrogant?  Lazy?  I believe that when an editor takes the time to write to you and point out ways to improve your article, you should try your best to meet those needs.  

I take it as a compliment when an editor writes to me wanting a revision.  For instance, an editor at Highlights for Children magazine expressed interest in one of my articles, but pointed out that my manuscript needed some editing.  First, he wanted more details about a historical event that related to my topic. Realizing that would require more research, I read about six more sources to understand the event better.  Once I grasped the history, I included this new information in my article.     

The editor also wanted some clarification on the scientific research that I had been presented.  So, I contacted the expert whom I had interviewed.  In my email, I mentioned the title of my article, the name of the magazine interested in publishing my work, and the point in question.  She promptly wrote back with a great explanation. This too, was added to the piece.

Lastly, the editor wanted age-appropriate vocabulary.  He explained that some of my word choices were too advanced for the audience.  In fact, he actually listed each word (I know of no other editor who would have taken the time to be so specific). I referred to the thesaurus Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner.  By using this book, I was able to find words that better suited the age group. 

The revision would not be rushed, even though I was eager to get the piece back to the editor. I read it over and over and then handed it to my second reader (my husband) for his opinion.  I edited it one more time.  Feeling that the manuscript was ready, I slipped it into an envelope and marked the outside: “requested revision.”  It will probably be several months before I hear whether or not the piece will be accepted for publication. But I feel good about the article. It was well-researched, well-written, and well-edited.  I know I gave my very best to meet the editor's needs.  

April 12, 2014

Conflict and Backstory

Conflict.  Every story needs it.  When you write for young children, that conflict must be delivered early on, in the first or second paragraph of a 500-word story. This hooks the audience. Waiting until the middle of a story to add conflict can be a mistake. The midpoint is where the climax should take place. 

Some writers delay the conflict by presenting too much backstory.  Long drawn out descriptions or explanations have a tendency to prevent the story from moving forward. 

For example, I received a story for Kid’s Imagination Train in which a lonely female bear wanted to have a baby cub.  Many years later she did and it became the love of her life. The bear's longing for a cub filled the first paragraph.  The next paragraph detailed the adventures of mama and baby bear. In the third paragraph, conflict was introduced—the cub had no friends. But placing conflict at this point arrives too late. By now, readers have lost patience with the story. Too much backstory bogs this piece down.  

If you write for young children, you have little time to keep them interested in a story. Children have short attention spans.  So, you have got to deliver the conflict as soon as possible.

If you must use backstory, keep it to one to two sentences.  Use backstory to describe characters and the setting or to set a compelling stage.  Then bam!  On to the conflict and the rising action.  Conflict engages an audience.  They will begin to care about the main character and will want to learn how this character deals with the conflict—a conflict that has been crafted well and presented early on.  

March 24, 2014

Where's the Fire?

What would you do if an editor said, “I’d like to publish your work.”  You’d probably be screaming and fist-pumping with excitement.  What if she added, “First, you’ll need to do some editing.”  How do you feel now?

If it were me, I’d say, “Sure, show me what needs to be revised."  And, I’d work hard to get the piece up to the editor's standards. But lately, I have noticed that when I ask writers for a revision and give them suggestions for editing, I don’t get nearly the same response.  Sometimes they send their article/story/poem back the day after I've asked for a revision. This makes me think that the author is not giving the story or article the time it deserves. Other times, I may never hear back from the author.  When I work with writers like these, I find myself asking: where is the fire, that desire and passion to follow up on revising a submission and making it the best it can be? 

It’s funny.  It seems to me that some writers today have changed.  Their attitudes come across as indifferent, smug.  They don’t want to develop true conflict or tie-in the closing to the beginning.  They don't want to put the effort into finding an expert to review their work.  They could care less if the bibliography is insufficient or poorly formatted. They want an acceptance without having to make any changes to their manuscript. Sorry, that’s not how writing for publication works.  Writing requires revision and I know of few writers who get their work published without thorough editing.

Luckily, I have found this attitude in only a few writers.  The majority know that when an editor is interested in publishing a story or an article, they jump on it and edit their work. They understand the value of revision. And they work hard to deliver what is required. They also know that when they give an editor what she wants, they not only have a better chance of seeing their work in print, they will have created additional opportunities for future manuscripts to be eagerly and warmly received.  

March 17, 2014

Writer's Contest

Heads up all contemporary middle grade writers.  Check out this great contest: http://tinyurl.com/kva3w9j.  Deadline is March 18th.  Top 3 winners all get: 1) A critique of the first 10 double-spaced pages of your work, by your agent judge. 2) A free one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com ($50 value)!