December 14, 2014

Grade Level

When you write for young children, you should aim to keep the reading level age-appropriate.  In other words, if you are writing for ages 8 and 9, the readability should be for grades 3 - 4.   But what you have written an article intended for third-graders and an editor tells you that your piece is too advanced?  How can you measure the reading level so that you can edit it for the appropriate grade?

Here's when the Flesch-Kincaid grade level tool comes in handy. If you use Microsoft Word to spell-check your manuscript, you can choose to display readability statistics such as Flesch-Kincaid.  This tool was created to indicate comprehension difficulty when reading a passage.  The Flesch-Kincaid tool indexes readability by employing a formula that results with a number that corresponds with a U.S. grade level.  

Writers should become familiar with Flesch-Kincaid and use it as a guide to judge grade level.  I am not sure how many writers know about this tool, or know about it and forget to use it.  But if an editor points out that the reading level of your article is too high for the intended audience, you will need to find a way to lower it.  And this is where Flesch-Kincaid can help. 

In order to succeed in lowering readability, you cannot rush the process.  You should not hurriedly shorten a few sentences and cut some words here and there, and send it back to the editor with the message:  “Here you go.”  (I’m not kidding. I have seen this quite often.)  When you return an article to an editor in a day, it looks like you haven’t spent the time it takes to edit properly.  In fact, it almost shows that you don’t care enough about your work.  

My advice would be to work on the revision over several days, put it on the back burner for a few days, and return to it with fresh eyes.  Then take a look at the length of your sentences.  Turn the compound sentences into simple sentences.  Balance the number of simple sentences so that the work does not sound choppy.  Include some complex sentences, those that have an independent clause and a dependent clause.  Next, scrutinize each word.  Reduce the number of multisyllabic words.  Use a thesaurus to find grade-suitable words. 

You may find that you will need to repeat this process many times to gradually lower the grade level.  It's challenging, but doable.  And it's worth it. Before long, you will have created an age-appropriate piece and made an editor happy by giving her what she has requested.  

December 1, 2014

The Subject Line

Writer's guidelines.  Every magazine has them.  But I'm trying to understand why some writers fail to observe them.  Do writers simply forget to read the guidelines?  Do some feel entitled to skip them if they are published authors?   

The writer's guidelines will usually state how an article or story should be presented to an editor. This includes the way an editor wants the subject line of an electronic submission to read.  For Kids' Imagination Train, we would like to see the author's last name, the genre and the title in the subject line.  

Writers must always follow the guidelines.  And that includes having the correct wording in the subject line for an electronic submission. As cruel as it may seem, your work might get deleted or find its way into a spam folder if the subject line is not worded as specified.
Whether you pen fiction or nonfiction, you are well aware of the work that goes into writing for children. Nonfiction writers spend hours finding sources, reading them, taking notes, writing the piece and then editing it.  They spend time trying to find an expert to review the manuscript. Likewise, fiction writers spend hours crafting stories that demand conciseness, simplicity, and a visual sense.  They too, must edit and revise.  So with the mountains of time invested, why would writers take the chance of having their work trashed simply because they failed to follow one little step?  
As silly and as persnickety as it might sound, the subject line of an email submission must be stated exactly as requested.  You must pay attention to this little detail, because if you fail to do so, your precious manuscript that you spent oodles of time on may never get read.  And no writer wants to walk down that path.  I've said it before and I'll say it again (and again).  Review the writers' guidelines.  Pay attention to what is required for the subject line.  Doing this little step correctly should guarantee that your hard work will get into the hands of an editor.  

November 17, 2014

Read It Out Loud

You've probably heard this before:  read your work out loud. Most editors would encourage you to do so.

Once, a writer sent a nice poem to Kid's Imagination Train, but she repeated a phrase three times in two stanzas.  The repetition in this piece was distracting and it caused the poem to weaken.

Had she read her work aloud, she would have caught this slip. Then, she could have used a thesaurus to find words to replace the redundant phrase.

There is an exception to using repetition.  If you want to draw attention to a word for emphasis or for humor, then words and phrases can and should be repeated.  A classic example is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss:

Green Eggs and Ham
I am Sam.
Sam I am.
That Sam-I-am!
That Sam-I-am!
I do not like
That Sam-I-am!
Do you like
Green eggs and ham?
I do not like them,
I do not like
Green eggs and ham.

Take a careful look at what you have written.  Review it multiple times.  Then close the door if you want and start reading it out loud to the computer screen.  You can print a copy and read to a mirror or even read to your pet. Listen for any unintended repetition. Check to see if you work flows off your tongue. Catch awkward phrasing. I urge you to do this every time before you submit your work. And so, allow me to repeat myself: read your work out loud:)

October 29, 2014

Multiple/Simultaneous Submissions

Do you know the difference between multiple submissions and simultaneous submissions? Though some people use the words interchangeably, there is a difference between the terms.  In the case of a multiple submission, a writer sends several different manuscripts to one editor.  In other words, an editor may end up with two or more pieces from one writer. Conversely, a simultaneous submission is when a writer sends the same manuscript to different editors. This means that your story is being considered by more than one editor.

It's important to understand the difference and know if multiple or simultaneous  submissions are accepted.  Your work might get rejected if you send an editor multiple submissions when the guidelines state otherwise.  So it's your job to find out if what is permitted.  

For instance, Kid's Imagination Train has a small staff so we don't accept multiple submissions or simultaneous submissions and we state that in our guidelines.  But that doesn't mean that everyone adheres to the rule.  Once, a writer sent a very nice poem which was accepted for publication in KIT.  Since the piece required a little editing, I worked on the revision for a few days.  And then, the author retracted the poem.  The explanation:  another publication had excepted the piece.  The author had submitted her work simultaneously.  I was not a happy editor—my time was spent editing a piece that KIT will not be able to use.

Be sure to find out what an editor prefers before submitting.  If multiple and/or simultaneous submissions are permitted, you will get the chance to have your work and lots of it considered by editors.  But when the guidelines state that an editor does not want multiple or simultaneous submissions, then follow those requirements.  That way, you will know exactly what to submit and how to target editors who may be interested in publishing your work. 

October 7, 2014

More Tips for Writing Nonfiction for Kids

In July, I had written a blog that had tips for writing nonfiction for children.  I’d like to add a few more.  The following came to mind after I edited an article and a book.   

*Write in the present or past tense.  Avoid using the future tense if the wording can be expressed in the past tense.  Example: She would become a great athlete.  Better:  She became a great athlete.

 *Look up words in a dictionary if you are not sure if they need to be hyphenated.  Check out the links below to discover extra tips on using hyphens: 

*Dig deep when you research your topic.  Go beyond what is presented in encyclopedias or on the Internet.  Aim for primary sources.  Editors love primary sources.

*If you include an organization that is known by initials or an acronym, spell out the name of that organization. If it is not well known, give one sentence to describe the essence of the organization.

*Read your article out loud.  Really!  You will be surprised how many grammatical errors you may catch.

Before you submit manuscript to an editor, edit it thoroughly.  Put it away for a few days and read it again with fresh eyes.  Have someone you trust take a look at your work. Review the tips in the July blog and follow the tips listed above to help your writing get stronger and to make your manuscript shine.  

Do you have any tips for writing nonfiction for kids?  I welcome you to leave a comment.

September 28, 2014

Pushing the Limit on Word Count

Do you stay within word count when submitting to a children's magazine?  I hope so. Yet, some writers think it's okay to push the limit.  Once, a writer sent Kid's Imagination Train a 1200-word article.  That's a bit too long—700 words over the limit.  KIT accepts fiction and nonfiction that run about 500 words.

It is clear to me that this writer didn't read (or understand) our guidelines.  What a shame because it wastes my time and the writer's time.  Had the requirements been reviewed, this writer may have sent an appropriate piece that KIT would love to publish.

Magazine editors post word counts not to challenge or frustrate writers, but to encourage writers to create pieces that are suitable for their audience.  Five hundred words or less is an appropriate length for young children because it's short enough to keep kids engaged.  Anything longer may result in losing a child's attention.  In fact, other editors will tell you that even adults lose interest in reading lengthy pieces online.

Here are some general rules:  twenty to fifty words over the count is generally okay. Going over by one hundred words is iffy.  Pushing the count to several hundred words over the limit is a no-no.  Just don't go there.  

Writing for children requires that you write concisely.  If you want to get published in the children's markets, make it a point to read the guidelines and stay close to the expected word count.  

September 12, 2014

Making a Lousy Day Better

I suppose everyone has a lousy day from time to time.  Not long ago, I had one of those kind of days.  A business associate left Kid's Imagination Train without giving notice, leaving me to fill in for her duties at the last minute.  Luckily, I had some clues that this might happen, so I prepared in advance.  Looking back, it was for the best.  My former partner is probably happier and I have fewer worries.  More, her departure pushed me to be creative with KIT.  And I could not be more pleased with the direction it has taken.

As I look back, it was truly an awful day.  A question kept burning:  How could anyone treat another person that way?  It really bummed me out.  But that question would never get answered.  So, I had two choices: to continue to have a bad day, or to do something to make the day a little better.  I choose the second. 

Early each morning I take a walk and pass by a dry cleaning business.  Cathy, the owner always waves or says hello to me.  It occurred to me that on this lousy day I could do something nice for her.  I was on my way to the grocery and decided to buy a potted flowering plant. 

When I gave it to her she looked stunned.  “Why?” she asked.  I said, “It’s a ‘because’ plant.”  I did not go into any details about my day.  I told her it was because she was always friendly to me.

Believe it or not, the little plant still blooms even months after it had been given as a gift.  Cathy tells me that people remark about it when they stop in.  As for me, it never reminds me of my lousy day.  Instead, it reminds me of hope and kindness.  It makes me smile knowing that a small gesture made my day better and someone else’s day a little bit brighter.