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Themed Writing for Children’s Magazines
by Shannon Caster

For the next year my writing calendar is virtually full. I have enough ideas to keep several authors busy. No sleepless nights fighting writer’s block and no worrying if my story idea is right for editors. I wake up each morning, spend a few minutes on the computer and plan out my entire day. I often schedule a month at a time. My secret? Themed magazines.

Publishers are constantly updating theme lists. I bookmarked my favorite magazine theme lists on my web browser. When I’m short on writing ideas, need to make a few extra dollars, or ready to start a new writing project, I head to my selection of theme lists. I know the manuscript I create following a suggestion on a theme list is more likely to grab the editor’s attention and land me a paycheck.

CARUS PUBLISHING

Recently, Carus Publishing posted their upcoming themes for the 2006-2007 publishing calendar. You may recognize Carus Publishing by one or more of their publications, such as Babybug, Ladybug, Cricket, Spider, or Cicada. Many of us grew up reading Ladybug or Cricket at school and in the doctor’s waiting room. While these literary magazines don’t have specific theme lists, their history and science counterparts do. These magazines include Appleseeds, Calliope, Cobblestone, Dig, and Faces – the social studies and history versions. Of course, you might find Odyssey, their science magazine, more your style. You can view their theme lists at http://www.cricketmag.com/pages_content.asp?page_id=6. Or go to www.cricketmag.com and on the top header, click on About Us. Then click on Submission Guidelines. You can view upcoming topics and query due dates for each magazine.

BRAINSTORM THE POSSIBLITIES

Once you find a topic of interest, begin with an Internet search. For example, one of Calliope’s upcoming themes is the Birth of Ancient India. A quick Internet search on ancient India will reveal many websites, including www.ancientindia.co.uk. Here you will find information on The Buddha, Early Hinduism, Indus Valley, Hindu gods and goddesses, plus early epics and myths. Once you find an angle of interest, you can narrow your search. Maybe you find the story of Narayana the Creator captivating. There’s your angle. Browse Narayana on the Internet to start your research.

CHECK SAMPLE MAGAZINES

Of course, every website and editor shouts from behind their computer screen, “Check back issues for tone and style.” Carus Publishing is no exception. A quick trip to your local library will help greatly in your search for back issues of the magazine you are interested in writing for. A wealth of information can be found in these back issues to aid in securing a sale. If you’re writing a Buddha article for Calliope, you will find the magazine usually features small clips centered around one event or idea, rather than a full biography that briefly describes dates, events, and accomplishments. You might write about one event in Buddha’s life, like his journeys out into the town streets where he met old, sick and injured men for the first time. It was these encounters that led to his fundamental truths of life. I usually check at least six back issues to see what slant articles take before typing my outlines.

ORGANIZING YOUR IDEAS

With the themes in the Carus network of magazines, and query due dates out to July 2007, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make a few extra dollars. Upon release of the new theme lists, I made a spreadsheet of topics of interest to me. I set up four columns on my spreadsheet. The first column contained the name of the magazine –so I could remember which magazine to refer to later when sending my outlines. The next column I listed the theme. The third column contained the query due date. This way I can make sure I work on themes with earlier due dates first. In the last column I listed possible angles for my articles. The last column might have one idea or five, depending on how many queries I am sending for each theme.

I like to use Excel to create my spreadsheet because of the sort feature. Once my list is complete, I can ask Excel to sort the information by magazine, due dates, or alphabetical by theme. My choice is always due dates. I can see at the top of my spreadsheet, the theme with the nearest query due date. To access this feature in excel, go to Data then Sort. From here you can choose what method to sort your information.

SAVE TIME AND OUTLINE IT

Carus history and science magazines don’t require the full article for consideration. They ask for 1) a brief cover letter, 2) an outline of proposed topic, 3) bibliography of sources to be used, and 4) SASE. If your idea is accepted, you will be notified about 4-5 months before publication with a go ahead. No need to write the entire article until your idea is a go.

Theme lists are a great way to break through writer’s block, seek out new markets, and increase your chance of a sale. You still can make the article your own by choosing a subtopic within the theme and using your own personal slant. You might even get a great idea to use in other magazines along the way.

© Copyright 2006, Shannon Caster

Shannon Caster resides in Portland, Oregon where she can be found reading at the park, watching her kids at sporting events, walking her dogs, or writing on her laptop. Shannon frequently writes for children, parents, educators, writers, and any other audience willing to listen. Shannon welcomes visitors to her website at www.shannoncaster.com.

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