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The Theme's the Thing - Getting Checks from Children's Magazines
by Susan Denney

Didn’t you just hate it when your teacher gave you a theme in elementary school? Remembering the ever-popular “What I Did Last Summer” topic is enough to make most of us allergic to the word “theme.” But as a children’s writer, writing on a theme can pay off.

Here’s why a successful author thinks writing for a themed children’s magazine is a good idea. Fiona Bayrock, (www.fionabayrock.com), is the author of fifteen quirky science books for children including her newest one, Bubble Homes and Fish Farts, a science book about the way animals use bubbles. Even though she is very busy writing books, Fiona explains, “The reason I like writing for themed magazines is I know what the editor is looking for, when it will be published, and when I'll be paid.”

By writing to a theme, you have a better shot at guessing what the editor wants. Sure, your idea for an article on baseball is great, but the editor you are querying may be planning to concentrate on science this year. Instead of throwing wildly when you pitch an article, you can at least aim for the strike zone in your query by sticking to a theme.

Your publication date in a themed magazine is assured. When you sell an article to a non-themed magazine you might get paid on acceptance but you don’t know how long you have to wait for publication. I was paid for a children’s article in 2007 but I haven’t heard any more about it since. It could be a few more years yet before it shows up in print and I can use it as a clip. But you know exactly when a themed magazine will publish your work. You can use this information on your website and in query letters to other magazines. As Fiona points out, “With themed magazines, you know your article will be published in a specific issue, and the wait time is measured in months instead of years.”

Some of the best children’s magazines use themes. If you avoid a magazine because it insists on a specific topic for each issue, you are limiting your markets. If publishing in Cricket would make you die and go to heaven, remember that the publisher of Cricket, the Carus Group, also publishes a fine array of themed children’s magazines. To name a few, Faces, Calliope and DIG! are Carus publications and all stick to a specific subject for each issue. In Canada, Peter Piper Publishing puts out two amazing science magazines, YesMAG and KNOW, which also use themes. Even in the religious market, magazines like Pockets and Cadet Quest request submissions on a specific topic.

Generating article ideas for a themed magazine takes a lot less time and effort than pulling an idea out of the air. Just get out a sheet of paper, write the theme in the middle and start writing down anything that comes into your mind. After a short brainstorming session, you could have more than enough concepts to start with.

Lastly, it’s all about the money. While we all prefer to work for magazines that pay on acceptance, some children’s magazine publishers pay on publication. Writing for a themed publication lets you know when the check will be in the mail. Fiona says, “Submissions to non-themed magazines could wait several years before being published, and for magazines that pay on publication, writers will wait that long to be paid, too.”

To get you started, here are links to the theme lists of some children’s magazines:

Pockets http://www.upperroom.org/pockets/upcoming_themes.asp

Cadet Quest http://www.calvinistcadets.org/cadetquestthemes.php

Hopscotch, Fun for Kidz and Boys’ Quest http://funforkidzmagazines.com/writers

Links to all Carus Publishing magazines, guidelines and themes including Faces, Appleseeds, Calliope, and DIG! http://www.cobblestonepub.com/guides.html

KNOW http://www.knowmag.ca/about/guidelines.php

Find a market, choose a theme, send a query and soon you will be ready to write this theme, “How I Got a Check from a Children’s Magazine.”

© Copyright 2009, Susan Denney

Susan Denney is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. She has published children’s fiction and nonfiction as well as adult articles on a variety of topics. Check out her website at www.susandenney.com.

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