Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Building A Writing Portfolio

Most of the adults who sign up for my writing classes have the same goal: to get a book published by a traditional publisher. They're usually shocked to learn what a long, slow process book publication typically is, whether they're working on a picture book or a novel. To help cope with the wait, I recommend they work on building a portfolio of writing credits they can mention in their cover/query letters. On Monday, Esther shared links to information on how to get published in Highlights magazine. Highlights is a well-respected magazine that's been around for years, and an impressive credit to include in your writing portfolio. Unfortunately, that means they receive a huge volume of submissions, making them a tough market to break into. I like to remind my students that there are other children's magazines, many of them more open to material than Highlights or the Cricket Magazine Group, which publishes high-quality magazines for toddlers to teens.

One of my favorite lesser-known children's magazines is Pockets, published by The Upper Room, for 6 to 12-year-olds. Like Highlights, Pockets runs an annual fiction contest. They also accept a variety of material, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, puzzles, and activities. Although Pockets is a Christian magazine, not all content is explicitly religious. I recall studying a sample issue years ago that happened to include a story that had won their fiction contest. It was a wonderful story about a girl learning to accept her new stepfather. I don't believe it mentioned God at all.

As it says on the Pockets website:
"Each issue is built around a specific theme with material that can be used by children in a variety of ways. Submissions should support the purpose of the magazine to help children grow in their faith, though all submissions do not need to be overtly religious." 
The magazine's monthly themes are listed on their website, along with a submission deadline for each issue. To paraphrase something I heard Richard Peck say years ago, "A deadline is a writer's friend." When I first learned of Pockets and their theme/deadline list, I submitted some theme-related puzzles. To my delight, they were accepted! That success led me to try my hand at writing a short story specifically for an issue focusing on "prejudice." They accepted that piece, and "The Cupcake Man" became my first published children's story. Pockets also published my first children's poem. (Is it any wonder why I'm so fond of this magazine?)

Of course, the key to success when writing for Pockets or any other magazine is to study several issues so that you can draft a submission that fits with the magazine's overall feel. You should be able to check out copies of well-known magazines like Highlights and Cricket at your public library. For smaller magazines like Pockets, you can usually request a sample copy from the publisher. Instructions for doing so are often listed in the "Magazines" section of the annual Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (Writer's Digest Books). You may be surprised by the number and range of magazines you'll find listed there. If you're a member of SCBWI, you can also download the latest SCBWI Magazine Market Guide, which also includes general tips on writing for magazines.

Besides magazines, another good market for building your writing portfolio is the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books. Their upcoming titles are listed on their website along with their submission deadlines. (Remember: Deadlines are our friends!) When Chicken Soup put out a call for the book Teens Talk High School: 101 Stories of Life, Love, and Learning for Older Teens, I submitted a poem in two voices called "Questions," which they accepted. My Writing Buddy, Leanne Pankuch, recently had her second Chicken Soup story published in Hooked on Hockey. Again, to place a story in a Chicken Soup book, it's important to study past issues, and also to carefully read their guidelines. While Chicken Soup stories are nonfiction, they must read like well-crafted fiction--with a beginning, middle, and end; action; dialogue; conflict, a theme, etc.

By the way, all the markets I've discussed today pay for your writing. While it's not exactly a "pot of gold," receiving payment for our work is affirming. And it has given many of my former students the confidence to say "I am a published author," even as they wait for their first book contract.

Don't forget: there's less than a week left to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of JoAnn Early Macken's, Write a Poem Step by Step. See JoAnn's guest post for details.

Happy writing!


Angela said...
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Angela said...

Thanks for the great information/tips! I have a subscription to Pockets and Highlights magazines. They're in my kids names, but I get to them first.

I also like Chicken Soup for the Soul. You've touched on a lot of good things in this post.


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the feedback, Angela. Do let is know if you sell anything to any of these markets.