Illustration of "Brianna's Book Stop" by Jeffrey Duckworth / Book Cover for WHERE DO DIGGERS SLEEP AT NIGHT? (on the bookmobile) by Christian Slade

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Good News Day Tuesday: Interview with Three Authors Who Are in Highlights this Month!

Happy Good News Day Tuesday! After my post yesterday about how wonderful magazines are for beginning readers, I'm so excited to be celebrating with three (yes, three!) authors who are all published this month in magazines published by the Highlights magazine family. Highlights is amazing and these authors are amazing too!

Hope you enjoy this interview with Jeanne Kaufman (JK),  Jody Jensen Shaffer (JJS),and Deborah Holt Williams (DHW)! I'm so excited to be celebrating their good news today. Please enjoy the insights they give into writing for children's magazines!:

First of all can you tell us the title and genre of your piece? What Highlights magazine and month is it (or will it) be published in?

JK: My poem, Ten Pins, is in the June 2013 issue of Highlights. It's a concrete poem, which means it takes the shape of its topic. In this case, the topic is bowling.

JJS: "Robins' Treat" is a poem for 0-2 year-olds. It was published in Hello in the June 2013 issue.

DHW: The name of my action rhyme is Body Language and it appeared in the June 2013 issue of High Five.

Where did you get the idea for this piece?  Can you describe your process in writing it?

JK: I originally wrote this poem to submit to a sports anthology. That didn't work out and I thought it would be great for Highlights. This was one of those very rare pieces that came to me nearly fully formed. Of course, I needed to tweak it, but the idea of a bowling poem in the shape of ten pins was there from the beginning as was the last line, "gutter ball."

JJS: I love to watch the birds in my backyard. I am particularly amused by the robins that hop, hop, hop, stop, and then cock their heads to the side to watch the soil move, which indicates a worm below.

When I wrote, I tried to describe what I saw, using fun, kid-friendly language. For the last line, I wanted to add a touch of humor. I think it took a couple of revisions to get this poem finished.

DHW: I've worked with 3-5 yr-olds for years, as a preschool teacher and library Storylady, and now as a Spellbinders storyteller, and I love to get them up and stretching between stories.  So this one and the two other action rhymes I've sold to High Five (Five Little Snowmen and Garden Stretch) came out of the need for a little movement during circle time.

What other published works of yours should we be on the lookout for?

JK: My first picture book, Young Henry and the Dragon, was published by Shenanigan Books in 2011 and was a finalist for the 2012 Colorado Book Awards. It's a rhyming story about a squire who has to trick a disagreeable dragon out of a little fire. Young Henry and the Dragon is available at Shenanigan Books, on Amazon, and at many local bookstores. It's also a title in the Reading Rainbow App. LeVar Burton reads it! That's a real thrill. In addition, I've had other poems and short fiction published in Highlights, High Five, Turtle, and The School Magazine of Australia.

JJS: I've sold more poems and nonfiction pieces to the Highlights magazines, Babybug has purchased a couple of poems, and I've got a couple of nonfiction books coming out in 2013. My first trade picture book will be out in 2014.

DHW: I have a 400 word poem about dragons coming out in the fantasy e-mag Spellbound this summer, a rebus in the September Highlights, and a poem in Hello, the new Highlights baby magazine, later this year.  Highlights also bought a holiday craft piece, but I don't know when it will appear.

What do you see as the unique benefits and challenges of writing for magazines?

JK: I love writing for magazines. It's so great for those of us creating poetry for children to have these markets. The challenges are very similar to writing longer fiction. You need to know your audience and try to find a good fit and it's very competitive. But it's also very rewarding, especially seeing my work published in a magazine I read when I was a kid.

JJS: I love writing for magazines! The benefits are that my writing is seen by lots of children, the turnaround time between submission and publication is usually fairly quick, and there are lots of great kids' markets (and editors). The challenges are that if you target a submission to a particular magazine and that magazine doesn't pick up your piece, your may not have many other options. One way to take advantage of the work you've already done is to revise what you've written and send it out again to another market.

DHW: If your motivation is to share your writing with lots of children, magazines are the way to go!  According to Lou Waryncia, head of the AppleSeeds magazine group, the average book sells 5,000 copies, but Highlights has an audience of two million!  The response time is generally quicker than it is from book publishers.  The pay isn't fabulous, but the only investment required is a little paper and ink, an envelope and a stamp!  I have found the editors at all the magazines I've written for, but especially the Highlights family, to be warm and encouraging.

How does this compare to any other kinds of writing you do?

JK: I see poems as puzzles. You have to fit the right words together in the right way. That's true for any kind of writing. It's just more intense when you only have four to eight lines to do it in (and when you have to come up with perfect, satisfying rhymes).

JJS: I also write trade picture books and nonfiction books for educational markets. Magazine writing is somewhat different from these other genres in the topics that are covered and the word counts of the pieces. Nonfiction writing also includes detailed writing specifications, like target reading levels. Magazine writing is similar to the other genres in that the ages I write for are all the same, roughly birth through early middle school, and many of the topics addressed by the books I write are the same as those addressed in magazine pieces.

DHW: Well, I've been successful in magazines, but so far have had no luck at all with picture books!  I'd love to get one published one day.  I'm doing 12x12, started by Julie Hedlund, that gives us the opportunity to pitch one manuscript a month to a real, working agent and get feedback, so I'm hopeful.

What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?

JK: Read as much as you can. Read books and poetry and short stories. That will help you with your pacing and your tone. And read everything you can about publishing. There are some great books and websites out there that discuss the ins and outs of writing and publishing in the kids market. You can learn so much from the many generous writers who share their experiences. It also helps to find a critique group of partner.  My road to publication would have been much, much more difficult without the sharp eyes and ears of my friends and critique partners in The Poets Garage.

JJS: Read the kinds of things you'd like to write (make sure you're reading things that have been published in the last 5 years, so you're up to date on current trends); draft, draft, and draft again; have a critique partner or group give you honest feedback; and don't be afraid to revise. Mostly, seek to improve and stick with it. You can't win if you don't play!

DHW: If you want to write for children, I think it's valuable to work with kids, and get to know their attention span, what makes them laugh, what bores them, etc.  Being Storylady was great training, because I read hundreds of books and got to know the work of different authors, and what they did that worked or what didn't.  Also, join SCBWI, find a critique group, and attend conferences and workshops if you can.  I had already sold a couple things to High Five before I attended Chautauqua in 2011, but meeting the editors and some great authors (including my hero, Joy Cowley) was very beneficial sown the road.

Congratulations Jeanne, Jody and Deborah! Thanks so much for sharing!

So, have you tried writing for magazines? How does it compare to other writing you do?


  1. Thanks for having me, Brianna. And congrats, Jeanne and Deborah!


    1. Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed Jody! It was so interesting to hear more about your writing process and your insights into writing for magazines! And congrats again!

  2. Congrats, ladies and great interview format, Brianna! I, too, love writing for magazines. I find it keeps my writing fresh and fun, and is a nice way to always have several projects going. I'd also like to send a special virtual wave to my present and former critique buddies, Jody and Jeanne! Nice to see you at the Book Stop! Care for a cup of coffee?

    1. So cool to hear you enjoyed the interview format, Laura! It was really fun to interview three awesome Highlights authors!

      I feel the same way about writing for magazines! It is definitely a fun way to have several projects going at once. (Although I haven't done as much of it lately. Definitely something to get back to. :o) )

      Hope you all enjoy your cup of coffee! (Luckily I'm much better at making it virtually than in person. :o) )

  3. What fun! Highlights is still on my list of magazines I would love to break in to!

  4. So glad you enjoyed the interview, Katie! Good luck breaking into Highlights! It is such an awesome magazine to read and to be published in! (I screamed so loud when they accepted my poems that my (then) baby son must have thought Mommy was going crazy. :o) )