Today I have a fabulous guest post by Maria Rainier on freelancing for children's markets. As always, please leave your thoughts, opinions, and advice regarding the topic in the comments! We would love to hear them. Here's Maria!
Freelancing for Children’s Markets
Arguably, it is within the genre of children’s literature that dreams fly highest. Doesn’t every writer at least think about writing a picture book or children’s novel, just once? Book publishing can be daunting but it can be done; short stories can be published in a collection; and, despite the Information Age, there is no serious shortage of respected children’s magazines in which to publish individual short stories or nonfiction.
Here, a word of advice: nonfiction is where the money is, if that’s what you’re in it for. Nonfiction articles can garner upwards of $1,000 apiece, and the market is bigger than for fiction, since short stories in most juvenile magazines only take up the last few pages of any given issue.
Editors, however, prefer nonfiction that reads like well-versed fiction—engaging, vivid, and entertaining. Children and juveniles are like many adults that prowl the Internet or magazine stands in that they don’t want dry literature. They want to be entertained and to learn something as a bonus. To appeal to such an audience—and one with a decreasing attention span due to computer and video games, television, and the like—a successful freelancer in this genre (as with any other) must be willing to research, show respect for the audience, and write clearly and engagingly.
Your childhood—whether you were born twenty or sixty years ago—is different from the childhood of your readers today. Think of the technology advancements. Many children carry around iPhones nowadays and more than a few are playing the online multi-player mode of violent, realistic war games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. You must also consider the specific magazine you hope to write for—who is the audience? Skateboarders? Animal lovers?
Attempting to write a nonfiction (or even fiction) piece without considering the audience works no better for children and juveniles than for adult magazines. You cannot expect to send a piece on the newest gadgets and software to a magazine purely about celebrities, as you cannot expect to get published by a yoga magazine while spouting evangelical New Testament verses. Moreover, you must write what you know, or at least know what you’re writing before you submit it. Like an adult, a child or young adult will be able to tell if you’re trying to fake your way blind through a skateboarding article.
Research doesn’t have to be constrained to online reading or the library. Try hanging out with your neighbor’s kids (or your own if you’ve got any). Visit a public elementary school or the local McDonald’s play pin and eavesdrop. Find ways to connect with your audience.
Researching for your audience shows respect for your readers, lets them know that you want their respect in turn. The quickest way to lose the respect of a child or young adult is to talk down to them with clichés, overly happy or childish behavior, and baby talk. Adults don’t like to be treated like they’re stupid, and neither do children, and children—contrary to popular belief—are decidedly not stupid. They can tell when they’re being patronized.
Similarly, they can sniff self-interest or a wholesome moral from miles away. If you’ve got a message, show it, don’t tell it, and don’t overstress your point. Kids don’t like proselytism any more than you do.
Lastly, part of showing respect for the intended audience is taking for granted that their time is valuable and better spent getting to the point than dancing around it. Especially given their shortened attention spans, a good writer for children must quickly capture and deftly keep the audience’s attention.
This can be achieved through the same principles a writer uses for a mature audience: “solid plot, interesting characters, humor, sharp detail, good research,” according to Christine Walske of Cricket Magazine group.
Nonfiction, too, must have a plot, characters, and humor. Remember, good nonfiction can read like fiction. You must simply step away from the intended subject matter—let’s say, a certain breed of dog—and rather than tell facts and figures, show the audience why it should care about the dog. Describe its shaggy fur, make the reader feel its goopy drool, its hot breath, the cool breeze made by its happily wagging tail.
In attempting to make a piece interesting to a young audience, many writers make the mistake of trying to be that young audience. Jargon and slang are better left to blogs and playgrounds, not nonfiction. This is part of respecting the audience—they’ll know you’re not their age, and they’ll know you’re being insincere.
A Word on Sincerity
“This above all: to thine own self be true.” Polonius didn’t live a very long life (and, to think of it, neither did his daughter, to whom he gave this advice), but his words have become immortal. It’s good advice to keep close to a writer’s heart. Do you want to write children’s novels? Write them. Do you prefer nonfiction? Write it. Do you care about the money, or do you write from the heart? There’s nothing insincere about a well-earned and well-paying job; just don’t chain yourself to numbers when it’s the written word you love. Your readers will know if you’re being sincere to yourself as well as to them.
Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online schools. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.