Q & A
by Fiona Bayrock Copyright © 2004 http://www.fionabayrock.com
is the best way to see if a certain topic has been covered
A: I actually don't worry too much about this. Finding out what's already been done, and a fair distance back is much more relevant in writing for adult NF markets than for kids' markets. All editors want to make sure even their longest standing readers see new content. The longer a reader is subscribed, the more challenging this becomes, and the more emphasis there needs to be on what has already been done. Adult readers may subscribe to a magazine for a time that is measured in decades, but children's magazines may see a complete turnover in readership in only a few years as kids grow and pass through their target age group. It's common to see repeated topics every 5 or 6 years in some children's magazines (in fact, two of the theme magazines I write for regularly used a theme last year that they'd done several years earlier).
I don't bother with the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. It's usually pretty outdated. Instead, I go right to the magazine I want to write for. As part of my market research to become as familiar with the magazine's style as possible, I go through as many back issues as I can. If my library has the publication, I park myself with a stack and flip through them, article to article, looking to see what's been covered, and how, in the last few years. If the particular publication has a detailed index, doing the "finger dance" through the index gives me the info I need about topics covered. If my library doesn't have the magazine, I may use the EBSCO or Gale magazine databases to look up the last few years worth of content. Sometimes complete articles are available, too, which facilitates content analysis...sure saves having to order and pay for back issues.
Theme magazines relieve writers from much of this kind of checking. I submit whatever idea my little old heart desires that falls within the theme area, with no regard to what has come before. I tend to look at things with a different slant, anyway, and always look for fresh ways to make connections and handle topics, so I've had good success, even if the general topic has "been done". Editors like "fresh" and "unusual treatments".
line? Readership changes often in kids' magazines, so it's not
necessary to go back very far. If you know well the recent issues
of the magazines you're querying, you probably have a good enough idea
of what to avoid. Even if you do the research, you may still end
up with an idea that's too close to something already in the hopper;
that's something you can't predict. That's why I like the querying
process so much...not a lot is lost if your idea is rejected...no
manuscripts languishing in the bottom drawer.
Fiona Bayrock is the author of BUBBLE HOME AND FISH FARTS (Charlesbridge) and several other quirky science books for kids. Her news items, activities and feature articles have appeared regularly in YESMag, Odyssey, WILD, Highlights for Children and several educational databases. She is constantly in search of the "Aha!", clever puns, and her coffee.