Head start: Magazines and literary journals for young writers

Magazines offer young writers experience and exposure.
By Melissa Hart | Published: December 2, 2014


Isabella Taylor

Isabella Taylor

Isabella Taylor, 13, began submitting art and poetry to Creative Kids Magazine at age 8. Her artwork appeared on several covers, and she wrote poetry and prose for the publication. “She ended up graduating high school at age 11,” says editor Katy McDowall, “and starting community college.” There, Taylor took sewing classes and began a fashion line, eventually winning a Scholastic Art and Writing Award for one of her couture pieces.

“She’s had multiple showings of her art, and her fashion line is making its debut at Nordstrom stores,” McDowall says. “We can’t really say how much Creative Kids influenced her decision to pursue fashion, but we love to think that we gave her an outlet to see her work in print when she was so young and likely wouldn’t have had the chance to get it out there otherwise.”

Dozens of magazines, both print and online, publish writing and artwork by contributors as young as 5 years old. Children and teens also serve on a publication advisory board, making decisions about what to publish and how to present each issue. They select themes and work closely with older writers, learning editorial skills.

Twelve students between the ages of 8 and 16 serve for two years each on Creative Kids’ advisory board. “They create amazing submissions for each issue and provide valuable feedback on the magazine,” McDowall says. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Do you know a young author of an amazing piece of poetry or prose, or perhaps a play or comic strip or kid-friendly recipe? Read on for suggestions about getting the work into print in these magazines and literary journals for young writers.

Write what you love

Anna Neher works as associate editor of Cicada Magazine, which publishes literature, art and comics by the 14-to-23-year-old crowd. Neher believes young authors need to trust their voices and read great literature. “But allow yourself to be passionate,” she adds. “If you love The Vampire Diaries, then write a poem about The Vampire Diaries. If you can’t decide whether you’re a writer or an artist, put it all together.”

She points to Hope Hensgen’s poems “Eulogy” and “She told me she has hard edges” (Nov./Dec. 2014) as the type of work she loves to feature. In “Eulogy,” Hensgen writes:

Listen, she says. Listen.

Silence and dark both taste

like salt.

Neher calls Hengsen’s work “electric.”

“She’s a teen spoken-word poet with a strong voice: really raw, really honest,” she says. “That’s thrilling.”

Hope Hensgen

Hope Hensgen

There’s plenty of raw, honest writing in KidSpirit Magazine as well. Elizabeth Dabney Hochman edits the spiritually focused online publication that is geared toward teens from all backgrounds and traditions. A youth board edits the articles for theme-based issues that explore topics such as ethics, education, God, myth and competition.

“Our writers submit essays and articles about topics that inspire them,” Hochman says. “This interaction is engaging for both our writers and editors, and creates a lively dialogue about ideas the writer is passionate about and how to most effectively communicate those ideas to our readers.”

KidSpirit editors embrace their contributors’ unique passions; however, Hochman found herself taken aback by a pitch from contributor Misbah Awan, who wanted to write a feature about the number zero.

She took a chance and told Awan to go for it.

The result is “Zero Is Hella Shady: By Humans, for Humans,” which Hochman describes as relatable and funny. “It’s engaging to math enthusiasts, book lovers and even the mildly curious reader,” she says.

“From finger counting to calculus,” Awan writes, “from abacuses to computers, from interpretations of zero as ‘nothing’ in literature, the number has grown to be a global phenomenon. She – zero – is the one and only that sparked the idea of how nothing may actually be something.”

Write beautifully and with wit

Misbah Awan

Misbah Awan

As editor, Neher gets to hang out with young writers on Cicada’s open online forum, “The Slam,” which welcomes finished pieces as well as works in progress. She’s impressed by teens’ commitment to literature and by their sense of humor. “We joke a lot about Vikings and robots and Grendel,” she says. “We publish very beautiful and strange and subtle and challenging work, and also pieces that are fun and playful and smart and witty.”

The September 2014 issue of Cicada explores issues of death, loss and grief from multiple perspectives, including the humorous. The website lists an interview with Caitlin Doughty, described as “your friendly neighborhood mortician and cultural theorist of death,” who talks about how people deal with mortality. The same issue offers “Literary Undertakings Trading Cards,” comic black-and-white illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, the Bronte Sisters and Li Po along with spirited descriptions of their deaths.

Humor also figures into some of the stories in Stone Soup, a print and digital magazine devoted to writing and art by kids 8-to-13 years old. Twelve-year old Tatum Schutt has a short story, “My Grandmother’s Earrings,” in the September/October 2014 issue that combines amusing hyperbole and poignant reflection on loss with a suspenseful plot set at a children’s summer camp.

“So there I was,” she writes, “trying to keep my voice calm as I laid out my case to my archenemy on her front stoop. ‘You just have to promise,’ I said, hating how my voice sounded so weak and pleading. Jess regarded me like a dead mouse her cat had dropped at her door.”

Stone Soup editors look for high-quality writing that examines the world from a child’s perspective. “We never think, ‘This is good for a 10 year old,’” says editor Gerry Mandel. “Rather, we look for timeless, heartfelt stories and poems that would stand up to repeated readings by children or adults of any age.”

Let the guidelines guide you

All editors agree on one piece of advice: Read a sample issue of the publication to which you’re submitting. Most magazines have a website on which to order back issues. Sites also publish guidelines for potential contributors that spell out preferred word counts and genres, as well as how to submit work. Some editors prefer submissions sent through the post office, while others gravitate toward e-mail. If an editorial board structures an issue of the magazine around a specific theme, you’ll find this information in the contributors’ guidelines, too.

“Young writers submit pieces without checking our guidelines first, which can lead to disappointment,” says Dabney Hochman. “KidSpirit has several unique departments – Awesome Moments and The Big Question, for instance – that writers should familiarize themselves with before proceeding. Then, we suggest that writers email us with a short proposal before putting pen to paper, to make sure the idea fits into our editorial calendar.”

Think beyond prose and poetry

Each story published in Stone Soup is illustrated by a child artist. Young people send portfolios of their work, and the best go into an illustrator file. After editors have selected the stories for an upcoming issue, they match them with an illustrator, who has a month to complete a piece. “The result,” says Mandel, “is glowing, detailed works of art that compliment the stories and bring them to life.”

Eleven-year old Phoebe Wagoner illustrated “My Grandmother’s Earrings” with vibrant depictions of two key scenes from Schutt’s story that capture all the warmth and beauty of a child’s summer camp.

High-quality art appears in other magazines for young people, as well. Many editors publish book reviews, comic strips and other forms of writing beyond fiction, nonfiction articles and poems. One of these editors is McDowall. “Creative Kids loves outside-the-box thinking,” she says. “We accept stories, poems, artwork and essays, but gladly receive submissions that go beyond that – songs, games, puzzles and more – as long as they can be translated to the pages of the magazine or on the Web.”

Study each magazine online and in libraries and bookstores to get a sense of who’s publishing what. For example, The Blue Pencil, Speak Up! and Élan accept playwriting, while Zamoof! and Iguana publish kid-friendly recipes.

Launch your career

Writing, illustrating and editing a magazine for young people may just launch your professional career in the arts. Nina Strochlic, now a reporter for The Daily Beast, interned as a writer and editor at Skipping Stones while studying at the University of Oregon. One of Stone Soup’s former contributors, Madelyne Xiao, was a sophomore in high school when she launched her own online magazine for teens, Vademecum, which publishes prose and poetry and photography.

“I’ve always felt that high school fiction, artwork and prose needed a home of their own,” she writes in her biography on the magazine’s website, “a niche for skeptics, visionaries and eccentrics alike to congregate and share insight on their art.”

Cicada’s Anna Neher offers this advice for young writers and artists who’d like to make a living at their craft.: “Study the careers of people who are 10 years ahead of you. Whom do you admire? Look at their resumes and find out where they’re getting published. Where do you find an internship? How do you write a blog? How do you craft a brand for yourself? This is worth thinking about if this is going to be your profession.”

Magazines

Cicada
“YA lit/comics magazine fascinated with the lyric and strange and committed to work that speaks to teens’ truths.”
Genres: Poetry, realism, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, essays, comics.
Word Count: 500-9,000 words.
Submit: Through contributors’ guidelines on website, via “Submittable.”
Editor: Anna Neher, [email protected] cicadamag.com
 
Creative Kids
“Everything in the magazine is written by kids.”
Genres: Songs, stories, puzzles, games, editorials, poetry, plays.
Word Count: 500-1,200 words.
Submit: By USPS mail with cover letter and self-addressed stamped envelope. Editor: Katy McDowell, Creative Kids, P.O. Box 8813, Waco, TX 76714-8813. [email protected] ckmagazine.org
 
Kidspirit Online
Created by and for young people to tackle life’s big questions together.
Genres: Nonfiction, poetry, media reviews, puzzles, cartoons, art.
Word Count: Up to 1,000 words.
Submit: By e-mail or USPS mail.
Editor: Elizabeth Dabney Hochman, KidSpirit Online, 77 State Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. [email protected] kidspiritonline.com
 
Stone Soup
“Our purpose is to encourage children to write and draw by inspiring them with examples of the best work by their peers.”
Genres: Stories, poetry, book reviews, illustrations.
Word Count: Up to 2,500 words.
Submit: By mail from U.S. or Canada; e-mail if overseas.
Editors: Gerry Mandel and William Rubel, Stone Soup, Submissions Dept., P.O. Box 83, Santa Cruz, CA 95063. [email protected] stonesoup.com
 
Vademecum
“A litmag packed with clear, insightful prose, poetry and photography that illuminate aspects of the everyday that are frequently unseen, un-ogled, unappreciated.”
Genres: Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photography.
Word Count: Up to 4,000 words.
Submit: Online submissions manager via website.
Editor: Madelyne Xiao, Vademecum, P.O. Box 1638, Frederick, MD 21702. [email protected] vademecummag.com.

Melissa Hart is the author of the memoir Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family. She teaches at the School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon.

  • Melissa Hart

    Thanks so much for running my article on magazines that publish works by young writers. Scholastic Voice published my first short story when I was 15 years old, and I’ve been writing and publishing ever since. Best of luck to all the fine young writers out there, and I look forward to reading your work!

  • nina

    Hey, great article. I was sad though to see nothing about Canvas Teen Literary Journal. Maybe there’s another article coming?

    • mquinn

      Hi Nina! We actually ran a piece on Canvas just a few pages after this article in the January issue of The Writer. Great minds think alike!