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Non-fiction writing sample

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I am a newbie, planning to try my hand at writing some non-fiction for children's magazines. My question is about what you should do when a magazine asks that a new contributor include a writing sample (as the Cobblestone magazines do). I have previous writing experience, but it is all academic or for adults (a column in a local parenting magazine, book reviews). I work with children as a librarian, so I'm familiar with children's literature - but of course that is not the same thing!

If any of you could share what worked for you when you were in my shoes, I would be very grateful! Should I write up a sample paragraph or two? Start off by submitting a puzzle or craft so they get to know me first?

Many thanks! This is a great resource.
#1 - September 02, 2007, 08:21 AM


Write an article on a topic that interests you, preferably with an upcoming theme (for them) in mind. State, specifically, that it is a sample article that illustrates your writing, and that you had put it together for them with their upcoming theme *whatever* in mind. Include it with your submission package. Mention your published adult credits (that's okay), but don't dwell on them.

One thing I did to get my foot in the door with a couple publishers was show my expertise in a particular topic by suggesting that I could write "on spec" for them on certain topics (this worked for Explore magazine as well as Moo Cow Fan Club) - I know a lot about the Vikings as well as Bug Cuisine - so I pitched several articles with that theme in mind. I included a sample piece relating to the topic... and got hired to write an article for each of those based on my enthusiasm, expertise and I'm certain, a bit of hutzpah. LOL

Good Luck with your submissions.

Maude  :jump
#2 - September 02, 2007, 08:31 AM

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I'd send a couple of the published clips and perhaps a short new sample article that fits the style.
Write a killer query -- focused, detailed enough, with a bibliography and possible experts lined up.
Good luck,
#3 - September 02, 2007, 01:20 PM
Max & Dagny, Why in the World, Tongue-Tied, Bound, Ten Easter Eggs & 100+ bks/mags


Thank you, Maude and Vijaya! This was all great advice - it's very helpful to get such concrete suggestions and I really appreciate your sharing your time and experience! I'll let you all know how it goes (perhaps many months down the road...).

#4 - September 02, 2007, 11:49 PM

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I've nothing to add to Maude and Vijaya's wisdom but I want to wish you luck!

Let us know how it goes!
#5 - September 03, 2007, 09:33 AM


What they said. :^)    (except that with Carus, if they like your query, they'll assign. Offering to write on spec won't help.)

A few additional suggestions:

The purpose of a writing sample is to demonstrate that you can write appropriately for the magazine's readers---that you're up for the assignment---so the closer your sample is to the magazine's style and target age, the better.  The sample doesn't have to be feature length---a short one will do---but make it a complete article.  That way the editor sees that you can pull off a beginning-middle-end, and if you choose a topic that fits in with the theme you're querying about, the editor may buy your sample. It's a good idea to choose somethng that doesn't require a huge amount of research in case it doesn't sell. For the Carus mags, it's important to follow the instructions when querying...give them what they ask for in their guidelines.  They're also big on primary sources, so be sure to include the names of experts you intend to interview or quote, as well as any particular expertise or connection you have to the subject. Many of the mags are big on sidebars and info boxes. If the one you're targeting is, and you have ideas for possible sidebars, large or small, include suggestions in your query. Be sure your query sufficiently defines the scope of your idea. The editor needs to know this so she can plan the issue to cover the theme properly without overlap between articles, and also it demonstrates that you've thought about it deeply enough to know what you're getting into. Lastly, mention your flexibility and willingness to consider the editor's ideas. Magazine editors like to have a hand in shaping the scope and angle of articles, and love to work with authors who are flexible and collaborative.

Good luck to you!

#6 - September 03, 2007, 11:41 PM


Thank you for all the good wishes and wonderful tips! I will definitely keep everyone posted as things progress (well, I *hope* they progress!). And as a matter of fact, there is a topic I think I can write a short article about without too much in-depth research, and that will be a good way of dipping my toe in the water...
#7 - September 05, 2007, 08:13 PM


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