Recurring Topics: Seasons
As with holiday stories and back to school stories, seasonal stories, seasonal poetry and even a bit of seasonal nonfiction can be counted upon to appear in magazines and on publishers’ book lists every year. In fact, there are few things that inspire a broader array of things than the seasons which are as popular in picture books as they are in poetry, and even provoke a good science nonfiction piece now and then. As with the other recurring topics, seasons have been addressed many times by magazines and book publishers, and yet new books and new magazine pieces pop up every year. The key, as with the other recurring topics is “new.”
Meeting Other Needs
For magazines that publish recipes, activities or crafts in every issue, seasons offer a huge inspiration for readers. Fall issues might have unusual recipes involving pumpkin, while spring magazines might show children how to make violets from homemade paper clay. The changing seasons might inspire science activities intended to make use of the unique conditions commonly available in each season such as activities involving growing plants in spring and summer, or activities involving temperature or darkness for winter.
Magazines often fill their activity pages with outdoor games and nature investigations. And those that publish simple desserts seem always filled with interesting uses of tasty, brightly colored fruit. Crafts that make playable toys or games are especially welcome in the summer when crafts associated with gift giving takes a bit of a backseat with no gift giving holidays associated with this season. Winter can be a boom time for crafts and activities associated with gift giving, but it tends to be dominated by outdoors too, specifically snow and ice. Snow crafts and snow related recipes (snowman cookies or snowball cupcakes, for instance) make up the bulk of non-holiday winter submissions, but magazines are often particularly thrilled to get a winter craft or recipe that isn’t about snow. So if you can pull from other winter inspiration, you might manage an especially appealing submission.
Seasons Love Poets
Magazines that buy poetry are often especially interested in seasonal poems. The poetry should be full of concrete sensory detail but also tie the season to something thematically valuable. Winter poems are often about family times (though, honestly, children’s poetry is often either about play or about family). So, a winter poem might be about crunching through the snow in the early morning with granddad (or dad) to fill the bird feeders so the winter birds won’t go hungry. The combination of family time, snow, and the specific purpose of helping wildlife make it through the winter would make for a nice poem (and has).
Wildlife poetry is often connected to seasonal poetry. Funny poems about acrobatic squirrels raiding bird feeders might be a bit hit when tied to a specific season. In fact, a fall poem about all the animals the bird feeders help prepare for winter would be fun all by itself. The key is to remember to wed very specific sensory detail and immediate moments to something bigger. Ask yourself, does this poem have a big idea? If you can name it, then you’ve probably got a poem that would charm an editor.
Keep in mind that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme to be of interest to publishers. And if you choose to make your poem rhyme, then you must take extra case to make the meter work. Rhyme without meter isn’t going to produce a poem that sells.
The marriage of seasons and wildlife works also in seasonal fiction (and seasonal nonfiction). A fictional story following the realistic preparations for winter of all the animals might make your main character decide to prepare himself for winter. Maybe eating extra only gives him a tummy ache, and planning super long naps doesn’t work so well around his preschool. So what can he do to get ready for winter? Maybe he could come up with a clever idea to delight the reader. Seasonal nonfiction is often connected to science topics, but winter especially also inspires chilly historical nonfiction that shares the harshness of winter without our modern amenities.
Brainstorm to Success
As with holiday stories, it can be helpful to brainstorm lists of all the things you might imagine being associated with a specific time of year. Then from that you might pick a few that appeal to you or which you have specific knowledge about. For instance, summer camps are popular in summertime fiction, as are activities like hiking, camping, swimming, fishing, and boating. Stories could grow out of any of those and far more. Be sure to consider your list with a thought to other parts of the world. In your list, you might associate winter with preparing for Christmas, but in Australia, preparing for Christmas would be a summer activity. Introducing children to unusual seasonal timing in different places would help expand their view of the world.
Timing is Important
Most magazines have fairly long lead times between receiving a submission, editing, preparing a magazine, and publishing. Therefore seasonal material is usually at least one season ahead of what you’re experiencing right now. So if you take advantage of all the summer inspiration around you and write a poem, article, craft or story, you may find the magazine doesn’t respond quickly to your submission, and if they do buy it, it’s likely to be a long wait for publication. I often come up with short things inspired by the season I’m in (crafts, recipes or poems) and sit on them a while (months, in fact) before I send them. This does double duty of helping me to give the piece some cooling off time so I can revise it objectively and ensure I’m sending the best writing I can produce, and also of ensuring the magazine publisher is receiving the piece through submission when most likely to be interested in it. Often seasonal lead times are mentioned in writer’s guidelines, but when they aren’t, I tend to assume 3 to 6 months.
So if you’re finding inspiration in summer fun, consider penning a lively poem, story, or activity. It might be just the thing to build your list of acceptances. And it’s fun. Happy Summer!
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.