006: Writing Holiday and Seasonal Material

Holiday and Seasonal Material

How to Handle Writing for the Holidays in Today's Magazine Market

July 1, 2016


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Listener Question of the Week

Angelique asks:

What are the key differences between writing a story for a magazine and a book? How can we tell if our story is better suited for one or the other?

Listen to the answer in the podcast!

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Write It Right: Holiday and Seasonal Material

Just as most kids love holidays, most magazines do, too. Holidays can offer readers a look at other countries (such as articles in HIGHLIGHTS that have  looked at Shichi-go-san in Japan and Holi in India), or at different ethnic groups within the US (such as the Mexican-American issue of COBBLESTONE which  included holidays like Cinco de Mayo, Diez y Seis de Septembre and El Dio de los Muertos). Or even a look at unusual ways to celebrate holidays we know well (such as a HIGHLIGHTS article on the Chrismon Tree––have you even heard of that?)

Holidays as a cultural experience are welcome at many magazines. They expand reader horizons. You can also do well with holiday crafts, recipes, and activities. These are especially welcome if they offer more of a season feeling than a tie to a specific holiday. If a treat can be shaped like a Christmas tree or a Chanukah dreidel, you can probably find an interested magazine but if it can be shaped like a snowman, a snowflake, or a snowy tree, you'll have even more takers.

Click here to download the show notes with extra resources!

Most secular magazines are nervous about religious holidays except when presented as cultural phenomena. You may easily find a magazine interested in how greenery became part of winter celebrations, but it would be a bit more difficult to find one interested in the miracle celebrated by Chanukah (unless presented as historical/cultural information).

One of the touchiest of all holidays is Christmas. Religious magazines offer opportunities for Christmas stories with spiritual overtones. Secular magazines offer Christmas as a cultural phenomenon. Many magazines will consider crafts or activities with some ties to Christmas, such as holly, bells, or wreaths in a design. But who will look at a nice story of Santa and his elves? Santa is generally not welcome at magazines unless he appears in a puzzle or craft.

Overall, magazines are considerably more conservative than book publishers. A publisher knows that going too far on a single book may kill sales to that book, but it won't kill the publisher's whole line. For a magazine, going too far in one issue can lose subscribers. Therefore, stories that seem harmless may be crossing the line for some magazines.

Halloween stories for young readers, for example, may have bats, costumes, and parties, but they will be highly unlikely to have real ghosts, witches, and monsters. These might appear in picture books, but since some parents don't like them, many magazines won't run them. Sometimes this can be affected by the age of the reader. For instance, the Cricket family seems comfortable with wizards and magic (and they've even done ghost stories in the older reader  magazines) but they don't do this kind of content for the picture book aged reader.

Again, a magazine's particular overall slant may affect this. Obviously religious magazines won't be uncomfortable with religious holidays (though they may be touchy about secular trappings or secular holidays like Halloween). On the other hand, a magazine which has shown itself open to metaphysical topics, may be open to content that seems pretty extreme. As with everything in magazine writing, it boils down to getting to know the magazine.

When you're planning your sample magazine search, try to find issues that coincide with the "problem" holidays (Halloween, Christmas, and Easter) to see how the magazine handles this time of year. Few, if any writer's guidelines spell out the magazine's view on holidays so you'll only know if you get sample issues that correspond to holiday time. And read the sample issues carefully. If you see a puzzle with Santa, don't assume they'll take a Santa story. If you see a story about a Halloween party, don't assume they'll take a story about a witch's ball.  As a general rule of thumb, remember, the younger the reader, the more conservatively the magazine will treat holiday time. Some magazines won't touch religious holidays at all for very young children in order to avoid confusion.

Now that you've seen how tough it is to match a holiday story to a market, here’s a bit of good news. Most editors say they don't get enough appropriate holiday material. The material has to reflect that magazine's policies but when you are familiar with a magazine and you can make a match, you'll find editors are receptive to your work. So good luck!

Click here to download the show notes with extra resources!


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