I’ve met many a writer who first broke into print by publishing a story or an article or a craft or a recipe in Highlights for Children. I was not one of them. It was not for lack of trying. I sent many a tale across the desks of the likes of Christine French Clark (now Cully) and Marileta Robinson. They sent them back in my self-addressed stamped envelopes with messages about trying again. So I tried again. And again. Nothing worked. I published in quite a few kids’s magazines over the years but Highlights eluded me until I moved to the other side of the desk as the magazine’s coordinating editor. After years unraveling the DNA of the magazine, I decided to try again. You might think a Highlights editor can just walk over to another editor’s desk and plop down a story for that editor to publish. Nope. Not gonna happen. A Highlights editor has to put her story in the slush pile with everyone else’s stories and she must use a pseudonym when she does so. I set myself a goal of getting a yes from Marileta Robinson. I chose one of the hardest forms to get right: the rebus. Marileta and I were in a critique group together. I had read this rebus to the group and she had loved it. I was sure to get a yes. I got my lovely little rebus back with a message to try again. When I showed my returned rebus with its “thanks but no thanks” note to Marileta, she told me something I’ll always remember—the day my rebus came across her desk she was completely overwhelmed by the volume of stories she’d received. What happens when an editor gets more stories than she can publish? She says no. What happens if she has a file already filled with good stories she needs to publish? No again. I’m sharing this incident not to discourage other writers but to share what it’s like on the other side of an editor’s desk. A human sits there. She loves what she does, but she’s busy, busy, busy every day. She spends part of every day in meetings and part of every day editing stories for issues already in process. As for the stories you and I send in? She has to take them home and read them on her own time. So be patient, be persistent, and don’t give up. I didn’t. I now have a few of those prized Highlights bylines, and, every once in awhile, I actually have a Highlights editor ask me to write something for the magazine. Looks like I’ve made it, at long last.
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I didn’t realize our backgrounds were so smiliar. Thanks for reminding me of the old “Co-Cola” pronunciation. I wouldn’t want to get caught saying it that way now, but why? And yep, I was also a bit rough on lightning bugs. If you smash them while dragging your foot across the sidewalk, they leave a glowing streak. A couple of summers ago, I went through a spell of painting mermaids in acrylics.
I like your “spell of painting mermaids”. It sounds so surreal! One of the things I love most about my Voice workshop is getting folks to share authentic experiences on the page which can then be used to create other works. The stories from our childhoods are some of the richest we’ll ever have, and yet we (by that I mean writers in general) have a hard time believing that our own experiences matter or might be of interest to others. I can already imagine a young character who is going through a spell of painting mermaids and I would LOVE to read about her. Maybe you’ll decide to write about her some day!
Kim, I love the picture of you on the couch with two of your kids. And you ended up raising five. Bless you. You’re guaranteed a direct route to heaven . . . do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars!
Thanks, Kathy! At least having five kids ensures some form of immortality . . . as long as they keep the line going! The two in the photo are actually my two youngest.