Writers Guide for Freelance Writers
GUIDELINES and HELPFUL HINTS for FREELANCE WRITERS
Writers, please note that we prefer to review complete manuscripts rather than queries. The following guidelines will assist you in preparing submissions on target with our goals. Thank you.
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These guidelines are offered to help you understand who we are and what material is desired. We are a conservative Christian publisher. We desire to partner with like-minded writers who help us fulfill our goal of honoring God in the process of educating and entertaining children.
Writing – the Gift and the Challenge
The ability to write enjoyable and worthwhile literature for children is a precious gift from God. Like other gifts, God has given it to be used. Not to be neglected, not to be buried under false humility, not to be despised because it doesn’t shine as brightly as someone else’s similar gift—but to be used as He has given it.
Did you ever stop to think what an influence good reading materials have had on your life? How privileged we are, that unknown persons have labored diligently so we might have something worthwhile to read! And what a privilege is ours today, that we can humbly and conscientiously develop our ability to write so coming generations might read to the glory of God!
Like other gifts, the gift of writing needs to be cultivated and applied before it is useful. Many writers understand the basic laws of effective communication but will never be really successful at their labors because they lack the creative spark that makes literature exciting and worthwhile.
Then there are others who have the spark of creativity, but lack the perseverance to see their project through to the end. The diligence needed for revising, polishing, and completing the story is lacking.
The Elbow Grease
The successful writer realizes that he needs both inspired imagination and dogged determination to be an effective writer. The old adage is still true; writing is still “2% inspiration and 98% perspiration”—not just paper and ink, but some “elbow grease” too.
For example, did you ever read a poem composed of beautiful thoughts and perfect rhythm—until the last verse? It appeared that the author had worn himself out on the earlier part of the poem and had been too tired to build equal quality into the final verse. But we know that last verse—like the icing on a cake or the roof on a building—is extremely important. If the author quits too soon, if he’s not willing to work on that ending or to revise his writing the 5th time (or the 15th time, if necessary), he is showing disrespect to the entire work; and others will lightly esteem it too.
Just what is it that turns ordinary words—plain, common, everyday words—into a masterpiece of composition? With a prayer for God’s help, let’s consider briefly the ten following ideas:
Study Good Writing.
It isn’t high quality by accident. Someone, whether aware of it or not, was obeying the rules. Ask a librarian for the most popular children’s literature of the sort you are interested in writing, and study it thoroughly. Or, reread a story which has especially impressed you. Study the beginning, the shift of the scenes, the buildup of action, the conflict, the climax, the conclusion, and the choice of correct words in crucial places. Read one important paragraph; then lay the story aside and try to quote it from memory. Next reexamine the story to see what words the author chose to use. Did they differ from yours? Try to make this a conscious habit, so that in your future reading you don’t just read the lines and between the lines, but also behind the lines as well. You’ll be amazed at how this will help your mind to think logically as it subconsciously imitates and borrows knowledge from its silent teachers.
Remember Your Reader.
Imagine a blind girl before you, listening to your story as you write it—a little girl with large brown eyes who will never see, but with an inquisitive mind that loves a good story. Brighten her face with joy. Puzzle her with wonderment; quicken her with the thrill of new understanding. Paint vivid word pictures for her in every paragraph; portray your characters and scenes well—involve her in the action till she sighs with pleasure. Don’t let her down; give her your noblest and best.
Make Your Writing Live.
How can you freshen that dull phrase? How can those wilted old sentences you’ve been staring at ever bloom into vibrant beauty?
Again, study something you admire. One of our editors wondered why a certain children’s nature book impressed them so much. They didn’t wonder long. After checking the book out of the library, they went through the whole book, page by page, and listed all the action verbs. They were amazed at the variety they discovered. Words like flashed, danced, blazed, scurried, and twirled seemed the rule rather than the exception, and they were woven into the sentences so skillfully they hadn’t even noticed them when they first read the story. They found that commonly overused words such as said, ran, stood, placed, and saw were used sparingly, only when necessary for the flow of the story.
A good book for study might be Marguerite Henry’s Birds at Home, © 1972 by Rand McNally & Co. For example, the first whole paragraph on page 17: “Starlings do not hop like other birds. They bustle. They travel in little companies over green lawns, pecking at insects with their dagger-like beaks. They never walk in a straight line, but scurry helter-skelter here, there, and everywhere.” Notice the change in sentence length, the word pictures, and comparisons, such as “companies” on lawns, “dagger-like beaks.” And note the verbs: hop, bustle, travel, pecking, and scurry.
On pages 32 and 33 of the same book, of the Baltimore Oriole we read: “He has a whistle all his own and warbles just for the fun of it. In spring his music is strong and glad. In summer he sings little scraps of song, like feathers tossed in a breeze.” Music like feathers? Who would have thought of it? But it fits right in, like a delightful word picture always will when masterfully used. And the following paragraph includes this sentence: “Lady Baltimore enjoys weaving to his quick and lively tune. It makes her want to work faster and faster, surer and surer.” Yes, and it makes the reader want to read on and on, for the paragraphs are short, the words simple, the pictures colorful, the meaning clear.
How can you find that better word? In a handy little book of synonyms called a thesaurus, you can “find, discover, spot, root out, dig up, unearth, bring to light, detect, uncover, fathom, fix upon, educe, unravel, unriddle, and elicit” all sorts of words! If you haven’t “sniffed out” the right word, it’s more than likely because you’ve simply forgotten or neglected your thesaurus, and it’s sitting unopened on your shelf.
Keep the Scenes in Order.
Did you ever get frustrated when someone attempted to give you directions to a place, but hopelessly confused you instead, by getting ahead of himself, backing up, and starting over until you were thoroughly bewildered?
A good story, like a good set of directions, starts at point A (where we are), proceeds to point B (most of us can get from A to B all right), and on to later points until we’ve successfully traveled to the end. Except in stories that are long enough to employ “flashbacks,” the sequence of events should be chronological. The reader should always feel that he knows where he is. Don’t leave him hanging, wondering whether he is still in yesterday. If he’s not sure whether today is today or tomorrow, he’ll have a hard time enjoying either.
Most stories written for Nature Friend are written in present or simple past tense, and do not change from one to the other within the story. If you are not sure whether your order is clear (or even if you are!) read your manuscript to a friend. No, better yet, let him read it to you. If he stumbles, make careful note and turn that stumbling place into a steppingstone.
Rules of grammar are sometimes broken to good effect by those who know them well. But the author who breaks them time and again without knowing or caring will likely end up disappointed.
Keep It Simple.
As you study high-quality writings for children, notice also the choice of simple words. Count the number of three-syllable or larger words, and compare with your own writing. Notice the sentence length, complexity, and variation. Avoid long complex sentences.
Stay away also from the opposite extreme—short choppy sentences or phrases that present no challenge to keep the reader’s interest stirred. When the long interstate highways were constructed in our flat western states where the surroundings seem the same for hundreds of miles, the designers purposefully put “unnecessary” curves in the roads to keep drivers awake. A good author, in taking his reader through a story, will do likewise, providing his readers with refreshing changes of scenery.
Try to keep the thoughts and patterns of the story as simple as practical. Surely one of the highest praises of a writer is the ability to make the complicated simple without making it trite.
Keep It Short.
The ability to say much with few words is a gem, and concise writing is a compliment to any author. It doesn’t imply that the author has little to say—on it contrary, it proves that he knows his words well and makes each one count. The story about the man talking to his editor makes its point well. As the quip goes, the writer told the editor, “I didn’t have time to write a short story, so I sent a long one instead.” And it’s a true irony. It takes more skill to write a precise short story than to ramble on and on into a long one. To mercilessly go through your article, after you are sure it is perfect, and cross out unnecessary words and whole paragraphs is a necessity for any author. It might be the most exciting paragraph you wrote, often the first one, but if it doesn’t directly apply to the story or support a point, it is a useless anchor dragging back everything that follows it.
Keep It Realistic.
Did you ever try to read a legal document filled with strange phrases and lawyer jargon? It’s almost like another language, isn’t it? But it’s strange to us only because it’s not written in the language we’re used to reading or speaking.
One of the hardest styles of writing for an honest person to enjoy reading (and especially for a child who hasn’t yet learned the “importance” of trying to impress people), is the pompous use of long words and formal phrases where simple everyday ones would work better.
In a Reader’s Digest article, “Write the Way You Talk” (August 1973), the author Rudolph Flesch points out the importance of “talking on paper.” Use contractions, direct questions, and personal pronouns with your pen just as you would with your voice.
Know Your Facts.
It is not only poor business to send articles with unverified “facts,” but it is sometimes dishonest as well. Articles unraveling the mysteries of nature are of questionable value if the facts are not correct. The only safe way is to check out the facts, methodically examining the completed work, point by point, and asking yourself, “Do I really know that this statement or implication is correct?”
Use sources of information that are as up-to-date as possible, for men are continually learning more about God’s creation, and occasionally are embarrassed to discover that what they previously believed is incorrect. For example, to report that nobody knows where the Monarch butterflies migrate to in winter would have been correct a few decades ago. Today, scientists know their winter location—and the writer should know too.
In researching material for an article, don’t believe everything “Google” tells you. Consider the source. Does it seem to be a reliable one? A university talking about a bird or animal may carry more weight than a blog about the same bird or animal. If you use a public library, do not be afraid to ask your librarian for help. That’s what he is paid for and what he enjoys doing. He will gladly show you how to use the Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature (an index to magazine articles) and other valuable reference sources.
Keep the Mood Consistent.
People feel less comfortable around someone who is unpredictable in mood—a sunbeam one minute and a stiff wind the next. We are also uneasy when we read something in which the mood of the main character shifts unpredictably back and forth. The overall mood we desire for Nature Friend is cheerful, sunny, almost merry, but not irresponsible or silly. We will hardly ever use something that is spooky or scary, except as a contrast to another dominant mood. Public libraries abound with children’s magazines emphasizing (in subtlety, at least) venomous creatures, man-eating beasts, and other monster-type animals. Many articles and drawings border on the occult and, indirectly at least, promote witchcraft and other unwholesome teaching.
Revise and Revise Again.
Probably nothing is more necessary for that finishing touch than a careful examination and revision after the article is thought to be finished. Many writings have been left with weak areas and even serious mistakes that could have been easily detected if critically read by a qualified friend.
Before you pass your article on to a friend (or if no friend is available), you will find it quite beneficial to lay it aside for a time. Even overnight will help, but if you can shelve it for a week or more, so much the better. Give yourself time to forget it; then read it again to pick up those awkward phrases. The writer has the same problem the artist has. He is so familiar with his work after staring at it for hours that he is simply not qualified to judge it in a fresh, unbiased way. A friend passing by can glance over the artist’s shoulder and see in a moment what the artist has not seen in two hours. It’s nothing to be upset about, just an inevitable part of intense creative work. The author who allows his friend to criticize his work freely is the same author who will someday be praised for work that is admirable—and work that is best able to glorify his Creator.
We want Nature Friend to be exciting to children. Nature is fascinating when seen up close through the pen of a “ready writer,” the brush of a skilled artist, or the lens of a photographer. Children deserve to know the truth about our amazing world. As television, drugs, videos, and electronic games compete for children’s time and approval, it becomes all the more important to give them material that is true, exciting, and upbuilding to their character.
We do not intend that every story, poem, puzzle, or project in Nature Friend should bring a spiritual message to the reader. We think there is also a valid place for children to just enjoy what God has made without being always directed toward a spiritual application. Neither do we intend that Nature Friend should quarrel with the evolutionists or always be trying to prove the Bible’s Genesis account true. We intend to quietly and joyfully present the positive side of nature, to let our young readers see and enjoy it to the glory of God.
Goals for NATURE FRIEND magazine
These brief goals explain why Nature Friend came into being. We trust they help make our motivation and direction clear.
To increase the child’s awareness of God –
- God created the natural world and every living thing.
- God still observes His world, watches over each creature (sparrow, lily), calls stars by name, and cares for us.
- Nature is an irrefutable evidence of God.
To increase the child’s appreciation for God’s works and gifts –
- We are to enjoy His works in a proper way.
- We should give God due credit and praise for His works.
- We should learn to appreciate order and design, function and beauty, life, the earth, the God Who made it all.
To teach the child accountability toward God’s works –
- Kindness to animals.
- Respect for fragile beauty.
Teach natural truths and facts –
- Interesting variety within species (i.e., different birds, different trees, etc.).
- Interesting facts about the things around us (multitudes of God’s miraculous inventions).
- We see but a small portion of the earth’s beauty (tropics, deserts, jungles, oceans, mountains, etc.).
Portray the traditional family unit –
We are looking for nature stories. At times when the story mentions family, it is important to us to depict honor for parents, parents loving each other and the children, and children preferring one another with kindness and affirmation.
Nature Friend appeals to all –
While you may think of Nature Friend as a children’s magazine, we want it to be a magazine the whole family will enjoy. We include features for children such as the art lesson, but we also include content many parents and grandparents enjoy. Between the magazine and the optional study guide edition with its bonus features, we regularly include topics of wild birds and animals, plants, marine life, astronomy, Camp & Cabin Cookin’, nature photography, and Nature Friendly Gardening,
Objectionable Words and Ideas
Following is a list of objectionable characteristics. Please study it before you invest your time and effort in a story for Nature Friend.
Unwholesome language –
- Oaths, including the more accepted versions like Gee, Golly, Gosh, etc. (short for “Jesus” or “God”).
- Sacred words like God, Jesus, etc., and otherwise good expressions of praise used carelessly or irreverently.
- Slang or modern faddish words like cool, swell, etc.
- Words which tend to break down respect for others such as old man instead of father, dad, or daddy; old woman instead of mother, mom, or mommy; kids instead of children; cops instead of police officers, etc.
- Suggestive words or words that could have an unwanted double meaning.
Too much emphasis on –
- Violence (fangs and claws, taste of blood, etc.).
- Scorn for lesser creatures.
- Haughty pride toward self.
- Implication of indestructibility, as when a main character is unrealistically spared from death and danger.
Emphasis on sports –
While we believe hunting and fishing for food is legitimate, Nature Friend is not a sports magazine. For example, while children can learn much about animals by trapping, and can sometimes earn money in that way, we wish to portray the animals as free and in the wild. It is okay to tell a story that includes references to hunting/fishing, assuming the harvest is not the goal for the article. We have had some fun reader-supplied stories that occurred while they were hunting, and we enjoyed them and selected them. But we are not a how-to manual for hunting and fishing.
Disobedient children –
Children should not act or speak in disobedience to parents or other authorities, even if it works out “better” in the end.
Holiday emphasis –
- Decorations, Santa Claus, and related ideas at Christmas.
- Bunnies or eggs at Easter.
- Pumpkins at Halloween (Halloween is never mentioned in a positive light.).
Pagan cultures –
Avoid mention of pagan cultures, even if they tie in with studies of creatures.
Distinct denominational references –
Nature Friend is edited to be acceptable to any fundamental creationists who believe the Genesis account of creation to be literal and absolute. Universally accepted Christian virtues (diligence, kindness, purity, thrift, good stewardship, etc.) are promoted.
References to Boy Scouts, 4-H work, etc. –
While much good has come from these organizations, this magazine will emphasize nature study in a family, school group, or church group context.
References to evolution –
- Gradual formation of creatures.
- “Higher” creatures evolving from “lower.”
- Adaptation of creatures to changing situations and environments more than in the flexibility of their original creation.
We don’t desire to refute evolution by its discussion (remember, the readers are children), but to lift up God as Creator and thereby disprove evolution’s premise. Just because someone says the grass is purple does not mean we will argue it is green. Rather, we have chosen to enjoy the lilies.
Inferior literature –
- Poor writing style will be rejected or edited.
- Unreal or unlikely plot or ending; too much serendipity.
Reference to substandard dress –
- Swimsuits, slacks, shorts, no shirt, etc.
- Cut or stylish hair on girls, long hair on boys.
- Use of jewelry.
Reference to mating in animals –
- Avoid words like sex, mating, pregnant. We don’t reject God’s methods of reproduction but we avoid the world’s casualness and exploitation of the subject.
Bible quotes –
Most articles do not include scriptural quotes. However, if you include one, please use the King James Version or the New King James Version.
Talking animal stories –
While these can be interesting and teach worthwhile lessons, we have chosen to not use them in Nature Friend.
We welcome articles for Nature Friend and do not require that you get our permission before you send them for our examination. Nature Friend is not always seasonal. However, when we can, we like stories seasonally appropriate. Examples are hibernation and snow in the winter months, while birds nesting or flowers blooming appear in spring or summer issues. This means writings for a particular season should be submitted no later than three months prior, with six months prior better yet.
Probably the most obvious requirement for sending manuscripts to Nature Friend is to be thoroughly acquainted with our magazine. It is a waste of time to send even the most excellent article to a publisher who never prints articles of that type, or who may have just published an article on the same subject.
If you have faithfully read and studied the magazine, the next question is, “In what form does the editor want my article?”
We do have some preferences as to how you send them.
Manuscripts should have a title page (first sheet) telling us:
- The suggested title of the story.
- A fairly accurate word count for the article.
- Your name, full mailing address, phone number (if you have one), and hours you can be reached.
- Any other comments, such as whether you are writing about a personal experience, whether it’s altogether true, based on true happenings, or realistic fiction. If it’s true, tell when and where it happened.
- Should be typewritten.
- Should be double-spaced, on 8½” x 11” paper, with 1½” margins that allow space for editor’s changes and notes.
- Should be written on only one side of the paper.
- Should include writer’s name and title of manuscript on each page.
- Multiple pages should not be stapled together.
- Should include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) with sufficient postage to return the manuscript if you wish to have it returned (in the event we do not use it).
- Include a bibliography showing where you got your information. This is especially needed for unusual observations or technical teaching.
- Ideal article length is 500 to 1000 words.
Please keep a copy of your manuscripts. Sometimes they can be lost in the mail.
Manuscripts should represent the best work you are reasonably capable of. We reserve the right to change, delete, rearrange, and re-title your manuscript.
When we wish to hold a manuscript for possible future use, we send a letter acknowledging our intentions. We specify a period of time from the date of that letter for which we plan to hold the manuscript. If the time expires without the manuscript being published, you are free to send the manuscript elsewhere. If we choose to include the selection after the expiration date, we will first contact you for permission. You may withdraw it by written request at any time unless we have already obtained art or photos for inclusion in an upcoming issue.
If your manuscript is published, you will receive, along with your payment, a complimentary copy of the magazine. Additional copies may be ordered at current back issue rate while supplies last.
Legal Policies and Payment
When you submit a manuscript to Nature Friend, it is understood that it is an original piece and not something written (or partly written) by another. It is also understood that it has not been previously printed or copyrighted by another publisher. If you are submitting something that was not your original composition, or has been used before, please make it plain on the title page.
Materials used by Nature Friend will automatically be copyrighted as a part of the magazine.
We wish to emphasize that the author alone is responsible for plagiarism (the use of someone else’s writing sent under your own name without the real author’s permission), and that Nature Friend is not liable for unknowingly using writings that were not original. Please be sure that all materials gleaned from reference books and other works are collected and totally rewritten. If any direct quotations are used, give all pertinent information about the source (book, author, publisher, copyrights, etc.) and enclose their permission for its use.
Science Projects for ages 8-16
Conversational Stories for ages 6-up
A natural phenomenon shown in pictures with detailed captions.
Payment for Manuscripts
Rights we purchase are:
- Full rights, .10 per edited word
- 1st rights, with right to reprint in our publications, .08 per edited word
- 2nd rights, with right to reprint in our publications, .05 per edited word
Payment for Photos
We need technically good, sharp, well-lit photographs. We prefer high resolution, digital photographs submitted on CD or flash drive, with an accompanying set of contact prints for easy viewing. Photos may also be submitted by sending high resolution jpeg files as attachments to email@example.com.
We do not accept liability for photographs submitted.
Some photos are reader-supplied and not necessarily photos for which we pay to use. To freelance photographers submitting photos, we pay $35 for inside editorial use, $50 for back cover, and $75 for front cover. Photographers retain copyright ownership of photos.
Photographs are selected month-by-month, based on articles selected that need illustrations, along with a front and back cover photo. What this means to a photographer is that photographs are secondary to writings and cannot be anticipated and selected in advance. Photographic submissions that require us to return material in a specified number of weeks will likely not be useful to us. Photographs that are in our files the day we are making selections will stand the greatest chance of being selected for use.
Payment for Artwork
Usually the editor obtains art using contracted artists. However, if you can offer good-quality art with your manuscript, you are welcome to do so. Payment will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Assigned artwork will be Work-for-Hire, and the artworks will be property of Dogwood Ridge Outdoors.
May the Lord bless your efforts as you write. Your useful and creative contributions will help Nature Friend to grow, will bless the thousands of children who read them, and will bring glory to God, our Creator.
Nature Friend Magazine is published monthly by Dogwood Ridge Outdoors, Inc.
Editors: Kevin and Bethany Shank
Address: 4253 Woodcock Lane
Dayton, VA 22821
E-mail: editor at naturefriendmagazine dot com