Writers Guide for Freelance Writers
Nature Friend Magazine
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.
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 educating and entertaining children in the realm of nature, for the glory of God.
Probably the most obvious requirement for sending manuscripts to Nature Friend is to be thoroughly acquainted with our magazine. The best way to know what we use is to be a subscriber. It is a waste of time to send us even the most excellent article if we never print articles of that type. Our primary focus is wild nature world-wide. This includes birds, animals, insects, plants, rocks, marine life, and astronomy. Stories about domestic livestock, pets, or animals in zoos are not our primary focus, but may occasionally be selected. Stories involving a circus setting will not be considered.
We welcome your submitting stories and articles for consideration in Nature Friend magazine. We do have some preferences as you prepare your submission, so please read on.
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 fifth time (or the fifteenth 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 an article 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 article aside and try to quote it from memory; then reexamine the article to see what words the author chose to use instead. And seek to make it a conscious habit, so that in your future reading you don’t just read the lines and between the lines, but 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, learning about 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 and 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. In summary, use as many words as necessary to tell the story well, then quit.
- 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”—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 now 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, 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. And we are also uneasy when we are reading something in which the mood of the main character shifts unpredictably back and forth. The overall mood we desire for Nature Friend is one that 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. 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.
While it is true that the creation has many dangerous and unmerciful members, we wish to feature for our close-up study those which we obviously want to “imitate” in a human way. Many instinctive virtues can be found in nature. Some examples are: loyalty to a mate (Canada Goose), dying to protect one’s young (domestic fowl and other creatures), patience (various hunting creatures), and constructive planning (beaver). There are also many examples of negative traits such as slothfulness, greed, cruelty, etc.
The chosen character and its mood should be consistent throughout the story, not only with itself, but with our goal of promoting praiseworthy, character-building literature.
- 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 created 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; physical beauty; life; the earth; the God who made it all.
- To teach the child has accountability toward God’s works –
- Kindness to animals.
- Respect for fragile beauty.
- Teach spiritual lessons –
- Instinctive virtues such as wisdom, love, loyalty, patience, and diligence can be found in various creatures.
- Instinctive faults can be found such as slothfulness, parasitism, etc.
- 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 –
Stories depicting honor for parents; parents loving each other and the children; children preferring one another with kindness and affirmation are sought after. We know children squabble, but we have chosen to stay away from perpetrating the naughty child scenes in our stories.
- Nature Friend appeals to ages 6 to 14 –
About 80% of our avid readers, however (participants in contests, etc.) are ages 8 to 12.
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.
- Overuse or misuse of good words in slang or modern faddish ways of talking, such as cool, awesome, 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 ownership of expensive possessions –
While legitimate uses for campers, motorboats, snowmobiles, etc., may exist, we wish to emphasize an enjoyment of nature that all can afford, with most of the emphasis on enjoying it quietly and ecologically.
- Emphasis on expensive travel –
If an article necessarily includes sightseeing, it might be better in the context of traveling also for spiritual fellowship, visiting relatives, or business.
- Emphasis on sports –
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 world. The outdoor activities and projects shared should be as economical as possible, teaching the reader to develop his resources of time and skill instead of just spending money.
- 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 –
- Evergreens, decorations, Santa Claus and related ideas at Christmas.
- Bunnies or eggs at Easter.
- Pumpkins at Halloween (Halloween is never mentioned in a positive light).
Note: Nature Friend is not always seasonal; however, stories with hibernation or snow will be published during winter months and birds, nesting, or flowers in spring, etc.
- Pagan cultures –
Avoid mention of pagan cultures, even if they tie in well with studies of creatures in other continents.
- 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.
- 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 accept God’s plan for reproduction, but avoid the world’s casualness and exploitation of the subject.
- Rape, fornication, adultery, incest, sexual abuse. If your writing includes these subjects, don’t submit it to us.
- Bible quotes –
Please use the King James Version. Since this version is in public domain, no copyright permissions will be required. We also recognize not all versions are sound.
- Talking animal stories –
While these can be interesting and teach worthwhile lessons, we have chosen to not use them in Nature Friend. Excluded are puzzle-type submissions such as “Who Am I?”
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 us even the most excellent article if we never print articles of that type. Our primary focus is wild nature. This includes birds, animals, insects, plants, rocks, marine life, and astronomy. Stories about domestic livestock, pets, or animals in zoos are not our primary focus, but may occasionally be selected. Stories involving a circus setting will not be considered.
- 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 8 ½ x 11” paper, with 1 ½” 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 800 words.
- You may e-mail by attaching a Word document. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. But at the same time, we reserve the right to change, delete, rearrange, and re-title your manuscript. We receive over 1,000 unsolicited manuscripts every year but use approximately 50. Another 50 are solicited by us from regular contributors. We feel sorry for the hardworking writers whose work we return simply because we have too many. Don’t be disheartened if your work is not selected. We simply do not have room to use all the good manuscripts we receive.
- When we accept a manuscript for future use, it is kept on file. You may withdraw it by written request at any time unless we have already obtained art for inclusion in an upcoming issue.
- If your manuscript is published, you will receive a complimentary copy of the magazine. Additional copies are available at current rate for back issues while supplies last.
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.
- Learning by Doing. Nature-related crafts or projects, and science experiments.
- Stories. We like to begin our magazine with a story (as opposed to an article). This can be a story that involves people interacting with nature, or about an animal with the animal as the main character of the story. Animal stories are to be realistic and not the “talking animal” type. Example: “Otter poked her nose out of her den and tested the warm night air. Smelling nothing to alarm her, she wriggled outside, and turned to face its narrow opening. Otter uttered a low, sharp bark, warning her cubs to stay inside.”
- Photo Features. A natural phenomenon shown in pictures with detailed captions.
Tip for photographers—
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.
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.
We pay .05 per edited word for first rights, and .03 per edited word for reprint rights. Payment is made upon publication, and a complimentary copy of the magazine is included.