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Life on the Deckle Edge

Catching up with editor Joëlle Dujardin of HIGHLIGHTS

This weekend I’m co-presenting two workshops (with writer/media specialist Sharon Wright Mitchell) at our SCBWI Southern Breeze fall conference in Birmingham. One is “The Front Door, The Back Door, The Trap Door… Breaking into Magazines.” I asked HIGHLIGHTS Associate Editor Joëlle Dujardin for some fresh tips for our attendees. Her responses were so generous, I then asked if I could share them with you here! Enjoy.

(Joëlle edits fiction, and I’m personally grateful for the keen eye and sensibilities she brought to my story currently scheduled to run this April.) :0)

Thank you, Joëlle, for taking time to share your thoughts with us! Are there any story types or genres you are most interested in?

We're interested in all genres, but ones we're particularly looking for right now are sports, historical fiction, and humor. We'd also like to see more stories that break the mold--ones featuring quirky characters and unusual plots. It's true that there's a particular feeling to much of the fiction that appears in Highlights, but trying too hard to stay within the boundaries or to write what's expected can make a story seem lackluster and predictable.

Any that you are routinely flooded with?

We're not flooded so much with particular genres of fiction as we are with certain themes: e.g. acceptance of other kids' differences; coming to appreciate grandparents; mystery stories in which the pet turns out to be the culprit. Done well, these themes are wonderful and certainly
worthwhile. However, when writing a story with a familiar theme, it's imperative that the writing be fresh and outstanding.

Any submission "mistakes" that regularly cause you to roll your eyes?

Being called "Sir" on a cover letter is funny. A manuscript that tries too hard to appeal to kids by using slang words or potty humor will make me reach for a rejection slip.

What do you think sets HIGHLIGHTS apart from other children's magazines?

HIGHLIGHTS is unique in the wide variety of content it includes each month. We have so many different kinds of readers, and we try to ensure that each child will discover things to like in every issue. Because we work far in advance, we usually don't include current events or information that will become outdated quickly. We also don't have any advertisements and try not to play into commercial culture in our content.

Do you have any favorite advice for writers seeking to break into children's magazines?

It's often the case that a writer's first magazine sale will not be a big story but a smaller piece--a craft, a recipe, a puzzle, etc. Don't overlook these areas of a magazine. Any sale is a foot in the door and allows you to
build valuable relationships with editors. It's important to look at a magazine's guidelines (often posted on its website) as well as theme lists if the magazine has themed issues.

Finally, HIGHLIGHTS does a great job listing editors' current "wish lists." Are you still looking for rebuses?

Yes, we're still looking for rebuses!

Here are our guidelines: http://www.highlights.com/contributor-guidelines
and current needs: http://www.highlights.com/current-needs

Thank you, Joëlle, for this peek behind the editor’s desk! I think I’m the oldest person on my block with a subscription to HIGHLIGHTS, and I don't plan on letting it lapse any time soon….
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