On a chilly October afternoon in 2011, I mailed a rhyming rebus entitled “Mouse House” to the Editorial Offices of Highlights for Children. A few days later that rebus arrived. I am certain it was one of many submissions to arrive that day. Writers like me may wonder what happens to those submissions after they arrive. To shed some light on the journey a submission makes from inbox to publication, here’s Joelle Dujardin, senior editor at Highlights for Children. She currently edits fiction and poetry. Welcome, Joelle. Let’s get started.
Laura: How many submissions do you receive a month and what’s
the first thing that happens to a submission once it’s received?
Joelle: We receive several hundred submissions a month. Once a manuscript is received, it’s logged into our database, then passed along to the appropriate editor. We sometimes have an outside reader assist with fiction submissions addressed to “Manuscript Coordinator,” but if a piece of fiction has my name on the envelope, it will be passed directly to me.
Laura: Using “Mouse House” as a sample case, can you describe the selection process? What percentage of submissions get accepted?
Joelle: We purchase approximately 3% of the submissions we receive. We wish we could purchase every good manuscript we see, but space in the magazine is limited, and it would be a disservice to writers to accept more than we could ever hope to publish. If a manuscript is exceptionally well written, feels appropriate for Highlights, and is not like anything else we have in our inventory, we often share it among the editors here. After that, we might accept the manuscript, decline it, or ask for a revision.
Laura: After acceptance, I’ve heard that all accepted pieces are filed. How is the actual publication of a piece, such as “Mouse House”, determined? What is the lead time?
Joelle: Purchased manuscripts go into what we call an “active inventory,” which we visit repeatedly when making decisions about upcoming issues. Because we like to balance each issue so there’s a variety of content, manuscripts can sometimes wait a while before they make it into the magazine. “Mouse House” was purchased in early 2012, then took a fairly fast track into the May 2013 issue. That may seem like a while, but we actually started planning for the May issue more than a year ago. From our perspective, “Mouse House” made it into the magazine nearly immediately.
Laura: Once the publication date is set, what happens next?
Joelle: After the publication date is set, the primary editor does an initial edit, then passes the manuscript on to a copy editor and a secondary editor for additional suggestions. The primary editor makes more changes, writes up art notes, then sends the piece to the art department. The art department lays out the copy, which is then shared with the author. (The author at that point has an opportunity to make comments.) Once the editor approves the layout, the art director chooses an illustrator. The art director and editors review sketches before the illustrator is given approval to create the final art. Then the entire piece is reviewed once more by a few editors at composite-proofs stage.
Laura: Thanks for taking us on a journey from submission to publication. Before we wrap up, what’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring children’s magazine writers?
Joelle: Research the market before sending out your stories. There are so many different magazines publishing wonderful work, and knowing where your stories fit best will give you the greatest chance of success.
Laura: Thanks so much, Joelle, for taking time to enlighten us on what happens in the journey from submission to publication. Writers interested in learning more about submitting work to Highlights for Children should check out their editorial guidelines and current needs.