Jennifer Reed started writing for children when her two children were toddlers. It was a slow process, as family always came first. Soon, with the kids in school full time, she was able to focus more on her writing. Today, she has published over 100 stories and articles in magazines, websites and anthologies (Chicken Soup, Heartwarmers), and has published over 20 children's books, both fiction and nonfiction. She was the creator/editor of Wee Ones Children's Magazine, which after an 8 year run, will be shutting down at the end of 2008. Jennifer also teaches at the local high school part time and for the Institute of Children's Literature. She is a part time SAT Essay scorer for Pearson. A full bio can be found at her website: www.jennifer-reed.com
Jessica: You say you primarily write nonfiction. Can you give us some examples?
Jennifer: I started writing nonfiction for magazines back in 1998 with the idea that those magazine publications would lead me to writing books- they did and now I mostly write nonfiction books for children and teens.
Jessica: What have you had the easiest time publishing in magazines?
Jennifer: Mostly history because I love it and I look for themes in magazines that require history. However, I've written on all subject from animals, crafts, biographies and science.
Jessica: Who published your first nonfiction piece for children?
Jennifer: Skipping Stones. I had been submitting my work for about 4 years with no bites and I was about to give it all up. Skipping Stones although a nonpaying market, also wrote me a letter. The editor specifically commented on my article, how beautifully written it was etc. and that gave me the boost to continue writing and submitting.
Jessica: Do you have an education that helps establish you as an expert?
Jennifer: I have a BA in English and Business Management. My focus was on journalism. After college I worked on several newspapers and magazines and this experience was invaluable. I also volunteered to write for newspapers just to get the experience. I'm not an expert say in history, but it has been a part of my childhood and adult life- my parents were curators of a museum for a while and my dad was the president of the historical society. If you have a passion about something, you learn about it and probably can write easily and with some knowledge about the subject.
Jessica: What children’s magazines have you had your work published in?
Jennifer: Highlights, Boys' Life, Aquila, Hopscotch, Boys' Quest, Fun For Kidz and I worked 2 years as the staff writer for Crinkles Magazine.
Jessica: How long did you write for children before you were published?
Jennifer: When I decided to stay home with my kids I gave up being a career editor at a newspaper. But, I still wanted to write and publish and pursued children's publishing. I had a lot to learn! It was not an easy transition from writing for adults to writing for kids. When I finally got serious, it was another four years before I published anything.
Jessica: What is the most challenging part of writing nonfiction?
Jennifer: Research. It takes time and patience, but you have to do it right if you want to publish your work. It's important to know what kind of material you can use, what the publisher's like to see and what is available.
Jessica: Was there a magazine you wanted badly to get published in? Have you succeeded yet?
Jennifer: I focus on one magazine at a time and put my energy into it- I research the magazine, read back issues, visit them online and try to get a good idea as to what they are looking for. I did this with Highlights and after many attempts, finally had an article accepted. I did this with Boys' Life. My one and only submission to them was accepted. I don't submit to magazines so much anymore, but I do have query out with Cobblestone. We'll see!
Jessica: How do you decide on subject matter for articles and books?
Jennifer: I mostly write for magazines that have a theme list- the subjects are given and I see if I would am knowledgeable about the subjects or have an interest in them. Because I have written many books for Enslow, they usually let me pick the subjects I want to write about, depending on their available titles within a series. Otherwise, I write what I know and study the markets and hope that what I've written fits!
Jessica: Do you have any tips for locating children’s markets?
Jennifer: Really, the market guides put out by Writer's Digest or the Institute of Children's Literature are what I use, however, I do use the Internet to further my understanding of a magazine or publisher.
Jessica: What pointers can you give a new writer of nonfiction children’s literature to get published?
Jennifer: If you have a strength in a particular subject, then use that to your advantage. Write what you know. Studying the markets is vital too. See if there are theme lists posted on magazine websites that look for articles on the subjects you love to write about. Start with magazines. It is very to sell nonfiction book ideas to publishers if you don't have some kind of experience in nonfiction writing. Magazines are a good place to start.
Jessica: Are your books mostly fiction or nonfiction?
Jessica: What ways were your books published (traditional, self, POD)?
Jennifer: Most of my books are with traditional publishers. I have a nonfiction book I published via Tangerine Press/Lulu.com- Becoming a Children's Author. I chose this route because I knew I had a solid base of writers I could approach to sell the book AND, this subject is popular- every one thinks they can write for kids. I have a middle grade fiction that I self published through IUniverse. I don't recommend self publishing though unless certain criteria can be met by the author- can you market your own book well?
Jessica: At what stage in your writing career did you get an agent?
Jennifer: I had an agent about 8 years ago and dropped him because he was new in the industry. I found I knew more about the industry, new more editors etc. than he did. I now have an agent who handles my middle grade novels and with whom I enjoy working and trust!
Jessica: What are the pros and cons of having an agent?
Jennifer: The pros are that you can spend more of your time writing and not submitting your work to a zillion publishers. Agents focus on those publishers they know and think your work will do best with. They also often have inside connections to publishing houses that authors don't have. The only con is that I wish my agent would also handle my picture books.
Jessica: Give us a short description of a few of your books?
Jennifer: I wrote 6 books for Capstone's Pebble Plus Imprint. These books were for grades K- 2nd grade and the some of the hardest books I've ever written- even though they were only about 100 words each. They were focused on military careers and jobs- one was called Submarines, another- The Marines. I've written books on Leonardo Da Vinci, The Wright Brothers, And a book on American Women Inventors.
Jessica: Describe your writing process from conception to completion.
Jennifer: This would take a book to write. Generally, I don't just sit down and write off the top of my head. I do what I call "think writing" where I lay out the book in my mind. Sometimes, this can take up to a year, sometimes just a week- depending on the book, the subject, the publisher etc. I jot down notes in a brief outline as I go along, but when I am finished with my "think writing" I can usually write out the story (picture book), or a solid outline easily. With nonfiction, once I have the general idea of the subject matter, I work for several weeks on the research. I gather all my research before I even create an outline. Then, I write a detailed outline and write down all my resources. The actual writing of the chapters or different pages for nonfiction books is quite easy once the research is done. When I have the first draft, I put it down for maybe a week or two. I don't look at it. I don't think about it. Then, I go back with a fresh, open mind and start editing. I edit my fiction many times before I submit it. I edit my nonfiction once or twice before it goes to my editor, who then checks my facts, and edits the manuscript. It comes back to me with corrections, which I make and then I submit it again for the book to be finalized.
Jessica: Are you a member of a critique group?
Jennifer: I am the moderator of the Children's Christian Writer's List at yahoo.com. I have been co-moderator and now moderator for over 10 years of this. I have been involved with various critique groups over the years, but now, I don't send my material to anyone but my agent or my editors. It's very important to have a knowledgeable person in children's writing to critique your work early on. I encourage this for all new writers. As you write and sell more material, you find that one trusted person (maybe 2) is all you need and really care for to "critique" your work.
Jessica: If so, what impact has that group had on your writing?
Jennifer: I think initially, it helped me to get published. I learned from other writers- writers who had already published. Today, one of my biggest mentors is a very well-known children's book publisher. I can turn to her with issues I have, doubts, fears, concerns and she always cheers me up and gives me hope about writing and publishing!
Most of my books are available on Amazon.com or at the publisher's website. Some of the books are not out yet but have been written and contracted.