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Or, opportunity may come knocking right in your child's school. The WAITS (Writers & Artists in the Schools) program run by COMPAS (Community Programs in the Arts and Sciences) sends writers to schools statewide, and for the last twenty years has published an annual anthology of the best student writing, featuring 70 to 100 kids each year. In December two years ago, then-seventh grader Yen Dang had the distinction of having two works published in the anthology--one a touching poetic piece and the other a humorous short story. No small accomplishment, according to program director Daniel Gabriel, for this young Hmong girl who had entered kindergarten speaking virtually no English!
Magazines and zines
Low-budget magazines--or zines--are another great way to get ideas out there. From the highly professional, award-winning New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams, to a zine run off at a neighborhood copy center, to an online e-zine, the sky's the limit.
Nancy Gruver, publisher of Duluth-based New Moon, explains that she started her magazine seven years ago to fill an unmet need. "I remembered being miserable and confused by all the contradictory messages when I was that age," she recalls. She wanted to provide something better for her daughters. Today the magazine, which seeks to take girls seriously and "build a healthy resistance to gender inequities," carries no advertising and boasts a growing circulation of 25,000.
The editorial board is made up entirely of girls ages eight to fourteen, with about seventy-five percent of the writing done by girls selected worldwide. Editorial Board member Kellen Sheedy--a seventh grader living in Duluth--got involved because her mother is the science advisor. "For the longest time, I've wanted to be a writer," she says. She keeps a journal and loves to read, but she's also a soccer player who hopes one day to be an orthopedic surgeon.
At the other end of the spectrum is the zine published by the Walker Art Center's Teen Arts Council (WACTAC) two to four times a year. The zine contains writings and drawings by council members and other local teens, as well as information about Walker events. According to program manager Christi Atkinson, the zine not only helps raise awareness about the Walker Art Center, and about publishing, but also gives teens a much-needed voice.
E-zines--or zines which are e-mailed on the Web--are opening up whole new vistas in self-expression, often with the kids being light-years ahead of their parents.
Two sisters from Shoreview, eleven-year-old Kori Wahman and fifteen-year-old Megan each have their own zines. Kori's, SUGAH, is e-mailed each month via AOL to a list of more than 231 subscribers. Kori, a sixth-grader who wants to be a writer, says she got the idea from her big sister. "It can be a lot of work," she admits, "but I really like doing it."
Megan reports that her zine, DIVAS, has 822 subscribers. She currently writes the entire zine herself and fills it with popular subjects like beauty, fashion, and fitness. Says Megan: "I've always been good in language arts and I got my inspiration from other online magazines."
Surfing the Net
Finally, there are Web sites. While a long way from that little gilt-edged diary, they are places where technologically--and graphically --oriented kids can express their creativity and make contact with kids sharing similar interests.
Former DIVAS partner Sarah Cramer, an eleventh grader from Appleton, Wisconsin, now focuses on designing Web sites. She says it's not that difficult to get started. "How much you need to know depends on what you want your Web page to look like, how complicated you want it to be."
For information about how to obtain free Web page space, Sarah recommends going to eccentrica.org and freeservers.com.
For information on the skills necessary to create a more elaborate Web page, she suggests reading HTML for Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide, 1996) or the HTML help site www.htmlgoodies.com.
"Online publishing is more accessible for adults and kids--and there will be an expansion of those opportunities," concludes Cummings. But, she emphasizes, "publishing is only one way to get your work out there. Creating your own book by hand and giving it to a loved one is another great way to share your work and reach an audience."
Deborah Sugerman is a Minneapolis freelance writer and mother of two sons.
Some Additional Advice
If your child is serious about being published, here is additional advice from teachers, editors, already-published kids, and Janet Grant's The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Writer (Free Spirit Publishing, 1995):
1. Make your work look professional. Type your manuscript and check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.
2. Don't sound too formal; use a conversational voice.
3. Solicit feedback. Although it may be difficult to share your work at first, you'll find that others' comments can be invaluable. But always evaluate the advice you receive.
4. Look for encouragement. A teacher, friend, or other mentor can provide support.
5. Write all the time. As with any craft, you need all the practice you can get.
6. Do you homework before sending your manuscript around. Consult The Writer's Market, Market Guide for Young Writers, and Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (all published by Writer's Digest Books) when selecting potential publishers. If a company has published similar titles, it may be more, rather than less, willing to want yours.
7. Above all else, don't get discouraged.
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