Posted by: nancyisanders | August 28, 2013

Highlights: Brainstorming Ideas

There are no right or wrong steps to take as you’re working to write a nonfiction article to submit to Highlights.

It’s okay to do whatever works for you to experience success.

The steps I’m sharing with you are steps that I’m taking…actually taking…along my own journey to do this. And here’s the nitty gritty on the next step I’ve been taking. This is the information I promised to you in an earlier post where I said I’d share what my brain has been doing to pick a topic to write about.

Brainstorm ideas to help narrow the topic down to the one main topic you want to write about. Studying the target publisher has really helped me along the way. That’s why I shared the previous posts before I shared this one.

Here are some of the thoughts and questions I asked myself as I brainstormed ideas to narrow the topic:

* Do I want to write about something I know nothing about that will require hours of research from square one and multiple trips to the library and a brand new playing field all around? (The benefits of doing this are many in that it’s lots of fun to start fresh plus it will expand my capabilities as a writer.)
* Or do I want to write about something I’ve already researched and written about before?

(Just for your info, in the end I decided to write about a topic I’ve written about in one of my books, so I have to be careful not to overstep my boundaries to compete with the publisher of my book. Instead, I decided to write about something just mentioned briefly in my book so that it will involve a little bit of new research and new digging to get more facts about that particular angle.)

* Also, since I’m pretty sure that Highlights purchases all rights to these articles, I wanted to be very, very certain to choose a topic that I can write about and give all rights away to. For example, one of my favorite topics that came to mind for this journey, I decided would not be a good one to use after all. That’s because I currently have a picture book in the hands of my agent on this very same topic so I don’t want to give away the rights to it. I want to keep it for a picture book instead. So I crossed that topic off my list.

Other questions I asked as I brainstormed ideas for my potential topic included:

* Has my topic/idea been written about in Highlights before? There’s no way of knowing this for sure unless I read every back issue of Highlights…and even then there’s no way to know if the editors have a brand new article in their hands that someone just submitted on my topic. So I’m planning on including a resume extension when I submit my article. I’ll list 3-5 other potential ideas in my cover letter for them to choose if they like my writing but my topic has already been covered. But most of all, as I’m thinking of potential topics to write about, I’m avoiding anything that is commonly written about such as the life cycle of a butterfly or well-known Olympic stars. I’m searching for ideas that are more obscure but that still fit Highlights’ list of Current Needs and still have great kid appeal.

* Does my potential topic have photographs that are accessible and that don’t cost too much?

* Will it be workable to locate an expert in the field of my topic to ask for a letter validating the accuracy of my article?

* Are there enough research resources easily available to include primary sources in my bibliography?

Now, if you’ve never acquired photos for your research or connected with an expert or used primary sources before, these can seem like daunting tasks.

Or they can be part of the exciting adventure we’re taking!

And especially, if you want to write nonfiction for kids, all of these steps are just part of the process. They seem like impossible hurdles at first, but as you learn to jump over each one, it gets easier and easier. Soon you’ll feel your confidence grow as a writer so much that you’ll want to do more. And more!

These are great exercises and experiences to go through as a children’s writer and also are essential if you want to write books of nonfiction for kids.

So now you’ve got some work for you in the days ahead. Ask yourself the same questions that rolled around in my brain these past few days. Dig around and find some answers. Work through this next step of narrowing down your choices to choose one topic to write about.

And if you have any questions about all of this, please feel free to ask!


  1. Nancy, I’m enjoying reading about your journey. I would just add one thing when it comes to researching topics for Highlights or any magazine. Many children’s magazines like Highlights are included in online databases. I often use Gale’s GeneralOneFile, which is available through my public library. If you do an advanced search, you can enter Highlights for Children as the publication title, and then your subject as a key word. This will tell you what’s been published to date.

    • Kirsten, this info is AWESOME!!!! Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve never heard of this resource before, so I’m definitely going to check it out right away.

  2. Nancy, Does your statement about them buying all the rights mean that a writer can put a portion of a novel in as a short story first? How about a few facts in Highlights & use in a hist. fict. novel? Jan

    • You can always verify this with the editor, Jan, but usually it means you can’t use the same words in two different places. However, you can use the same research, but just write it from a different perspective or with a different slant. And if you have any doubts at all, contact both your book publisher and also Highlights to make sure.

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