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12 X 12 Featured Author November 2018 – Alison Pearce Stevens

12 x 12 Featured Author November 2018 – Alison Pearce Stevens

12 x 12 member Alison Pearce StevensA huge thank you to Kelli and Julie for asking me to be a featured author here at 12×12! In some ways I feel out of place doing this, because, well, most of what I write isn’t picture books. In fact, most of my writing is commissioned or work for hire (WFH). Now, that means other people tell me what to write about, but I love it for three reasons: I get to learn new things on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis, it’s wonderful writing practice, and it pays the bills.

Since I started writing in 2010, I have written more than 100 nature and science articles for kids and teens and co-authored four books for National Geographic. I now have editors reaching out to me in hopes that I will write stories for them. How did I get here? Three simple steps.

Persevere. Follow directions. Make connections.


Seems obvious, I know. If you’ve spend much time in the writing trenches, then you know you have to stick with it. Keep writing, keep submitting. The same is true of writing for magazines or doing WFH. But in my experience, you’ll reach break through faster if you …

WEIRD BUT TRUE SPORTS by Alison Pearce StevensFollow directions.

This is generally a wise thing to do. Not following directions gives agents a quick, easy way to wade through the slush pile. I quickly learned the same holds true for editors. Once I started following submission guidelines to the letter, double- and triple-checking that I had done everything they asked, editors showed much more interest in my stories. (As an aside, there are generally more requirements for nonfiction, which I write, than for fiction.)

Want to write for a magazine or educational publisher? Find their submission guidelines. If you can’t find them, contact the publication and ask them to send you their guidelines. Once you have those instructions, do everything they say, whether it’s staying within word count or getting an expert to fact-check your story. It goes without saying that you should always write to the best of your ability, because doing so will impress editors. And that’s when you …

Make connections.

Back to writing those books for National Geographic. They came about because I had writing cred from stories I’d published in Highlights and ASK magazine. My kids adore Nat Geo Kids magazine, so I pitched some ideas to the science editor there. She said she liked my writing samples, but the ideas I was pitching just weren’t quite right for them. But instead of simply turning me away, she said she thought they would be a good fit for Science News for Students (SNS), and I should try pitching the editor there.

It took me a few months of persistent inquiries before I was given a chance to write a story for SNS. When the head editor gave me that first assignment, she told me flat-out that most people don’t get to do a second story. Indeed, the story I turned in wasn’t right—it was written for too young an audience and was to voice-y for the publication. (It’s all about voice—even when they don’t want it!) As soon as I saw her edits, I knew I’d screwed up. I didn’t want to become one of those writers who wasn’t given a second chance, so when I replied with my changes, I told her I realized my mistakes, pinpointing exactly what I’d done wrong. She asked me back, and we’ve worked together for six years.

5000 AWESOME FACTS by Alison Pearce StevensWhat does that have to do with the Nat Geo books? I owe that opportunity to the second editor on that SNS story. I worked with her on many of my stories for SNS. In addition to editing, she also wrote books for National Geographic. So when they hired her to edit Weird But True: Ripped from the Headlines 2 and needed authors, she recommended me.

I’d come full circle: NGK à SNS à NGK.

As far as I can tell (or at least in my experience), it’s all about making connections. And doing high quality work. When you make editors happy, they recommend you to other editors. That’s how I ended up working on not only the second and third books in the Ripped from the Headlines subseries, but also Weird But True Sports. One editor recommended me to another. And 5,000 Awesome Facts 3? I made that connection at a conference. Go to those too!

So how to build your writing resumé, get lots of words under your belt, get your name out into the publishing world, and help pay the bills? Pursue work-for-hire; write for magazines. They’re not the same as picture books, but the topics you write about may well spark ideas for your personal stories. Who knows? One of those editors might just have the right connections to get your picture books off the ground.




Alison is a former duck wrangler and beekeeper turned children’s writer. After earning degrees in Biology, Zoology, and Ecology, evolution, and behavior (she took that whole life-long learning thing a little too seriously), her husband whisked her off to Berlin, Germany for “two to three” years that turned into five. Sans work visa and with small children at home, Alison discovered a passion for sharing the extraordinary things she had learned about science and nature with kids. Alison has written on topics ranging from nanotubes and tattoos to mythical creatures and popcorn and co-authored four books for National Geographic Kids: WEIRD BUT TRUE: RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES 2 and 3, WEIRD BUT TRUE SPORTS, and 5,000 AWESOME FACTS 3. 

This month, Alison is giving away a copy of WEIRD BUT TRUE: RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES 3 to one lucky 12 x 12 members. Get those drafts written for your best chance of winning!

This Post Has 127 Comments
  1. Alison, thank you so much for a look inside the WFH world. It seems maybe WFH work is more frequent and goes to press much quicker. Thanks for the post.

  2. Thanks for the post, Alison! I enjoyed reading about your work and appreciate you sharing your three steps to success.

  3. Great tips, Alison! I used to do WFH for adults until I transitioned to writing picture books. Now that it’s taking so long to get my picture books published, I’ve started to think more about doing WFH for kids’ pubs. That may be a goal for the new year. Thanks for sharing your journey!

  4. Congratulations! Thank you for thoughtful tips! I know several people who would like these titles for the holidays.

  5. Thank you so much, Alison! Even though most of your writing is not picture books, your advice is great for ALL writers. And it’s a reminder that magazines can be an excellent way to break into the industry.

  6. Thank you for your post. I am beginning to lean towards the WFH market. My passion when I taught was researching topics and finding interesting ways to bring that knowledge into the classroom. Reading your post, I realized that I need to explore the magazine and educational markets more consistently- persevere!
    Thank you!

  7. Thank you, Alison, for sharing your story and offering advice! I’m a freelance writer on the side and have been published in trade magazines and would like to move into childrens magazines too. I appreciated hearing about your journey and hope I can replicate even a part of it. Best wishes!

  8. Thanks for sharing your interesting WFH journey, Alison! Your advice about perseverance, directions, and connections rings true beyond WFH.

  9. Alison, your post is just what I needed in this moment to kick me into overdrive on a new project that I seemed to have burnt out on. I know now which direction it should go and I am thrilled to say, I believe I have found my niché. Thank you so much for the tips and insight.

  10. I keep hearing about connections. What a wonderful example of double connections. I’m curious, without a work visa in Germany could you write for U. S. publishers?

    1. I could, yes. The work visa was just for working for a German employer. I taught some online classes for a liberal arts college in the US while we were there, too.

  11. Hi Alison,
    I really appreciate your words of wisdom! I love writing nonfiction (and especially those strange but true stories that you, also, seem to be drawn to) and have toyed with the idea of writing for magazines, but keep putting the idea on the back burner–where the flame tends to go out. 🙂 You have inspired me to reignite the flame and maybe even bring magazine writing to the front burner.
    Many Thanks!

  12. Thanks Alison. Paying careful attention to submission guidelines is an important reminder. You have also underlined how important as it can become an immediate rejection if you don’t. The moral of the story is ‘do your homework’! Thanks again.

  13. Thank you for your insight on magazine writing. I have not submitted to editors or agents for awhile
    and will take your advice to watch and work on the guidelines more carefully. It sounds like you have
    a solid background in science to work with the magazines you have tried. Good luck with your future

  14. Have never really thought about WFH, but maybe it’s time to take a serious look at this path for the future. Thanks for sharing your insight with 12×12!

  15. Such great advice, Alison! Especially: Following guidelines — and triple checking them, as you suggest!
    And being willing to look at mistakes and redo something completely, as you did with the editor for SNS, is a valuable reminder to never make our words and manuscripts so precious that we can’t throw them out and start over. So hard to do, but obviously, it pays off! I look forward to reading some of your books.

  16. Great post and advice. Make connections. This is so important in this field. And then follow the directions given so that your story is what was asked for by the editor. Thank you.

  17. What an incredible writing journey you’ve had! I’m so glad that you persisted after receiving those edits back from SNS! I too write a lot of non-fiction articles for magazines (mainly Faces), but have yet to turn that skill into a non-fiction PB. Maybe one day…. 🙂

  18. Such a great example of what can happen if we persevere, follow directions and make connections! Thank you for the insights and for sharing your journey with us. Congratulations on all of your success!

  19. Thank you for sharing your experience with WFH. I’ve been interested in that area. This is really helpful and encouraging. I’ll have to check out some of your articles. Thanks again for sharing!

  20. Congratulations on your success, Alison! Thank you for sharing tips as well as your journey in magazine writing.

  21. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and encouragement. You have shown an entirely different way into writing and you made it approachable. Thanks for your frankness.

  22. I love this post, Alison! And we LOVE your books at my house! Interesting to read about your path to success – well-deserved 🙂

  23. Thanks for sharing your unique path to publishing Alison. It is a reminder to be open to all possibilities. You never know where they will lead.

  24. I’m sure my son’s read all of your National Geographic stuff! So, in turn, I learn the coolest stuff from him, via you! Thanks for keeping us well informed.

    And thanks for the insider’s look at WFH. It feels a little less daunting now.

  25. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, and for the encouraging words. That’s one of the things I love about our community here: we’re great at pushing each other to just keep persevering. 🙂

  26. Thanks for sharing your journey to getting published! WFH is definitely something I’ll consider after reading your post.

  27. Alison, three steps that resonate – easy to remember and good to have as a little desk reminder. Many thanks – Pauline

  28. This was a great post! I don’t do WFH (yet) but loved learning about your journey and what it takes to have staying power as a writer. Thank you for sharing!

  29. Thanks Alison for the information on WFH. It’s been a niche that has caught my attention. Congratulations on writing for the big hitters!

  30. Great post. I’ve been recently entertaining the idea of writing non-fiction for the magazine market. This is the first step. Thank you.

  31. What an interesting post. I think it would be fascinating to learn new scientific facts for your writing…things you never would have been introduced to, otherwise. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  32. Duck wrangler! I appreciate the inspiration you have found where you are, doing what you can with what you love and your tips to help us do the same.

  33. Alison…what a fascinating back story you have! A beekeeper? AWESOME! Congratulations on your new book…and kudos for all the writing you have done leading up to this one! To keep moving forward no matter what is great advice!

  34. I really appreciated your post. Your discussion about connections resonated and got not a few of us thinking about Work for Hire, probably.

  35. Thank you for the encouraging blog post! Your points to persevere, follow directions, and make connections are wise and will be heeded!

  36. I’m a big fan of NGK and how they educate kiddos in an entertaining way. Thanks for sharing your path to pub and advice, Alison!

  37. Thanks for sharing thoughts on your writing journey. Great tips! Especially the one on ‘following directions’. I thought I was spending way too much time checking and rechecking ‘directions’ while submitting, but it sounds like you can never be too careful!

  38. Thanks for the great advice. I love the kinds of books you write – facts so amazing they feel made up. I look forward to reading some with my kids.

  39. This was a great reminder about sticking to the guidelines and persevering.
    Every once in a while we need that bit of encouragement.
    Thank you for your post, Duck wrangler, ha! That’s cute.
    Good luck with all your endeavors. Joan

  40. Great points! I always wonder if it’s worth it following instructions. It seems so often that nobody does. So it’s good to hear it paid off!!!!

  41. Thanks Alison for your insight and for opening my eyes to the WFH world! Appreciate you sharing your journey and wisdom with us!

  42. Thank you for this great post and the reminder that there is no straight line to publication. I’m a children’s librarian and have seen your books at our library! My girls love nonfiction, especially Nat Geo books!
    Nice to meet you!

  43. Congratulations on your latest book, Alison. All good advice, but it’s helpful to realize just how much submitting you do. Thanks for sharing!

  44. Alison, thank you so much for your insights and tips. You’re so right that following guidelines is so important, especially for nonfiction. As you mentioned, it is important to be consistent and to keep submitting!

  45. Alison,
    I feel like I’ve got the perseverance. I started writing the same year as you. I do follow the directions. I have tried to make connections. Perhaps I should start writing for magazines but that’s not where my heart is and I don’t know the parameters for that like I do for picture books. I’m trying to find a good agent rather than going through an editor since so many publishers and editors won’t accept manuscripts that aren’t agented.

    1. It’s tricky, Anne. I don’t think magazine writing is for everyone, but I do think you could write short stories that are somewhat PB-like for Highlights, for example. It’s worth trying, if only for the experience of trying something different. I have found that my nonfiction informs my fiction and sometimes vice versa. Trying different types of writing can make a huge difference in how you choose to tell a story, and sometimes it’s just a matter of breaking out of where you’ve been to take your stories to the next level. Best of luck to you!

  46. Thank you all for the wonderful comments! And my apologies for not responding sooner. November kind of kicked my butt, but some days/weeks/months are like that. Best wishes to all of you in your writing pursuits! For those of you interested in magazines/WFH, I hope you find your niche!

  47. Alison –

    Thank you for helpful information. Making connections is something I have never given advice about! Thank you!

  48. Not only do I appreciate the advice in this post, but I appreciate the flame-crested gecko on your shoulder! My daughter has one of those in her room (named Flamey). Thank you!

  49. Not only do I appreciate the advice in this post, but I love the flame-crested gecko on your shoulder! My daughter has one of those in her room (named Flamey). Thank you!

  50. Alison, thank you for sharing your writing journey. It was very interesting to me how you built your writing career on your experiences and interests. It is also special to see how editors encouraged you and presented opportunities to you. Your personal commitment to excellence paid off. Congratulations on your published books and articles.

  51. Alison, thanks for the helpful tips on writing. I’ve found that perseverance and following the rules were the strongest two for me also. It worked out for you for sure, plus so much talent and loving what you do. It’s obvious that you love writing science articles and books. We’re best at what we love.

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