Cricket Magazine Group is a publishing group that offers fourteen award-winning, advertisement-free magazines for babies, toddlers, children, and young adults. The Group first started in 1973 with the literary magazine CRICKET (ages 9-14) and eventually expanded to include four more literary “bug” magazines for other age groups: BABYBUG (ages 6months-3years), LADYBUG (ages 3-6), SPIDER (ages 6-9), and CICADA (ages 14+). Today, Cricket Magazine Group’s fourteen magazines fall into three categories: Science and Ideas, History and Culture, and Literature and Imagination. While the Cricket Magazine Group’s publications in the first two categories—COBBLESTONE, CLICK, CALLIOPE, ASK, MUSE, etc.—have become popular in schools and libraries, as well as with children who love science and history, this interview focuses on the five literary magazines, the magazines which have earned the title “The New Yorker” for children.
Mateal Lovaas: I believe CRICKET was your magazine group’s first publication in 1973. What is the story behind CRICKET, and which “bug” magazines came next?
Deborah Vetter: Back in 1973, founder and editor-in-chief Marianne Carus had the idea to start a literary magazine to “create in children a love of reading by sustaining a lively, witty, and cheerful tone and a sense of humor.” She found herself inspired by St. Nicholas, a children’s magazine published from 1873 through the late 1930s. Its editor was none other than Mary Mapes Dodge of Hans Brinker; or the Silver Skates fame. St. Nicholas was filled with stories, poetry, nonfiction articles, and great illustrations—exactly what Marianne envisioned for her magazine.
Of course, a new magazine has to have a name. Marianne campaigned for Troubadour or Taliesin, but people told her those titles sounded a little “too foreign, too unfriendly, and not accessible enough for children.” Shortly afterward, Marianne was reading Isaac Bashevis Singer’s autobiographical A Day of Pleasure, in which Singer writes about a cricket chirping behind the stove, “telling a story that would never end.” Aha! Now CRICKET had its name—and a new board member in Isaac Bashevis Singer.
At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Marianne found How Six Found Christmas, written and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. She asked Trina to be the first art director, and when Trina said, “I’ve never art directed a magazine before,” Marianne replied, “I’ve never edited a magazine before. We’ll make a good team.” And it was a good team; I had the pleasure of knowing and working with both of them. Trina was the one who came up with the idea for the bug characters who romp in the margins of the magazine.
Lloyd Alexander joined the editorial board and was an active contributor up until his death in 2007. CRICKET readers might like to know a well-kept secret: this award-winning author of the Prydain Chronicles was also the voice of Old Cricket Says. OCS is a one-page feature that appears at the end of each issue, and many, many of these informative essays came from Lloyd’s old typewriter, which he used for his entire writing career. So if you’re reading back issues and see an Old Cricket Says feature without an attribution, chances are it’s one of Lloyd’s.
After making its appearance in 1973, CRICKET hopped along telling stories on its own until 1990, when Marianne started LADYBUG, a magazine for preschoolers. After that the “bugs” came quickly: SPIDER (for ages 6–9) in January 1994, BABYBUG (for 6 months–2 years) in September 1994, and CICADA, a teen literary journal for ages 14 and up, in 1998. Times were exciting!
M.L. : The “bug” magazines are arguably the highest-quality literary magazines on the market for children. How do you remain advertisement free, especially with the decline of the publishing industry? What changes have you witnessed in the “bug” magazines over your 25 years with the Cricket Magazine Group?
D.V. : The “bug” magazines rely mostly on subscriptions, and because we’re advertising-free, we face special challenges. Over the years, for example, we’ve had to pull back a bit on the number of pages in CRICKET and CICADA. As with many other magazine publishers, we’re also facing competition with electronic media. Therefore, we’ve launched lively, interactive Web sites: www.cicadamag.com, www.cricketmagkids.com, www.spidermagkids.com, and www.ladybugkids.com. We’re launching our first e-books, too, this holiday season, including a Best of CICADA anthology featuring contemporary realistic fiction from authors such as Billy Lombardo, Suzanne Kamata, Elizabeth F.A. Meaney, Tony Lindsay, and Chris Wiewiora, who is currently in the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University.
M.L. : Could you describe your own editorial process of reading over and deciding whether to accept a submission to CICADA, the literary magazine for teens and young adults ages 14 and up? Are there specific features you look for first?
D.V. : We’re looking for fiction with literary sophistication and a genuine teen sensibility. Most of our fiction runs between 3,000–5,000 words, which gives authors space to develop plot and characterization fully. Voice is all-important; in addition, most YA fiction is first person and often in present tense, both of which lend an air of immediacy.
I find that teens and people in their twenties are especially successful at capturing that teen sensibility; many older adult authors are, too, of course, but often adults write “about teens” rather than from within the teen experience itself. For CICADA, we’re looking for those authentic coming-of-age moments; many of our stories revolve around relationships with boyfriends/girlfriends or with family members. Relationships with parents can be especially rocky: great fodder for stories.
M.L. : When writers submit manuscripts, what is your general turn around time? How much do you work with authors to edit and adapt their work?
D.V. : We are blessed with hundreds and hundreds of submissions, which is fantastic, because it enables us to discover new authors and new voices. In fact, many authors place their first stories for publication in CICADA, or one of our other “bug” magazines, and we’re proud of that. Part of our mission is to nurture new talent.
Because we do read unsolicited manuscripts, and because we have a small staff, it can take up to six months before an author receives a response. I know that’s a long time to wait, but we are amenable to simultaneous submissions, if you identify them as such in your cover letter.
If a story makes it through the first read, it will be “set up” and routed for additional reads from up to four or five in-house editors. As you can see, all this takes time. Often we will ask an author for a revision on spec before making a final decision.
Once we’ve accepted a manuscript for publication, an editor will edit and copyedit the story for house style. Sometimes editing is heavy, sometimes light; usually it’s somewhere in the middle. While it’s important to smooth out the rough spots, we also know that an editor’s job is to preserve the author’s voice. The author always has an opportunity to review and approve the editing before a story goes to press.
M.L. : According to your website, writers are supposed to submit their manuscripts directly to the “bug” magazine that best fits their piece. If writers feel their piece might work for more than one age range, may they submit to more than one of the “bug” magazines? If you receive a strong manuscript, but one that fits better in a different age range than CICADA’s 14+ focus, do you pass the manuscript on to one of the other magazines? In general, how much communication is there between you and the editors of the other four magazines, BABYBUG, LADYBUG, SPIDER, and CRICKET?
D.V. : That’s a good question, Mateal. In fact, we just updated our guideline page at http://www.cricketmag.com/6-Submission-Guidelines-for-kids-magazines-for-children-from-toddlers-to-teens to let authors know that, while it’s good to target a specific magazine, we do pass manuscripts around freely. I can remember one memorable occasion where a LADYBUG submission ended up in CICADA!
M.L. : I know the bug magazines publish works written by children, young adults, and adults. Do your standards vary depending on whether the submission is from children and young adults versus adults? Do you seek to represent a range of authors in each issue?
D.V. : SPIDER and CRICKET have special pages reserved for young readers; SPIDER has “Spider’s Corner,” and CRICKET has “Cricket League.” CICADA is the only magazine that accepts general submissions from both teens and adults. We don’t have one set of standards for adults and another for teens; teens are amazingly good authors, and believe me, they can hold their own. Log on to www.cicadamag.com/thisissue and read some of the Expressions pieces from current and past issues. Anna Blech’s “Adventure Day” (September/October 2011) is especially compelling.
Does CICADA seek to represent a range of authors in each issue? Mainly, we’re looking for a variety of styles and genres, and we want a mix of male and female protagonists, but we don’t specifically aim for so many stories written by teens and so many by adults. We just go with the best stories we have, and it all works out.
CICADA also has sections it reserves for authors ages 14–23, specifically Creative Endeavors (www.cicadamag.com/submitwork) and The Slam (www.cicadamag.com/theslam), which is an online critique forum for poetry, microfiction, and creative nonfiction. The Expressions feature, too, is usually written by a teen or “twenty-something” author.
M.L. : What closing advice do you have for writers beginning to submit their work to one of the five literary magazines in the Cricket Magazine Group?
D.V. : It’s a cliché, and it takes time, but study sample issues. Nothing beats that hands-on analysis. Second, read and follow the guidelines at http://www.cricketmag.com/6-Submission-Guidelines-for-kids-magazines-for-children-from-toddlers-to-teens. We’re always eager to find new authors from undergraduate and MFA programs!