– by Devyani Borade
In over seven years of writing professionally, I’ve submitted stories to thousands of print and online publications. My work has been accepted or published in nearly 200 magazines. In this time, I’ve learnt how to quickly tell if a market fits my work and my work fits the market, or not. So how do I “know my market”?
Genre is a natural start, but you cannot go by genre alone. Take the non-fiction genre for example In the sphere of periodicals devoted to the writing/publishing industry alone, there are several newsletters like FundsForWriters.com, WritersWeekly.com, Freelance Writer’s Report, FreelanceWriting.com, Writing-World.com, AuthorMagazine.org that all contain how-to articles on writing. However, while the former three focus on how to make more money — the “business” of — writing, the next two encompass not only the business but also the art — the “craft” — of writing, while the last leans more towards the personal inspirational side — the “heart” — of writing life. Similarly, Freelance Writer’s Report is targeted at the busy and experienced professional freelance writer, whereas Writing-World.com caters to amateurs and veterans alike, as it does to the fiction writer, poet and freelancer, and pleasure-writer as well as business-finder. FundsForWriters.com welcomes pieces with anecdotes and voice, Freelance Writer’s Report prefers the bare-bones information without any fancy frills. Then there is Writing Magazine, Writer’s Forum and The Writer that invite articles to help writers improve their writing holistically as well as throw light on various publishing aspects; and Writers’ Chronicle, that accepts work to encourage discussion on craft and ethics, geared towards university teachers and students. So while all these trade publications are on “writing” there is a world of difference in what kind of slant and style they are each looking for.
Which brings us back to the big question—How can you really know your market?
- Read the magazine, but only the best bits.
While this is the most obvious method to know your market, the place where most writers trip up is knowing what to read. You cannot read each and every article of each and every issue ever produced. So read the following sections:
- Customer profile – Magazines publish a profile of their subscribers on their “Media Kit” or “About” pages to give advertisers an idea about the kinds of products to sell for their correct target market. There is no reason writers can’t take advantage of this too. E.g. if a magazine caters to the 20-to-50-year-old working woman with two kids and a six-figure annual income, you’d find a taker for an article on how to juggle office and home life, dress smart, maintain spiritual sanity in a material world, deal with relationship stress etc. On the other hand, a magazine whose main readership is formed around the 50+ empty nesters age group would prefer articles about holidaying on a budget, planning retirement, pension management, etc.
- Advertisements – If no customer profile is specifically mentioned, the actual advertisements themselves can be an excellent clue for what type of market it is. E.g. an advert for “the perfect stirrups that offer the rider superb balance during shooting” in an equine magazine may mean the magazine could run a personal story about horse-back hunting. Similarly, an advert about online courses in clay modelling in an arts-and-crafts publication could mean acceptance for a piece related to pottery history. Use your imagination and extrapolate. As a bonus, advertisements can also be a great idea generator!
- Lead feature – This tells you the strongest theme and style.
- Center spread – This supports the lead feature. Is it an interview? A newsy story? A profile on a public figure or incident?
- Back of book – This is usually different and brings a refreshing variety to the rest of the magazine. It also tends to be an easier option for newbies to get their foot in the door.
- Table of contents – Most TOCs list a short description of the main articles, quicker to read, easier to understand.
- Letters to the editor – These are a great source of information. You get to keep your finger directly on the pulse by knowing what the readers liked or disliked, straight from the horse’s mouth.
- Guidelines – Finally, but not always that obviously, these can be a concise resource for knowing what the editors are looking for.
- Network with other writers
Competition in the writing universe is brutal. But you can turn the pain into gain by find out what your competitors are writing, and for whom. E.g. I often write on the subject of writing. Other writers also specialise in this area, and it is not unusual for familiar names to keep cropping up in the same venues. Having common grounds of publication can be useful to take a lead from competitors. So if you see a writer who writes inspirational articles in XYZ Magazine has also written an article for PQR Newsletter, chances are good that a piece of yours in the same genre submitted to PQR Newsletter may be accepted.
Having a group or club or being part of some sort of community helps enormously if you have questions about a potential market. Why would other writers help you out? Because they know you will return the favour. There’s enough work to go around and you don’t need to be stepping on anyone’s toes to win assignments.
- Ask book store assistants and librarians
One of my most common inquiries in any library I visit is “Can you recommend to me another author who writes like P. G. Wodehouse?” Or “Do you know of any magazine on the topic of aviation?” Librarians, and many book store assistants, are well read people whose breadth of knowledge may come in handy when searching for a specific type of market. Most library catalog systems offer the facility for cross-referencing using keywords for genres, authors, publishers, etc. So without knowing the market yourself, you may rely on the information received from another trustworthy authority who has already done the legwork for you.
Getting a good market fit is half the battle won. If your writing is solid, there’s no reason you won’t be on your way to an assured publishing credit!
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© Devyani Borade