If the periodical has advertisements, try to determine who the ads are targeting. If there are letters to the editor, read those to see what you can learn about the readers. Are they conservative, liberal, mostly women, mostly pastors or professionals, etc.? What topics turn them on—or off?
Check the contents page to see the average number of words used in a title. You will find that the titles vary in length for each publication , but they will tend to find a typical range. For example, articles in a scholarly or specialized magazine may have titles 8-10 words (more descriptive), while pieces in a teen publication will have one or two word titles (short and punchy).
As you are doing the above market analysis make your own notes on a separate sheet, or right on their guidelines, if room. Always write down any information, or even subtle impressions about the publication as they come to you. What you are seeking are clues that will give you insight into what the editor wants and ways you can tailor your submissions to fit their established criteria. Also be on the lookout for any specific knowledge about the publication that you can use in your query or cover letter to indicate to the editor that you have done your homework. For example, “Because your primary reading audience is women 20-45…. Or “Because you prefer a humorous, anecdotal approach….” That kind of informed presentation always gets an editor’s attention.
By the time you reach this point, you should have a list of several—and sometimes dozens--of markets carefully selected for your target audience, topics or types of writing. Your choices now have been made on careful market analysis, not wild guesses, and your results will reflect that almost immediately.
So, next time you have a great idea you want to write, go to the list of markets you have developed for that type of material and decide first where you are going to send it. You can then plan the slant, length, style based on what you know about that publication and its audience.