The underlying purpose in the following plan is to start determining which specific periodicals are the best potential markets for the things you are going to write. With hundreds of periodical markets included in the market guide, obviously you cannot (nor would you want to) submit to all of them. This plan will help you refine and narrow that list to those you can best identify with and that are most likely to buy from you. Marketing is not finding editors who will publish what you write, it is finding publishers you can write for.
As you begin writing, you will likely try your hand at a number of different types of writing. That is fine; it is one way to help determine what topics or kinds of writing you are most qualified to tackle, what kinds you most enjoy, what types sell best for you, etc. It is a natural part of the process. However, once you have begun to recognize your strengths, it is time to determine what topics or types of writing you want to target during the next 3-5 years. This is an important, but often overlooked part of the process. One of our goals as a writer is to have editors start recognizing our strengths and to give us assignments in those areas. If you write too wide a diversity of material, your name will never be associated with any particular areas of expertise.
Establishing those areas of expertise also prepares the way to write books in the future. One of the interesting things that happens when you are published regularly in a certain field is that it establishes your credibility in that field, even when you have no formal education or degrees. For example, I was published regularly in every Christian education publication over several years before I wrote my first Christian education book (I eventually wrote seven in that field). I had 20 years experience and no C.E. degree, but because of my extensive publishing credits, no one ever questioned my qualifications. You can do the same thing in your area of interest. Don’t feel you must limit yourself to only one area; the following plan will work in a few different areas at the same time.
Now, sit down with a large sheet of paper and make the following lists: 1. Topics you most want to write about, i.e., marriage, health, relationships, family, etc. 2. Types of writing you want to do, i.e., feature articles, interviews/profiles, poetry, devotionals, Bible studies, teen fiction, etc. 3. Potential target audiences for your work—which audiences/age groups are you most qualified to write for, i.e., children, teens, women, pastors, singles, etc. Keep in mind that this is a work sheet; you will be perfecting it and expanding it as you invest more time defining your market.
A word about the target audience. Often this is an overlooked part of the equation. Most publications are closely targeted to a particular audience, so if you have no defined audience when you write, chances are you will not hit anyone with your material. For example, “adults” is not a target audience. Within the Adult designation we have college students, singles, young marrieds, families with preschoolers, families with school-age children, empty-nest adults, senior citizens, etc. That means your material has to target a specific audience and use illustrations, anecdotes, and references that the members of that group can identify with. The added advantage of looking at a variety of target audiences is that you can take the same basic material and write it up with a different target audience in mind. So instead of one article on a topic, you could write two, four, six or more, by simply changing the target audience.
Once you have the above lists compiled, what you want to do is to begin putting a topic, type of writing, and audience together into a potential product. For example: a feature article on marriage for newly-weds or a teen short-story on relationships. Come up with as many combinations as you can. Now that you have identified the product, you need to determine what publications will be interested in that particular product for that particular audience. What you want to do is name the product at the top of your sheet and under it start listing the potential markets for that kind of piece.
Identifying Your markets
The question then is: How do we know what the best markets are for each list? This is where we turn to our market guide and follow these steps:
- Turn first to the topical listings and look for your topic, type of writing and/or target audience. For example, if you have identified money-management for teens, go to the topic, “Money Management,” and then down to the list of teen publications.
- Look up each market on that list in the Alphabetical Listings, and read the listing. Every market may not be a good one for you, so look for those that indicate they might be, and eliminate those that aren’t. For example, you might eliminate those from denominations you aren’t comfortable or familiar with, or those that accept material only from teens.
- As you find possible markets, add them to the appropriate tentative list to be investigated further.
- After reading a listing that looks promising, pull from your files or send for a sample copy and writer’s guidelines. The listing will tell you how to order them (size of envelope and number of stamps). Note: See below for additional information on sample copies and writers’ guidelines.
- Carefully read the guidelines, highlighting anything that indicates this is—or isn’t—a good market for you. Read the copy or copies cover-to-cover, again noting anything you like or dislike about the publication. Based on what you discover, either drop the publication from your list or keep it on for the next step.
- The next step is to analyze the markets you are interested in. If no analysis sheet is available, answer the following questions about each market (this exercise can be more valuable if you can get together with other writers and analyze several different issues of each publication together). Look for answers to the following kinds of questions: What is the basic slant of this publication? Who is their target audience? What kind of articles do they seem to prefer? Are most long or short? Are most articles serious, factual, anecdotal, humorous? Do they seem to prefer 1st or 3rd person? Do they ever use 2nd person (addressing the reader as “you”). Do they use a lot of quotes from authorities, statistics, case studies, personal experiences, etc.? Do they prefer certain kinds of leads? Look at individual articles, paragraph by paragraph, and see what the author included. Simply ask yourself if your topic would fit in this publication, and could you write in a way to fit their style? If so, leave them on your list; if not, drop them.
- At this point you should have a list of potential markets for that topic or type of writing. You will repeat the process for each different list. Often you will do this for each topic as you are ready to write something different (rather than trying to complete all the lists at the same time). You will also continue to add and delete markets as you become aware of new markets or discover some markets are closed or unsuitable.
- Once each list is compiled, you may put it in any order you like, such as: best paying, largest circulation, most freelance, payment on acceptance, length, or whatever your priority is for that particular piece. It will not be until you reach this point that you will be ready to start writing your article or story.