Thursday, 1 October 2009

Researching your market

Time I posted something useful on this blog, beyond just magazine guidelines! This will all be old hat to you experienced writers, but could be useful for some of the less experienced readers of this blog.

Well you'll all have heard the mantra of 'research your market'. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you go about it?

Firstly, and obviously, if at all possible get hold of a couple of issues of the magazine and read them. Cover to cover, and not just the fiction. You glean a lot from the types of articles published, the sorts of readers' letters and tips they publish (pictures of cute grandchildren, or tips on getting football kits sparkling clean?) You're trying to build up a picture of the kind of person who reads the magazine, therefore the kind of person your story needs to appeal to.

Google the magazine title, and find its website. Somewhere, probably, will be a link to an advertisers package. Take a detailed look at this - there should be details on the type of reader the magazine is aiming at, their age, demographic, etc, as well as the style of the magazine.

Then nick the advertisers' research. Whereas we writers have nothing to lose by sending stories everywhere (just the cost of a stamp and envelope), advertisers have to pay to advertise in the mag. So you can be sure they'll have researched and targetted the right magazine. You can borrow this research simply by noting what ads appear in each magazine. Stair lifts or follow-on milk? Health spas or lunch-box snacks? This all should help you build up a profile of the mag's readers.

It's not just typical reader age you need to know. Demographics are useful too. The Lady has a Situations Vacant column, in which you'll find people looking for butlers and Norland Nannies (Norland Nanny = very posh childcare, for my overseas readers!). You won't find that in Take A Break. Their readers are more likely to pay a local childminder than employ a Norland Nanny.

Now I don't mean that you absolutely could not sell a story involving a Norland Nanny to Take A Break. But your story must appeal to Take A Break readers, or it won't sell to them.

Don't ask me to define story appeal. It's undefinable, but the magazine editors know it when they see it, because they know their magazine so well and have years of experience. Our best bet as writers, is to also get to know the magazine well, and build up experience, until we too know by instinct when a story is likely to appeal to a given market.

OK, so once you think you understand the target readers, you write stories about those types of people, right? Sorry, it's not as simple as that. You won't see many stories about old people ailing in nursing homes in People's Friend, for example, even though such people make up a substantial part of their readership. But you put yourself in those readers' shoes, and think about what sort of story they would like to read. (Nostalgic 1950s first loves, or contemporary young family stories reminding PF readers of their grandchildren?)

Your readers must be able to relate to the characters you write about. And by knowing your readers, you should be able to build characters and storylines they can relate to.

Well, there you are, my tuppence worth for today. (And if you do sell a Norland Nanny story to Take A Break, do let me know!)

16 comments:

Patsy said...

Thanks, Womag. As the number of markets shrink, I think it's more important than ever to take note of the requirements of those that remain.

HelenMHunt said...

I think it's very useful to keeep reminding ourselves about this. Great post.

Debs said...

Thanks Womag. I need all the help I can get.

Judith said...

And so do I! Thank you so much.

Antonia said...

Great info, Womag. Thanks! I especially like the bit about taking a detailed look at the advertiser package.

Sue Houghton said...

Even seasoned womag writers need a heads up sometimes.

Dolores Doolittle said...

Huge thanks, Womag. You always manage to inspire, even when one's in a gloom of writing despond!

I'm off to scour the adverts and Get Published!

Lily Sheehan said...

Thanks for writing this, I am hoping to sub to mags soon and that was a huge help.

Olivia Ryan said...

Thanks, Womag - and as others have said, even if we have some experience, it never hurts to be reminded of this kind of advice again. I thought the pointer about not thinking 'old person' stories will necessarily appeal to an elderly readership was particularly valid.

Kath said...

Talking of markets, have been today to a short story writing workshop which prompted me to look at some different websites. There's one called "The Story Website" which has some guidelines. I'm not sure how up to date it is because it still shows "The Lady" and "Best" accepting submissions but it also says that the Weekly News isn't accepting any stories at the moment because of a backlog. This does make sense - in September, the Editor was expressing some relief that she'd just got through May's submissions.

Patsy said...

I've heard that TWN aren't accepting subs until the end of Nov. This is because Jill Findlay is going on maternity leave and wants to deal with all the subs she has before handing over to Billy Higgins.

Olivia Ryan said...

Thanks for this information about The Weekly News. (Not that I've had anything published by them yet - but I do try from time to time!).

Kath said...

Re WN and Jill Findlay, at least it's a nice reason.

penandpaints said...

Thanks womag
By the way has anyone ever had anything other than a standard letter with a rejection from TAB, its so frustrating when there is no mention of the story title even. Anyone else get better rejection letters? I really thought my last sub was just right for them, but no, sadly.
Sob.
Sorry, I must get on with writing and stop moping about!

Anonymous said...

Penandpaints, if a story is almost but not quite right, TAB will get in touch and ask you to make changes, it's happened to me a few times - but the outright rejection letters are all the same. Don't give up!

Rini said...

Sound advice!I'm trying to pitch my first ever article to a magazine,and have an idea now of what my focus should be on.Thanks