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!)