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Exploring New Markets
by Moira Allen

Return to Queries, Submissions & Market Research · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

I have to smile at listings in Writer's Market that advise would-be contributors to read "five or six back issues" before submitting. Yeah, right! I don't know about you, but I can hardly keep up with my own subscriptions, let alone the sample copies I tend to order in abundance. And at an average of $4 per back issue, the cost of ordering more than one issue of anything would be prohibitive.

At the same time, those publications make an important point: If you don't know anything about a publication, it will be very difficult to target an article or query to its editor. How can you hope to understand the needs and interests of the audience? How can you hope to match the style or tone of the article? How can you catch the editor's eye? How can you avoid making a fool of yourself by submitting an article on a topic that was covered two months ago?

Fortunately, there are ways to explore the marketplace without breaking your bank account. Consider the following possibilities:

1) Start with magazines you know. What magazines do you subscribe to, or purchase on a regular basis? Chances are, these publications best reflect your interests and expertise. Look especially carefully at the craft, hobby, or special interest publications on your list. Most likely, you buy these because you pursue that interest, and could therefore develop an article for that market. A word of warning, however: If your subscriptions or purchases include only the top "general interest" or "women's" magazines, and you are a beginning writer, this advice does not apply. Never assume that just because you read Redbook or Cosmopolitan, this will enable you to "break in" -- those markets are flooded with submissions from thousands of readers who make exactly that assumption. (That doesn't mean you won't be able to write for those markets; it simply means that you'll have to work very hard to get in the door.)

2) Become a "magazine hunter." Watch for "back issues" of magazines wherever you go. Browse through the magazines in your doctor's waiting room, or any other waiting room you happen to occupy. If you find a magazine that looks particularly interesting, ask the receptionist if you can borrow it for a few days, or if you could replace it with another comparable magazine of your own. Another place to check is your local library; many offer "recycle" shelves where patrons can "swap" old magazines. (You'd be surprised at some of the unusual and obscure publications you can find in such a location.) Take a peek at the magazines your host leaves in a guest bathroom -- just don't spend too long conducting "market research" in that particular chamber!

3) Visit newsstands. Bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble offer extensive newsstands featuring magazines you won't find in your local grocery store. You may also find publications that aren't listed in Writer's Market. If you can find a "real" newsstand -- a store that is devoted entirely to magazines -- so much the better! (Many of these carry international magazines as well as domestic issues.) Newsstands are treasuries of new markets, and the issues usually cost less than special-ordered "back issues" (for which you often have to pay shipping as well as the cover price of the magazine itself).

4) Check Writer's Market for free back issues. I usually rank the listings in Writer's Market by price: Free, "postage," less than $3, and more than $3. I send for the free copies first, then those that ask only for postage costs (provided those costs aren't outrageous). Then I order those that cost less than $3, and finally, after careful consideration, I order the most interesting of those that cost $4 or more. When ordering a back issue, save yourself a SASE and ask for the writer's guidelines at the same time.

5) Ask for writer's guidelines (GLs) of any publication that interests you. Some GLs are excellent, giving you far more information than you can glean from the Writer's Market entry. Others, however, are often less useful; some mention nothing about rates or rights or other information vital to a writer. Others are simply vague: "We want sharp, well-written articles that will appeal to our audience." (Well, duh!)

6) Research "back issues" online. Many publications post extensive archives of articles on their websites. These archives are often the "best of the best," which will give you an excellent idea of what excites the editor of that particular magazine. Print a few articles and read them carefully to get an idea of their tone, style, content, and depth of coverage. Are they written for a technical audience or for the layperson? Do they offer general overviews of a subject, or in-depth reporting? Do the authors have special credentials, or can "anyone" break in?

7) Look for back issue indices. Even if a magazine doesn't publish articles online, it may offer an index of back issues. This will give you an opportunity to determine what has already been published in the past year or two, so that you don't waste time with an article or query that duplicates past effort. (Once a magazine has covered a particular topic, such as a destination in a travel magazine, it will usually wait at least two or three years before considering that topic again, even if your article offers a completely different angle or focus.) Many magazines also publish an annual "print" index, which you can obtain with a SASE.

8) Look for guidelines online. Many magazines are now posting their GLs on their websites. This makes life easier for everyone: You don't have to send a SASE and wait six weeks for a response, and they don't have to print hundreds of paper copies of their GLs. When you locate a magazine's website, look for such options as "guidelines," "submissions," "tips for writers," "write for us," or "contact us." Also, explore some of the guideline databases online, such as Writer's Market Online. You can search databases not only for a specific magazine, but also for certain categories, such as subject area or payment rate. Specialized guideline databases are also available -- see Writing-World.com's links to Guideline Databases for more information.

9) Look for new markets online. Electronic newsstands (see our Magazines and Newspapers links) offer extensive links to magazines not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. You can search these listings topically or geographically, and you're certain to find publications you never heard of (and that aren't listed in Writer's Market). Also, explore each publication's website for additional magazines; for example, while Writer's Market lists two or three pet magazines belonging to "Fancy Publications," that particular company actually produces over 30 monthly and annual publications.

10) Subscribe to a marketing newsletter. Several free marketing newsletters (and other market sources) are available online; for more information, visit Writing-World.com's links to Guidelines and Publications for Writers. Whenever you see a listing for an interesting publication, follow up for more information -- e.g., visit the website, write for guidelines, or request a sample copy.

For more information on finding free (or cheap) sample magazines, see Finding Sample Magazines - Without Breaking the Bank, by Moira Allen.

Is the Market Right for You?

Finding publications is only half the battle. How can you determine whether a magazine is a good market for you? What clues can you glean from a magazine about how to "break in"?

To the reams of information already written on "studying markets," I will now add my two cents'-worth of advice. When I review a new magazine, I am looking for answers to three sets of questions: Demographic, Technical, and Personal.

Demographic Questions

"Demographics" simply means "audience": For whom is the magazine written? What type of person will be reading your article? The answers can be found not only in a magazine's editorial pages, but also in its advertisements and illustrations. For example, are all the photos of models (or people who look like models), or does the magazine include pictures of "real" people as well? A close look at any publication should give you valuable clues about its audience's --

  • Gender. Is the magazine aimed at men or women? How about both (e.g., a fitness magazine with tips for both sexes)? Or is it "gender-neutral" (e.g., Smithsonian or National Geographic), with articles that will appeal to a certain type of person regardless of gender?

  • Age. Most magazines target specific age brackets, such as "youth," "twenty-something," "adult" (20-40), or "senior." Sometimes that target audience is obvious from the magazine's title or content (e.g., Seventeen); sometimes it can be determined from the advertising (e.g., Reader's Digest). Age can be important; if you're writing for the business market, don't try to pitch an article on "planning for early retirement" to a magazine that targets twenty-something up-and-coming executives!

  • Ethnicity. Outside of those publications that actively target a specific ethnic group, most "general interest" magazines still focus on the interests of white readers. Some, however, are actively trying to break that pattern by seeking material that "breaks out" of that focus -- and this can be a good place to "break in."

  • Economic Bracket. How much is a reader prepared to spend? This can make a big difference when writing about, say, collecting exotic antiques or visiting a dream vacation destination. Advertising is a good way to determine the audience's economic bracket. I recently looked at two "country lifestyle" magazines that looked similar on the surface; one, however, contained ads for antique reproductions costing thousands of dollars, while the other contained ads for inexpensive modern collectibles.

  • Religion. In some markets, religious background is unimportant; in others, it is. In many, that background may be implied rather than overtly stated. For example, while Reader's Digest is not a "religious" publication, it clearly assumes that most of its readers will accept material with an overt conservative Christian slant. Other publications may assume just the opposite, and reject material that even hints of a "traditional religious" viewpoint. Within the religious marketplace itself, one must also be aware of the differences between (and even within) denominations to pitch articles successfully.

  • Geography. Does a magazine focus on city pleasures or country delights? Does it focus on the "active" recreational activities available in the region, or on more intellectual pursuits? Even a magazine that is distributed nationwide may have a larger readership in certain parts of the country (e.g., the midwest), and so will be most interested in articles that will appeal to readers from that region.

  • Lifestyle. The question of "lifestyle" (which includes interests, activities, and values) cuts across every other demographic category. Two magazines that target "young women" may still have very different audiences: Does a woman's magazine assume that its readers spend most of their time in the office, the kitchen, or the bedroom? A "special interest" magazine that focuses on crafts or pets may have virtually no "demographic slant" with respect to age, gender, or region -- but "economic bracket" may be an important element. Values are also important: You won't find an article on "pleasing a boyfriend" in Woman's Day, and you don't find many pieces on "fidelity" in Cosmopolitan.

Added together, "demographics" can give you a good picture of your target audience. But is that all you need to know? Just because a magazine targets young, upwardly mobile professional women doesn't mean you necessarily want to write for it. You may also wish to consider:

Technical Issues

The technical aspects of a magazine include:

  • Physical presentation. What is the "quality" of the publication? Is it printed on glossy paper or newsprint? Are articles laid out effectively, or are they clearly pasted up by hand (and not too carefully)? Do the photos have the right captions, and are they reproduced clearly? A magazine that is poorly produced usually has a low budget -- and that means it probably doesn't pay well. Be sure you're comfortable with the magazine's terms (including the rights involved) before submitting material.

  • Writing style. Different magazines that appear to address similar audiences may, in fact, have very different editorial styles. As you review a magazine, read one or two articles carefully. Do you like the way they are written? Can you imagine writing in a similar style? If the style seems jarring to you, or violates your personal sense of taste, you may not be able to write for that magazine -- not because you can't write well yourself, but because your "natural" style is at odds with the tastes of this particular editor.

  • Depth. How much research, investigation, or analysis is involved in a magazine's editorial content? Don't bite off more than you can chew: Some magazines demand more than you can provide. If you don't have the connections to get the right interviews, or the experience to provide the level of analysis required, or the budget to visit five different locations to "get the story," don't sweat it. That doesn't mean you'll never penetrate that market; it simply means you may not be able to break in today. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of other publications that can offer you the experience (and clips) you need to build toward higher goals.

Personal Issues

Personal issues and technical issues sometimes go hand in hand. When I evaluate a magazine, I want to know not only what it says to a reader, but what it says to me. For example:

  • Does the magazine interest me? Often, when I try to study a magazine, I find my eyes glazing. I struggle to read the articles, yet just can't seem to concentrate. I find myself skipping and scanning rather than actually reading. The material doesn't "hook" me, and I may reach the end of the magazine without finishing a single article.

    Can I write for a publication whose editorial focus isn't sufficiently "interesting" to keep my attention? Probably not. The problem isn't necessarily that the magazine is of poor quality; the problem is that the editor's tastes and mine clearly do not mesh, and I doubt I could "change" my own style sufficiently to match the editor's preferences. Even if I could, I would ultimately be doing myself a disservice, by conveying an inaccurate impression of my writing.

  • Does the magazine share my values? A writer is also an individual, with his or her own set of "demographics" -- values, ethics, background, etc. The question of ethics is no different in the business of writing than in any other business: Are you willing to compromise what you believe in just to earn a paycheck? If the answer is "no," don't struggle to write for markets you don't agree with, or to produce articles that violate your own values or viewpoint.

  • How will my material be presented? If a magazine suffers from poor presentation -- bad editing, poor design, or inappropriate illustrations -- your work may suffer as well. When you're sending out clips, no one stops to ask whether the bad grammar was the result of poor editing; most people will assume it was the fault of the writer. And while no one will blame you for a bad pasteup job, it certainly won't present your work in the best light (just as wearing a threadbare suit may be no reflection on your job skills, but may negatively influence a potential employer). If my review of a magazine indicates that "clips" from this publication would do me more harm than good, I'll try elsewhere.

  • Would I be proud to be featured in this publication? I recently examined a woman's magazine that seemed, from its Writer's Market listing and writer's guidelines, like a potential market for a health article I wanted to write. A look at the magazine itself, however, gave me second thoughts. Most of the advertisements seemed to be for various sexual aids (and most of the editorial focused on this topic as well). While I might have sold the article, did I really want to show off "clips" of my work displayed next to a four-color, half-page ad for vibrators? If a magazine makes you uncomfortable, or angry, or disgusted, move on; you'll feel a lot happier about your checks.

Obviously, many of these decisions are highly individual -- which is why I clustered them under "personal." Your decisions might be very different from mine, and neither of us would be "right" or "wrong." The point is that as writers, we are individuals, and our tastes and values are as important as those of the markets we are trying to penetrate. If those tastes and values don't mesh, we could waste a lot of time trying to break into markets that will never be right for us -- and "success" may not taste so sweet. By learning to evaluate markets across a broad spectrum of issues, however, you'll find those that you can not only work with but thrive with -- and to which you'll become a valued contributor.

Find Out More...

Bread and Butter Markets - Moira Allen

Finding Sample Magazines - Without Breaking the Bank - Moira Allen

How to Study a Magazine You've Never Seen - Mridu Khullar

Researching Markets: Looking Beyond the Obvious - Karen Luna Ray

Targeting the Wrong Markets: The New Writer's Most Common Mistake - Moira Allen

For more information, check our links to:
Directories of Magazines, Newspapers & Periodicals · Market Guides & Guideline Databases

Copyright © 2001 Moira Allen

This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.

Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.


Copyright © 2018 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

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