Researching the Markets: How to Sell Your Writing

When I was a little girl, I vividly remember telling my grandmother, a very proper and well-off woman, that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. She gave me a long, cool look and stated quite factually, “You can’t. They don’t make any money.” Being the kind of child I was, I decided that I could live with that answer and eventually told her I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. She didn’t bother trying to argue with me that time, though the look she gave me was about the same.

So I went through my childhood and teen years in and out of writing classes and creative writing courses, I took learn-at-home courses and several summer-time ones as well. I was first published at the age of eleven, and by the time I was a Junior in high school, I had begun my 3rd year of college credit english.

You’d think that somewhere along the line someone would have told me about the idea of researching the markets before setting pen to paper (or word to screen). No one ever did, though, and it took me a lot of trial and error to realize a simple fact: If you research the markets before you begin writing a particular piece, your chances of being published rise by more than 80%.

Go Ahead … Sell Out

Even in the days when bards went from castle to castle, entertaining the lairds and ladies with fine tales of daring, they kept in mind the fact that without an audience, your words have no purpose. They weren’t going to earn their bed and dinner with a story that put the listeners to sleep – and many of them actively searched out new ways of telling a tale that would make their listeners enjoy the story more.

Okay, so we all like to be creative and let our imaginations go wherever the muse will lead us. Without pushing the creative envelope, many of the greatest literary works we know today would never have been written. But you’ve got to admit that it would be nice to have something you’ve written published. If you live off of your writing, as many of us at least attempt to do, this idea is even more important – knowing that you’ve upped your chances of seeing your writing in print by 80% is just this close to counting your chickens before they’ve hatched.

So when that inner critic starts beating you for selling out, remind it that seeing your name in print is beyond cool – and keeping the electricity running to your computer is even cooler.

Do the Research

Finding out what kinds of stories and articles are being looked for right now isn’t that difficult. It does take some time, and a lot of writers find that it’s best to perform a little bit of research every day, keeping track of interesting markets and taking notes. By keeping these notes right alongside your submissions, you’ll see that rejection letters come less and less often.

Some ways of performing market research:

1. The Bookstore – If you’re writing a book, this is one of your most wonderful allies. Inspiration and information stocks the shelves of your local bookstore; after all, every one of the books on those shelves is by an author who has done exactly what you hope to do. Gather information about what topics are selling the most in a genre, and take note of which topics might be over-done. In the romance market, for example, there’s a big trend towards time-travel romance stories … but publishers are taking less and less of them on, because there’s too many established series along these lines. If you see a topic that appears often, but doesn’t bog the genre down, you have a good idea of what is being published – which then tells you what you might want to write.

2. The Library – Nowhere next to the supermarket magazine stand will you find such a variety of publications all in one spot. And unlike the magazine stand, you won’t spend a fortune (or get chased out of the store) to read the articles in those publications. A cardinal rule to writing articles is to find out what kind of articles a magazine publishes, what the typical writing style is in that publication, and then write an article that won’t stick out like a sore thumb in that magazine. It’s such a big thing that most (if not all) magazine editors ask that you please read previous issues before submitting your work. So hit the library, bring your pen and paper, and browse the mags.

3. The Writer’s Market – Every year, the Writer’s Digest collects, compiles, and publishes a new Writer’s Market. Get your hands on a copy of the current guide, and you’ll find hundreds of pages filled with editors, agents, and publishers actively looking for fresh writing material. If you read the individual entries, you’ll find a lot more, too – what topics they’re looking for and which ones they’re sick to death of, what style of writing they encourage, where to submit, and keys to getting published by them. If you can’t find the guide, you can also subscribe to the Writer’s Digest online which gets you constantly updated listings and scores of information.

4. The Net – Every major publisher has a website, you just have to find it. Once you’re on a publisher’s website, you can see what books they’ve put out recently and which ones are up and coming. Check out which books are “featured”. Is there a pattern to what you see? Most of the time, publishers will favor a particular kind of writing – science fiction taking place on an alternate plane or in another world, for example. If you can gear your writing toward a particular line, you help improve your chances of publication yet again.

5. Just Ask – Ask your friends and family, anyone who is willing to listen and give an answer, what their favorite books are. Who are their favorite authors? Ask why they like one book over another one, or if their friends are into the same books. Do they belong to a book club? What story themes seem to be featured most? You can get a good start by modeling your writing after these themes.

When all else fails, look to your own book shelf. If several of your favorite books, which your own writing’s theme resembles, are all published by the same publisher, it can’t hurt to write to that publisher and request submission guidelines.

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