Unimaginative Market Choices (Mistake #29)

With around 10,000 publications in the UK – and surely a million around the world – you might expect that the range of markets targeted by new writers would be vast.

Any writing tutor would probably tell you the opposite is true. Most of us see the same titles namechecked over and over again. Reader’s Digest, Saga, Psychologies, The Daily Mail, The Lady, Yours, Best of British, Wanderlust.

Many of these publications are ultra-competitive, and use only journalists at the top of their game. Yes, RD take fillers, and one or two of my students have sold some in, but in almost fifteen years in the business I still haven’t met a writer who has written an article for them.

Others get swamped with submissions. I met a young editorial assistant from one of these titles above at a press event in the summer, and the poor thing’s shoulders visibly sagged when I brought up writer submissions. She dealt with several hundred a month, she said, almost all unsuitable, and was charged with the somewhat sad task of putting them back into their envelopes for return to senders. She also regularly fielded phone calls from impatient scribes seeking decisions on their manuscripts. It was clear she was run off her feet.

My suggestion? Try something different.

If you ask any jobbing writer who they’ve written for, they’re likely to rattle off a selection of titles from which you might only be able to pick out one or two familiars. Here are some of mine: Balance, Beyond, Career Zone, City Appointments, Drum, Foods Matter, Friday to Monday, the London Career Guide, Longevity, Midweek, Oryx, Palladium, the Planet, Red Handed and Spectrum.

How many of those do you recognise?

Okay, I’ve selected these deliberately to make a point, and yes I could have included the Guardian and the Times and some well known health magazines too, but the thing I want you to take away from this post is that many writers’ earnings come predominantly from clients who lack glamour, cachet and household-name status.

For tips on finding such markets, see my Finding Markets article.

If you think you can’t write for quirkier or niche markets, see Mistake No. 12, and if you think they’re not up your street, see Mistake No. 22.

Give it a go. Let me know how you get on.

Comments 10

  • The thing I find difficult is finding sample copies of lesser known markets…

  • Yes, not easy – especially one not local to you, but it goes for many publications. Even a big WHSmith will only have roughly 10% of all publications in the country – and none of the free or subscription-only ones, obviously.

    Aside from the suggestions I gave in the Finding Markets article I refer to, I'd just give the publication a call and ask whether a back copy could be sent to you. Some will only be too happy. You could even call an editor or editorial assistant and explain your interest.

    I think there's scope for setting up a 'market swap' network of writers who can send each other copies local to them or that they have easy access to. But: How it would work and who would have the time to set it up?

    (Sits on both hands; scuttles off to work on overdue book…)

  • Thanks for this one! It really hit home and gave me the kick I needed to hunt out some lesser known markets. I've not sent the pitches yet, but I'm feeling better already! Well, once the embarassment of comparing my list of target publications with the one at the top of the piece subsided, that is…

  • Nothing to be embarrassed about at all. We can all be guilty of sticking to a small set of potential clients. Good luck!

  • how about misspelling embarrassment??? *blushes*

  • The thing to bear in mind is that the money paid by lesser-known publications is accepted by just as many shops and businesses as the money paid by the well-known mags.

    re a magazine swap – I ran something like this on a small scale on my blog a while back. Well, I say ran it, but actually my blog was just the meeting place for those who wanted to swap. It was an international magazine swap. My UK blog readers wanted to get hold of Australian and South African women's mags for research, and the Aussie/NZ readers wanted British mags. I suggested everyone post a comment saying what they could offer and what they wanted, and a means by which others could get in touch. This did seem to work and I know a lot of people got the mags they were after. However we were only dealing with a dozen or so different titles, whereas you're talking about possibly thousands. So this is probably no use at all, but now I've typed it all in I might as well click 'post comment'.

  • Well, exactly, womag – if it's got the Queen's head on it, I'm happy!

    On the contrary – it is a very useful comment – if only to clarify that it has been done and has worked. Shall have a further ponder about it. Would regular readers find it potentially useful? Feel free to comment here or drop me a line.

  • For a magazine swap, you do need the know the right people. (We did this at my writers' circle once and ended up with completely unsuitable material, and, horror upon horrors, issues older than those in the local dentist's waiting room!)

  • I think my idea was – at best – to facilitate it but to disclaim any liability and politely decline all invites to get involved in negotiations / grievances. Hosting it, and little more. Perhaps not such a good idea. I guess if any individuals are really keen, they can do it through writers' forums and so on. Thanks for input.

  • For some strange reason, the suppliers of my subscription of The Bookseller magazine 'swapped' The Bookseller for TaxJournal magazine today. Not quite the magazine swap I was looking for … and sadly, having looked at it, I don't think I'm qualified to write for this publication!

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