“These markets just aren’t me!” (Mistake #22)

Know the magazine I’d like to write for? Pick’n’Mix Magazine – the monthly for lovers of all forms of confectionary, sweets and chocolate bars. It has 100-odd pages of editorial and the editor actively seeks contributors to write about their favourite candy and review the latest launches from Lindt. Pick’n’Mix pays above NUJ recommended rates, and the editor remits on acceptance, also sending you a complimentary copy of the issue in which your article appears, and a spare one for your mum too.

If only, eh. Yep, I’d like nothing more than to tell the world how I used to eat my Double Deckers as a boy (three-quarters of the top layer first, then the same of the bottom, then the remaining quarter in one greedy mouthful), and why Valrhona’s Manjari Orange 64% is worth spending your last few quid on (do so at Waitrose), and get paid for it, but until Pick’n’Mix transforms from figment of my imagination into on-shelf reality, I will just have to write for the markets which are already there.

And tough as it may sometimes be to accept when you start out, you have to try to do the same.

What new writers often tell me is “I just can’t seem to find a magazine I like the look of” and “none of the publications on the shelves is really me.” They faithfully recount the lengths they go to in order to track down some just-right markets, yet those uncovered always seem to fail to make the grade. A sense of hopelessness and frustration hangs heavy over the whole correspondence.

By all means look for markets which you want to or feel you could contribute to. My article on Finding Markets will help. But if you’ve done everything – you’ve scoured shelves, you’ve trawled the web, you’ve asked everyone you know – and you still feel there’s nothing out there that’s quite you, then you need to stop looking and change your mindset.

I know. It’s a tough lesson when you’re setting out. But thing is, markets exist for the benefit of readers, not writers. They are there to entertain and inform the readership. They do not exist to give writers a convenient outlet for what they might feel they want to tell the world.

If you can’t, despite your best efforts, find your particular dream market it ought to tell you that in all likelihood the readership for such a market does not exist – and neither does the market itself.

See, as a reader, I would be unlikely to care much for reading about a mixed bunch of people’s sweet tooths and preferred choices of chocolate bars. I’m sure, as a reader, you would feel the same. And that’s why Pick’n’Mix Magazine does not exist. Nobody really wants to read it – although we’d probably bite off each others’ arms to write for it.

The magazines which people do want to read – many examples of which I gave in Mistake No. 12: “I can’t write for Yachting Monthly!” – are the ones on the shelves, which people buy, and which succeed.

But there are thousands of others out there, many of which are constantly on the lookout for original, well thought-out ideas, from writers who can put together readable and informative non-fiction, specifically targeted at the markets’ readerships. Channel your efforts towards them, not towards looking for something which may not be there. As I’ve said before, every market – every market – is a potential outlet for your writing, whether it feels ‘you’ or not.

Take on board this attitude from the start – it will stand you in good stead.

Comments 5

  • Great post, Alex, and so true. I like to peruse the newsagent's shelves regularly and will quite often pick up a magazine that I've never heard of before and if they take freelance contributions I like to try and get something written and submitted.

    Like you say, most magazines out there provide writers with a golden opportunity to get published and paid for our work. It's up to writers to change their attitude to their writing and think positively about where they can send their pitches/work. If one magazine editor says no another may say yes. The willingness to give it your best shot, read widely, and find each magazines house style and preferred method of subbing along with a healthy dose of perseverance is the key. If one editor says no then move on!


  • I also encourage people to buy a magazine that doesn't appeal to them. Until they've actually looked at it, how do they know they can't produce something for it?

    I never bought a woman's magazine until I started writing, but I've earned money from them since I started submitting stuff to them. Half the battle is learning to look at a magazine as a writer, not as a reader!

  • Yeah, thanks both. It's safe to say I never picked up a pregnancy magazine until I started writing for them (which is the example I always bore my students with). But it does boil down to trying everything and not giving up…

  • I'd like to present the other side: thinking you could so ace a market and then realising, not! My dream job has been to get paid to travel the world and write about it; it's only now, since I've been on the WB course, that I've altered my dreams a bit! I always considered women's magazines a bit too glamorous and too unreal for me, and yet, have been writing for and earning from them. It is a HUGE mistake indeed to say any sort of market is not for you unless you've given it a try. Of course, once I'm through with my travel module, I need to pick up a trade magazine for the next module – now that is so not my type! 😀

    Thanks for all your sound advice, Alex!

  • Hi Shefali. Yes, good point. Perhaps there'll be a future post on a related point – being over-confident or aiming too high or something.

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