Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Market Research: Actually Learn Something from Back Issues

Reading a magazine like a subscriber will give you a good idea of its content and style. It's what I did for years, and probably why I always thought it a big waste of time.

Analyzing a magazine like a writer is the equivalent of hanging out at an editorial meeting, listening to the discussion and having all of your questions answered personally. Figure out how to break into your dream magazine by following these 7 steps.

Step One:  Figure out How Much is Written by Freelancers

Get six back issues of the magazine, and make a copy of each Table of Contents. For each story listed, write in whether it was written inhouse or by a freelancer (if the writer's name isn't listed on the masthead, then she's probably a freelancer). If there's only one freelance-written article in the entire magazine, maybe another magazine's a better bet. 

Step Two: What Sections are Open to Freelancers?

Now lay the six Table of Contents side-by-side. Which sections of the magazine are only written inhouse? Cross those out. Which sections contain articles that were written by freelancers? These are the departments to focus on.

Step Three:  What Can I Break In With?

Of the freelancers, how many have written articles for several issues of the magazine? Do these regular freelancers always write on the same topic (how to make your meals healthier, or eco-traveling)? If so, the magazine may not need similar articles written by you. Of the freelancers, how many have only written one article or so in 6 months? What type of article was it, and what section was it published in? This is probably a good area to break in with.

Step Four:  What types of freelancers do they want?

Read the bio blurbs at the end of freelance articles. Some magazines provide mini bios and comments from writers at the front of the magazine (FOB/"front of book"). What types of articles use MD's, nutritionists and authors? Which have general descriptions such as "Jane Smith is a freelancer living in CT"? If you don't have special credits, the best bet is to write on topics along the lines of Jane Smith.

Step Five:  What Stories Do They Need More of?

Look at the Table of Contents pages and count how many articles they typically publish in each section. Do they fall under that amount in certain areas? For example, Body + Soul typically publishes 2-3 articles per section. However, I noticed that for some months, they had none or only one article under "Going Natural" (written by a freelancer). This indicates they don't have an inhouse writer that can handle the topic, and would probably welcome ideas from freelancers.

Step Six:  What Stories DON'T They Need More of?

Look for columns or certain topics inhouse writers handle each month, such as yoga workouts or "Stuff We Love" These fall under the DON'T list.

Step Seven:  Prepare for Article Analysis

Hold onto a copy of the editor's note to readers, which usually indicates the magazine's purpose, style, etc., and place it in a folder with the current masthead, writer's guidelines, and sample articles written by freelancers. Note the issue & section the articles were in. When you're ready to query an idea, use these as guides on how to style/format your article.


Michele said...

Hmmmm.... Hope you're busy writing--we miss you! :-)


Colleen said...

Hi Michele,

I know! I need to get back to blogging and writing - I started teaching a few ESL classes and all of a sudden I was spending all of this time researching & planning lessons. Hopefully the new schedule I made will work. Thanks for checking in!