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Kim Wilson
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Five-Minute Market Analysis
by Mandy Borgmeier

Successful freelance writers know that researching new markets is essential to their livelihood. If you're serious about the craft, you probably have a system set-up to keep yourself abreast of market opportunities. (If you don't, you should).

Some writers rely on the market listings in trade journals for this purpose. Others depend on industry tools such as the annual, two-inch-thick Writers Market (Writer's Digest Books). If you're really on top of your game, you take advantage of newsstands at bookstores, gas stations, libraries and grocery chains, as well.

So Many Markets, So Little Time
As they say, time is money. It's a resource you can't afford to lose. Still, no matter which methods you use to uncover new venues for your work, you must commit time to studying them.  After all, one of the most common pieces of advice given in writers' guides is "study the magazine before you submit."

But who has time for in-depth studies when there are deadlines to meet, interviews to hold, research to conduct and stories to expose?

You do, and here's why.

The initial research of a publication can be reduced to 5 simple steps that allow you to quickly determine: 1). If the publication is a good fit for your work, 2).Your chances of publication, and 3). If further research of this market is worth your time.

First, you need a sample copy of the publication in question. It doesn't matter if you're in line at the hardware store, at the library or in your office looking at a promotional bulk mail copy.  Of course, if you've already requested a sample issue based on a market listing, chances are you're pretty sure it's a viable opportunity.  Either way, the following steps will show you how to determine if going further is worth the precious energy.

Step One
Looking at the cover, note the art and headlines to quickly discern the target audience. Does the publication appear to be a teen magazine? A health and fitness journal for the over-50 crowd?

Is this audience among the group you typically write for? If not, is it one you could feasibly break into? Don't exclude possibilities simply because you're yet to have clips in the genre, but be realistic.

Step Two
Review the masthead for the names of editors, regular contributing writers, and staff writers.

Compare it to the table of contents page to see how many times the names of staff writers appear. This will usually give you a good idea of the rate of acceptance for freelance work. Such information isn't always included in the writers' guidelines.

Step Three
Is there an address to send submissions to in the masthead? If not, the publication may not accept work from outside writers. If there is, jot down the address in your trusty writer's notebook (you know, the one you carry everywhere to record random observations and abstract ideas) and request guidelines.

Step Four
Consider the feature articles. Do they all appear to be written by doctors or other experts? If the byline doesn't tell you, scan to the end and look for the brief bio that many times appears after features. If the average contributor is an expert, the general freelancer can obviously expect a harder time breaking in.  But that doesn't mean you can't base an article on an expert interview, or even on contradicting expert opinions, and make a sale.

Step Five
Skimming the articles and columns, does there appear to be a common monthly theme that the publication adheres to? If so, you'll want to ask specifically for an editorial schedule when writing for guidelines. These are usually formulated far in advance, and spots for contributors fill up quickly.

What Next?
Of course, you should completely get to know a magazine before querying the editor. The steps outlined above will tell you if studying the publication further is even worth the effort. If it is, get a hold of those guidelines and get to work!

Mining The Writers' Guidelines
After reviewing a sample copy, the next step in analyzing a potential market is studying submission guidelines.

Examine them first for the information that is most important to you. If you're a beginning writer, this might be a byline - and you can learn this from your sample copy. Those with a few more credits under their pens may be more concerned with the rate of compensation, what rights they retain, and if simultaneous submissions are accepted.

Rights should always be mentioned in the guidelines. Beware of selling all rights of your work. While it may be true that the clip alone is worth giving up all rights, the income generated on the piece will be a one-time hit.

Compensation might be in the form of a flat fee or by the word. Remember, you can always translate a flat fee into a per word price. Simply take the average length of article accepted (usually mentioned in the guides) and divide the flat fee by that number. For instance, if a publication offers a flat fee of $75 for a 1,500-word article, they are essentially paying 5 cents per word.

Response time and simultaneous submission policy are closely related. If a publication claims to answer your query within 6 weeks, you may not feel the need to send your submission to other markets while you wait. However, if they take 6 months to respond, you may want to query other markets at the same time.

Consider also the amount of freelance material the publication accepts. Some guidelines tell you they are 90% freelance written. Others don't tell you at all. Again, go back to your sample issue and look for the bylines of those listed as staff writers in the masthead.

Once you've skimmed through and found your answers, you'll know whether or not to further pursue the market. If not, don't chalk it up to a total loss. You know where not to waste a stamp. If so, go to the library and look at some back issues or give the editor a call to discuss an idea. You're on your way!

Mandy Borgmeier is a freelance writer living in Northwest Arkansas. She writes an outdoor column, profiles prominent people in her community, and drafts helpful articles about the business of writing. She also manages copywriting, typesetting and transcription assignments. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, nature photography, reading and the occasional game of tennis. To learn more about Mandy, visit her Web site at http://www.AWriterForHire.homestead.com.









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