My kids were puzzled one day last week when I flopped down on the couch with a stack of Highlights in my lap. We subscribed to the magazine when they were younger, and there were still several copies crammed into corners of their bookcase. The remainder of the pile were issues I’d borrowed from the public library. Their curiosity was piqued. Why on earth was I reading this kids’ stuff?
My answer (which didn’t interest them in the least), was market research.
In my last assignment through the Institute of Children’s Literature, I had to plan three nonfiction articles, and with each outline, choose three magazines that would be suitable candidates for submission.
I’ve never attempted nonfiction for children, and at the outset it seemed intimidating. But I enjoy history and other nonfiction genres, so this was my opportunity to learn with my instructor’s guidance.
As always, her feedback was loaded with constructive suggestions. Perhaps most helpful were her tips on narrowing the focus of my articles. Coming up with ideas is never a problem, but honing in on a unique angle is where I get stuck.
What surprised me was her opinion on my market choices. She felt a few of them were inappropriate, even a waste of time.
Being a newbie writer, I’d assumed my early submission attempts should focus on smaller, non-paying markets. Why would the more established publications bother with an unproven writer like me? Here’s what my instructor had to say:
I think you can do better than this. You’re a talented writer and I think you can shoot higher!
Wow! She encouraged me to go for the big guys, so Highlights it is.
But shooting higher does not remove the intimidation factor. Highlights has been in circulation since 1946, and each issue attracts an estimated two million readers. This magazine has a reputation to protect. They accept only the highest quality from potential contributors.
So I delved into researching my historical topic, making several trips to the library. I enlisted the help of a librarian to track down some good leads. I even located a couple primary sources. After compiling my research, I feel I can write this article with confidence.
But before I start, I’m reading dozens of copies of Highlights, cover to cover. Every publication has its own unique flavor, so I’m looking for style and voice in the articles, and how I might model my piece after those already published. The notion of becoming a “real” writer is starting to hit home.
What are your thoughts on researching the market?