Writers with the ability to write a compelling story or article learn quickly that the creative part of writing is only the first step. You can spend a lot of time putting together a captivating synopsis and a curiosity-tickling pitch, but it's just as important to learn how to research writing markets.
When you get one rejection letter after another, it's typical to wonder where you went wrong. One common mistake is to approach a romance publisher with a science-fiction story or send a children's tale to an agent who only accepts murder mysteries. It's no wonder that you receive a "Thanks, but no thanks" response. If you hope to achieve publishing success, you must learn how to research writing markets.
Researching newspapers and magazines
Researching writing markets is much easier today because of the Internet. For newspapers or magazines all you have to do is visit the publication's Web site and examine its style and articles. If that leaves you scratching your head, open your favorite browser and type in the genre of your interest for a list of publishers.
Maybe surfing various Web sites doesn't appeal to you. If that's the case, drop by a bookstore and buy a couple of magazines. The articles will give you an idea of what the publisher is looking for, the writing style of the submissions and the average article length.
You can also go to your local library and browse through various magazines. Not only are the magazines free, but nobody will give you dirty looks for paging through them.
Research for book submissions
Researching how to write book proposals is even easier. Perhaps the most scam-free and up-to-date site to investigate is Query Tracker. It has a section for literary agents and a section for publishers. Filter the agents/publishers by genre and their contact preferences. Use the method they specify, whether it be email, snail mail or an online form.
Always read the agent/publisher's Web site and the submission guidelines. Publishers' requirements vary from a simple query letter to more complicated guidelines if they also want a pitch and/or a synopsis. Other publishers expect even more: pitch, synopsis and a portion of the manuscript.
For each agent/publisher's site, you'll find a section where writers can give submission feedback. Here, you can learn from other writers how long it takes to expect an answer and some general impressions of the agent/publisher.
Another excellent source for researching writing markets is The Writers Market. Compiled and published by Writer's Digest, this book contains hundreds of publishers, literary agents and editors who accept submissions. Study the book to learn which writing topics are hot and which are not. While it's almost impossible to come up with a story theme that hasn't been written about before, putting a fresh spin on a topic might lead to a submission invitation. (Before sending in a pitch, it's best to confirm contact information with Writer's Digest's online version of the book, as turnover is frequent in the publishing industry.)
If you are stumped for a story theme, take a look at your own library. What kind of books do you like to read and why? Chances are that many other readers enjoy the same types of books that you do.
Investigate writing forums
Nearly all writing Web sites have forums: places were writers get together to chat, submit their work for a critique or give feedback on submission experiences. If you've had a few rejections, it's a good idea to share your work with others. Family and friends might praise your work, but a third party will give you a more unbiased opinion.
After introducing yourself on the forum, you can start your own thread, perhaps "How to research writing markets." Prepare for a swarm of responses. Writers are generally a friendly and helpful group who like nothing better than to share their expertise.