Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Market Research: The Best Kind of Work

Susan chimes in: Rick Kempa was the presenter at the WyoPoets Annual Workshop in Casper over the weekend. This article was among his handouts for the afternoon session, "The Art of Getting Published," and he graciously permitted Writing Wyoming to share it with you. It was first published in the Wyoming Writers, Inc. newsletter in 2013.

Guest post by Rick Kempa

It's time for all good writers to sift through their body of finished work, polish the prose one last time, take a deep breath and launch the best of it out into the wide world, like little paper boats on the high seas of literacy, in search of their ideal ports.

The good news is that there are thousands of magazine markets out there -- online and print, literary and popular, mainstream and indie -- that depend on us to populate their pages with our well-made words.

The bad news is the same as the good news: How on earth can you find time to sort through thousands of markets to find the dozens meant for you? There's also this: tens of thousands of writers -- way more than ever -- are doggedly submitting their work to these markets.

That's why market research is such a critical part of the publishing process. If you are one of the relatively few writers who take it seriously, you will improve your odds dramatically and positions yourself for success. Happily, there are several excellent sources to aid us in this enterprise.

The Writer's Market claims 9,000 listings, including frequent updates and additions to what is in the book. One of its strengths is the detailed info provided by editors; another is its emphasis on paying markets. A subscription to the site -- $5/month or $40/year -- also includes hundreds of articles on the writing business and personalizable record-keeping tools.

Creative Writers Opportunities List provides a steady stream of publishing opportunities of all kinds in your inbox every day. Usually, for every ten or twelve that I delete, I find one that looks promising and that I save to a subfolder. To join the list, send a blank email message to crwropps-b-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and wait to receive a return message, with directions to complete sign-up.

Duotrope, another subscription service ($5/month or $50/year) has much to recommend it: a database of nearly 5,000 markets, statistics compiled by readers (percent of manuscripts accepted, average response time, etc.) and a submission tracker, which is a good mission control center for your publishing pursuits. Duotrope has the most listings for writers of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance and other popular genres. Finally, its "Calendar of Upcoming Themes" is the best I have found.

The Poets & Writers website is a comprehensive (and free) writer's resource brimming with value. Among its highlights are current calls for submissions (which can be found by clicking on "Magazine" and then "Want Ads"), its "Top Ten Topics for Writers," databases on small presses, contests, conferences and agents, and -- most impressive of all -- a literary magazine database that is searchable not just by genre (poetry, fiction, non-fiction), but by topics such as "Religious/Spiritual" or "LGBT."

My favorite resources is NewPages.com. It's free, attractively designed, and has links to all kinds of cool stuff: magazine reviews (both literary and alternative), writers' blogs, podcasts, independent bookstores, indie record labels, a young authors' guide, and more. Of special interest is its "Calls for Submissions," updated several times a week which includes listings from both startup and established magazines.

A few final tips:

  • Almost all magazines have websites -- even the ones that are print-only, and all four sources above have links to these websites. Study them! Check out the mission statements, editors' bios, submission guidelines, and the samples of published work. Would your work feel at home within the pages (or on the screen) of this 'zine? Sometimes you'll get a gut answer; other times you'll think it through. Either way, this is the question that matters most.
  • Buy sample copies of the print magazines that are of special interest. There are several reasons to do so: it's part of our job as writers to support publishing enterprises, it beats spending money on contests, and it can give you an edge if you choose to submit to the mags. (Naturally, editors like sentences such as, "I have read and enjoyed your latest issue, which I purchased at the Tattered Cover in Denver...")
  • Be alert for themes, whether for special issues of magazines or for anthologies. They make it easier to figure out what to send where. You may be surprised to find out you have already written work that fits many themes!
  • If your writing is anchored in particular places, consider the local and regional angle. An online search will turn up all the magazines in a given state or region. But don't assume that editors love where they live. They may not give a hoot for the Western hoot owl!
Market research is a kind of work, to be sure -- I am always acutely aware that it is time spent not writing. But it is among the best kind of work, leading to a greater awareness of the richness and diversity of the contemporary literary scene and -- if you persist -- to getting your own work in print.

Rick Kempa earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, Tucson, in 1987.  Since 1988, he has lived in Rock Springs, Wyo., where he teaches writing and philosophy and directs the Honors Program at Western Wyoming Community College. Rick’s essays and poems have appeared in more than 100 journals, e-zines, and anthologies. He has been nominated for five Pushcart Prizes. He has authored two books of poems, Ten Thousand Voices (Littoral Press, 2013) and Keeping the Quiet (Bellowing Ark Press, 2008) He has also edited two anthologies, On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories (Vishnu Temple Press 2014) and, with Peter Anderson, Poetry of the Grand Canyon (Lithic Press, 2015).


  1. Great information! Thanks! There are so many places to potentially be published, it's hard to narrow them down. You're so right, market research is key.

    1. Glad you found the info useful. Thanks for stopping by, Chere!


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