Market Research: Or Running Scared from the Doomsday Scenario

Yesterday’s writerly thought really got me thinking. Writing out my rock bottom/doomsday story gave me a nice, swift kick in the pants. So much so that on Saturday night I dedicated a lot of time to market research for things other than just fantasy and science fiction. I looked up markets for handyman articles, environmental essays, a writing contest and even renewed my membership to writers market online (once again vowing that THIS time I’ll make the membership pay for itself by landing some writing gigs).

What usually happens when I get all worked up like this is that I do a bunch of research, find potential outlets for my writing, and then stop and think “but I don’t really know how to do that.” Then I let myself get distracted, move on to other things, and never get any paid writing done. But, my little horror story scared me so much that I decided to actually treat writing as though it were a job.

I dusted off the printer, grabbed reams of paper and new ink cartridges and started printing. I gathered information from a couple of my prospective writing outlets, stuff that they’ve published that I think I can replicate, collected it all in a couple different word documents and then started printing. On Monday I made time to sit around with a couple of highlighters and started reading through what I had printed out.

With one highlighter I noted descriptions that were specific to the genre I was dealing with. There are some parts of writing that are just good writing, and if you follow the general rules about plot, character development, conflict and the like, then you’re ninety percent there. Beyond that you have telling details that work within each genre and style of writing.

I tend to read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, so when I read another genre, the areas where the two are dissimilar tend to stand out. That’s when I break out that highlighter. I make note of those differences because that’s obviously the telling detail that sets this genre apart from others.

The second highlighter was used for editor specific details. These were things that seemed to be important to that particular publication. Key words or phrases tend to jump out at you when you can collect a large quantity of writing and read it all in one go. Tastes that the editors might not even be aware of suddenly jump out at you when you can look over a year’s worth or writing that they had to look at broken up over twelve months. It’s almost like looking at someone’s subconscious desires.

I’ve also got a little movie viewing scheduled because one of the potential avenues that I researched was a writing contest. The judge for said contest happens to have written the scripts for two movies and has a couple of books under his belt. As writers we write what we like and therefore we appreciate those things that are similar to what we do. By analyzing what he produces I’m hoping to get a better feel for what he will lean towards during his judging.

Both movies appear to be very character driven with a strong tie to solitude and nature. If memory serves, he also edits an environmental magazine. His short stories sound like (from the reviews I read) they also follow the vein of strong character development and the connections made between people with a fond look back to the way things used to be. After a bit of research I’ll be ready to formulate my story.

Now the fluffy bunnies out there might be saying, “But David, what about your MUSE, what about ARTISTIC INTEGRITY?” And to you I say, “What about getting paid? What about getting published? What about my doomsday scenario?”

We all have to sell out a little in life if we want to find a way to enjoy it. Remember, as a writer you may be running a small business but as anyone who has ever run one knows, you aren’t your own boss. That’s a myth. Your boss is your client, the person paying you. You may have a say in how the work gets done but you definitely don’t have control over what the product is or even when it gets done.

As a graphic designer I used to try and steer clients towards the correct choice all the time, but sometimes people want what they want and it doesn’t matter if you know more than they do about a topic or not. So in the end you design their sign with a beautiful script font with all sorts of flowing, flowery lines . . . THAT NO ONE CAN READ. But that’s what they wanted and that’s what they’re paying for, what they want, not what your artistic heart is crying for. Because you know what, something else is crying too, your stomach and it can’t be fed on artistic integrity.


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