Approaching Brand New Markets

In the established magazine category, it’s a buyer’s market. That is, the publishers control it. In the new magazine category, it’s still a buyer’s market, but it’s as close to a seller’s market as magazines will ever get. And you’re the seller. Whether you’re new or well-published, you’ve got more power when dealing with new mags than you do with the venerable establishment. Remember that. But know what you’re getting into.

If you’re analyzing a brand new market, the first thing to do is to closely read the new magazine’s guidelines, trying to intuit their editorial slant and publication value. This should be obvious; since there is no “sample copy” available, the editorial guidelines may be all you have to go on when deciding whether you want to do business with them or not. You can rely on market listings and trade magazines to find these guidelines, but you might want to also check the publisher’s websites and even write them by mail. A block of text in Writer’s Market only gives you language — the publication’s website or printed matter will give you insight into their “image.” You might also find that “on site” they’re offering more in-depth guidelines, messages from the editors, or even a list of specific editorial needs — information you wouldn’t find in the market listings themselves. —Michael A. ArnzenApproaching Brand New Markets (Handy Job Hunter for Writers)

A few months ago, I was in an unfamiliar store with a coupon for a particular item. I looked through what I thought was the right section three times, shelf by shelf, and couldn’t find it. When I asked an employee for help, the employee smiled at me in a funny way, and gears started turning in the back of my head. The distinctive design of my former student’s website appeared in my brain first, followed by memories of the student’s performance (lots of promise, little discipline). “This is what my English major has done for me,” my former student huffed, turning back to work stacking items on shelves.

As I finished my shopping, the student’s name and more details came back to mind. So as I passed by that area on my way to the checkout, I tried to strike up a conversation (using the student’s name, as it had returned to me by then). As it happened, I knew of someone locally who was looking for freelance writers, so I gave the student my card.

Shortly thereafter, an e-mail arrived. My former student apologized for making the English major crack, and asked for tips in getting started as a freelance writer.

I couldn’t help but think of Willy Loman, who had dismissed the studious and serious young Bernard as a worthless worm, and who later finds Bernard is a successful professional, and asks “What’s the secret?”

There is no secret. Luck does play some role in it. You knock on a lot of doors that don’t open, and maybe you come across one door that opens today because someone needs something and you just happen to ask at the right time. But if you ask at 10 doors, you’ve got a better chance of success than if you ask at just one. If you ask at 100 doors, you might have to put up with 99 door slammed in your face before you are lucky enough to be the first person to ask at door #100. But that’s really about self-promotion and dedication.

I’m beefing up the professional development unit of the “Intro to Literary Studies” class I’m teaching this spring, and I was delighted that my Google searches brought me to this newsletter article, written by my colleague at Seton Hill University.

The course I’ve got in mind is, in its present incarnation, only required for lit and creative writing majors. Our new media journalism major is also housed under the English umbrella, but since the journos get lots of practical experience working on the Setonian and taking Media Lab, initially the journalism majors weren’t required to take the intro to English course. But I put through all the paperwork on the new media journalism major before I actually taught EL150. Now that I’ve taught it several times, and now that I see how often the creative writing and lit majors end up taking on important positions in the paper, I think it’s a good idea to get them building up cross-major relationships early in their careers.

Professional development is something you should be thinking about late Sunday night when you’re asking yourself whether you should bother to get up for your Monday morning classes. It’s what you should be thinking about Thursday night when a friend stops by and invites you to go to a party, but you haven’t finished the readings that are due on Friday. It’s what you should think about when you go to the student club fair and see all the organizations that are looking for people to take on positions of responsibility. It’s all about managing your time and planning your fun, so that it doesn’t interfere with your obligations, or your potential to develop skills for future use.

Whoops, speaking of obligations… my daughter just woke up from her afternoon nap. I was going to write more about the actual advice that I gave the former student who asked for tips. I can’t go into that now, but I will say that the encounter made me think a lot about professional development in English.

I’ll close with a quote from Avenue Q, that I plan to play during the opening class… “What do you do with a BA in English?” Let’s hope that future SHU English graduates won’t find themselves singing, “it sucks to be broke and unemployed and turning 33.”