You have an idea for a story. You think you know of a publication to send it to. So, what’s the next step? Next, you need to define your reader. Defining the reader of a particular publication is essential in getting an editor to respond to your pitch.
Some aspects of knowing your reader are obvious–the region the publication covers, the topic of the publication or the age of the target audience. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Let’s say my idea is “Three Top Ways for Menopausal Women to Lose Belly Fat.” Now, I can name dozens of women’s magazines on the racks in my nearest bookstore. But, if I don’t know who reads those publications, if I don’t know the target audience of those publications, I won’t sell my idea to an editor, except by chance.
Why’s that? Because some women’s magazines target young women who aren’t menopausal. And other women’s magazines don’t publish health topics. The same holds true for all niches, whether women’s topics or construction, agriculture, or pets.
Consider Successful Farming. The readers of that magazine are professional farmers. Their farms have more than a few acres. They grow crops covering hundreds to thousands of acres or raise large numbers of livestock. Not just a milk cow and a few chickens. Successful Farming readers own large equipment that cost more than their homes, or close to it. They aren’t going to be interested in “How to Trim Your Goats Hooves the Easy Way.” Grit or The New Pioneer, however, might.
If you struggle to define your reader, here are a few ways to determine a publication’s audience and thereby know what your editor is looking for.
3 Ways to Define a Publication’s Audience
Check the media kit.
Most publications have a media kit. Look for it on their website. Generally, magazines link to their media kit in the footer of the website. If you can’t find a direct link, look on the Contact or Advertise pages. If you cannot find it anywhere on the magazine’s site, check the parent company or publisher’s website.
Written for the sales and marketing team to use when speaking to potential advertisers, a media kit is a wealth of information that will help you define your reader. There you may find circulation numbers, number of issues published per year, number of paid subscribers vs. number of newsstand sales, social media stats, departments covered, and the editorial calendar. But for this post, the most important thing is the reader demographics. Some of the things you can find out about your readers are:
- Gender, Age, and Income bracket
- Geographic location
- Marital status and Number of Children
- Whether they own or rent their home
- What their hobbies are
- What major purchase they are saving for
- Things specific to the publication like # acres owned, home renovations, or health problems
And the list could be longer. You’d be surprised what kind of information readers are willing to divulge on publication surveys.
Here are a few examples of media kits:
Living the Country Life is a national rural lifestyle magazine published by Meredith Agrimedia. The link to their media kit is in the footer of their website. Here is a screenshot of one of the pages. This page describes the magazine’s average reader. Obviously, they wouldn’t be interested in an article on how to choose the best combine for harvesting corn. Here is a screenshot. (And look at the bottom. See it says subscriber survey? That’s how publications find out a lot of the information about their readers.)
Old House Journal is a nationally published home magazine with a special focus on remodeling old houses. It is published by Active Interest Media. Finding their media kit was challenging because it wasn’t on their website. So, I went to the AIM website and clicked on the Home Group link (because they also publish outdoor, equine, health, and other topics), and then chose the publication that interested me. In this case, Old House Journal. Then it got a little more complicated, still. On the page for OHJ, I clicked on the button that said Media Kit. But on that page, I still couldn’t find wanted I wanted until I read the footer. There, in teeny-tiny print, was a link to Editorial Calendars & Ad Specs. So, I clicked that. Then I followed the link to Old House Journal Editorial Calendar and found what I wanted. Here is a screenshot.
Something that stood out to me in this reader avatar is that 94% of the readers want information about their primary homes. Guess they won’t want my idea “Three Quick Remodel Jobs for the Home You Want to Sell in a Hurry.”
Finally, let’s look at Good Housekeeping. I choose this one because it’s a well-known national publication owned by Hearst. I’ve never written for a Hearst publication but would like to, so this was a good exercise for me. The first step was easy. The link for Media Kit was in the footer. But that link took me to a landing page with categories. And to get any further, I had to give them my email, name, company name, something else I can’t recall, city, and state. I used my junk email address, my website for my company name, and put “none” in the other random box. Then, I could download what I was looking for. Here’s a screenshot of this one.
Note, this is the magazine that might like the idea about menopausal belly fat.
Even though I have less to say about the other two ways to define your reader, they are no less important.
Read the advertisements.
I’m taking for granted that you have already read several issues of the magazine you are contemplating submitting to. If not, walk away from this blog post right now and go do that. An editor can tell if you haven’t read the magazine before, trust me. If you have read it, did you read the ads?
Reading a magazine’s advertising helps you define your reader even further. Not only who advertises in the publication but the number and placement of ads can tell you a lot. For instance, are Rolex watches and Coach handbags advertised in the magazine? If so, forget your reusable teabag article. This publication is for folks that can afford to buy new teabags. If the advertisers are mostly all-natural, organic companies, that tells you the editor probably won’t accept “Top 5 Chemicals to Get Rid of Garden Pests.”
Analyze the editorial content.
If a large percentage of the articles in the publication you’re looking at are how-to pieces, your audience wants to be able to do things themselves. If you see a lot of list articles, they want to be able to scan content in a hurry. When the features are long and in-depth, the readers take their reading seriously and are probably highly educated.
That said, publications seldom deviate from their norm. If all their headlines are like “Five Amazing Hacks for Your New Phone” and “Six Tantalizing Cheesecake Ingredients,” they aren’t going to want “How I Matured While Living As An Expat.” In fact, some pubs are so templated they will send you a template for your story. (Yup, you heard it from me!)
And here’s a bonus for you. If you want to submit a query letter to a publication that you already subscribe to and read every day, you are the reader. Think about that a minute. Then, go write the story for yourself.