Know Your Readers

Well, I have been rejected … again. I did get a publisher to take a look at my novel manuscript after sending a query, but it didn’t fit her needs. You would think that rejection might fuel an emotion in me such as anger or depression, or the feeling of “why do I bother?” The first rejections I ever had probably did make me a little depressed, but over the years I’ve had many and while I certainly would prefer an acceptance, I know that rejections are part of the job.

A writer has to trust the editor, whether that person is screening manuscripts for a novel, features for a magazine, or an anthology of selected poems or short stories. Each editor must stay true to the requirements and the character of the writing he or she needs.

Having been an editor myself, I know of what I speak. I wrote for and was editor of a national travel publication for several years. I often received queries and feature articles from writers, and in all that time there was only one writer who ended up with a byline in the magazine and is still doing a regular feature for it after all these years. (Yes, the competition is brutal.)

What set her apart? For starters, she understood our audience, in addition to being a darn good writer. While I often got submissions that were well written and interesting, they didn’t fit or advance our editorial purpose. And knowing the feeling that rejection can bring, I sometimes found it difficult to turn down some of those writers, especially those that showed promise.

I read pieces about “my best vacation” and “the trip from hell” or “the most beautiful waterfall in the world;” you name it, people wrote about it, and submitted it. But those writers did not take the time to discover who our readers were. We did not cater to the armchair travelers, the families taking the kids on a summer trip, or that adventurous couple looking for a place to hike through the mountains.

The magazine is still in publication today and has stayed true to its mission. The readers are not the leisure travelers, but the people who organize trips and conduct group tours for them. Many of those group tours are also made up of senior citizens, so tours must be organized with their abilities and needs in mind. You can see how knowing all that would be important to understanding the needs of the editor.

Writers who want to break into print in any publication must know the readers. This isn’t new news, so why do so many writers ignore it? The magazine writer must study the guidelines and read the publication. The book author needs to read a publisher’s guidelines and some of its previously published books. That’s part of the job; do it! It might cut down on some of those rejections.

Good luck!