Below you will find the hand-out from the NJCWG's 7/24/06 meeting.
Improving Your Focus
1. Know your genre
I can’t stress enough how important it is to know what genre you are writing for AND what sub-genre your manuscript falls into. It is not sufficient to say it is fiction – or even a mystery. Is it a cozy? A caper? A Noir? Or a fem-jep (female in jeopardy)? Each is written in a different style and the popularity of each thrives and wanes in its own right. This sub-genre issue applies to every kind of writing. Check out your areas of interest.
2. Research what’s out there and know the saturation limit for your genre.
Is there a glut in the genre you want to write for? Remember that it takes one to three years for a new author’s book to get on the market. Will your topic still be relevant after a long wait?
3. Has your topic “been done” before?
When it comes to periodicals, understand what’s recently been written by other writers for the publication you are targeting AND in similar publications. Can you give your topic a new slant? Offer information not seen before? Provide insight that others have not offered?
4. Is your topic narrow enough?
Have you narrowed your topic enough to offer details that a broader article might miss? If you are writing about dogs you might want to focus on one aspect of dogs (e.g. grooming, feeding or training) or one breed of dog (there are over 400 pure breeds of dogs). Volumes and volumes have been written about dogs. If you are writing a short article you would be well advised to be VERY specific.
5. Is your topic broad enough?
Lawn care might be a good topic for the spring issue of a general magazine but writing only about eradicating the Black Medic (a broad leafed lawn weed) might be a bit too specific for the needs of the general public.
6. Know your publisher.
What sort of articles and/or books does the publisher that you are targeting want? Don’t send a mystery to a romance publisher and don’t sent an article about women wearing too much make-up to a glamour magazine. These may seem obvious but there are subtle differences a well. What is the mission statement of the magazine that you want to write for? Just because a magazine calls itself “Christian” doesn’t mean that it publishes testimonials. If a Christian magazine’s focus is on missions, you won’t want to send a profile piece on a Christian skier unless you can show how the profiled person uses his skiing to lead others to Christ.
7. Know your reader.
If you are writing about wedding cakes you might want to reconsider an article specifically about grooms cakes if you are writing for the New Jersey Bride. Brides and Grooms on the East Coast traditionally do not want groom cakes. Now you’d be hard pressed to find a wedding in the southern United States without a grooms cake. Readers (and publishers) in Texas might appreciate this article (if it hasn’t been done a dozen times already). Now a “new” slant would be to do an article for New Jersey Bride on traditions that other parts of the country hold dear (like grooms cakes) and ways that brides and grooms on the east coast could incorporate these traditions into their weddings to make them special.
8. Know the ‘need’.
Anytime you can fill a need for a publisher you will hit an automatic home-run with your article. Find out what a magazine needs and get to work providing the words.
9. Know the format.
Every publication uses a slightly different format. Read, read and re-read the writers guidelines – then follow them exactly. The editors will love you for saving them time and money. In addition to the general guidelines read the magazine itself. Does the magazine use sidebars? Subheadings? Quotes? Statistics? Numerous anecdotes? Do the writers often site specialists? Do the titles use alliteration? Are articles written in first person, third or both?