Marketing Insights from an Eighteenth-Century Protagonist
by Ruth Schiffman
I hear that dating gets tiresome. After years of searching, the hope
of finding one’s soul mate dims. When discouragement takes over, the
quest can feel more futile than searching for the Holy Grail. I
opted out of the dating scene early, marrying my first love at the
age of eighteen. Still, I find the matchmaking process intriguing.
Don’t get me wrong; pairing up people is not my thing. My interest
in matchmaking is strictly limited to finding the right publishing
venues for my stories and articles.
In the opening chapters of Jane Austen’s Emma, her main
character has achieved some success as a matchmaker. After seeing
her governess and lifelong friend happily married, she sets out to
help others in a similar fashion. We can learn a few lessons from
Austen’s loveable, if misguided, cupid when searching for a home for
Don’t force it.
Emma wishes so fervently to see her friend, Harriet Smith, marry
well that she believes she can make it happen. She wastes time and
energy on an ill-suited pair, trying to contrive interest where none
exists. Likewise, we writers can get a particular market stuck in
our sights. It’s handsome, well respected, pays in real money, what
else could we dream of in a significant other – errr – publisher? We
don’t take into consideration the market’s personality, its voice,
its particular tastes. If we’re fixated on the wrong market, we may
miss the right one just around the corner.
Learn to accept critique.
One of my favorite scenes in Emma takes place at a group
outing where Mr. Knightly gives her a good tongue-lashing after
she’s disrespected their friend, Miss Bates. Even as Emma defends
herself, you can feel the shame and regret in her words, because
deep down, she knows that Mr. Knightly is right. Have you ever
received a rejection letter with handwritten comments? I have. Once,
the editor’s comments were so scathing that I wrote a lengthy letter
of rebuttal refuting her every point. Thankfully, I didn’t mail it.
After the sting of her comments dulled (and this took a while), I
was able to admit that she was right. What a shame it would’ve been
had I mailed that letter and burned that bridge.
Have a ball.
In eighteenth-century England, Jane Austen’s characters frequently
attend dances as a means of socializing. When the elusive Frank
Churchill finally comes to
town, he holds a ball in order to better acquaint himself with the
townspeople. As writers, our getting-to-know-you process is market
research. Don’t groan. It can be something to dance about.
After all, what writer doesn’t enjoy reading? For the writer,
reading is market research. Acquainting yourself with the
types of material published by a particular market before you submit
is essential. Properly familiarize yourself with any publication and
you’ll gain a sense of what they publish. When one of your stories
feels like something you’d find within the pages of said
market, the technicalities of submission guidelines are less
tiresome and more like choosing the right outfit for a first date.
You’ve seen the possibility and want to make a good impression.
Trust your instincts.
Harriet Smith is elated when she receives a proposal from Mr. Robert
Martin. But when she seeks Emma’s
counsel, she’s persuaded that Mr. Martin isn’t good enough for her.
Much time is lost as she then sets her sights on “superior men.”
Sometimes we writers also let ourselves be led astray. You may have
a gut feeling about a work in progress. You know even as you pen the
first draft where the finished piece will fit into the publishing
world. Yet you force the rules: the rule that says always submit to
the highest paying or most widely read markets first, the rule that
says stay away from young start-up markets, the rules that encroach
on your instincts and keep you spinning your wheels when you had the
right market in your sights from the outset.
At the height of her matchmaking fervor, Emma employs her
imagination, her friends, and her acquaintances in her meddlesome
efforts. If Emma lived in today’s world, I believe she’d be
fascinated by the possibilities provided by eHarmony, Match.com, and
Zoosk. Technology has simplified our matchmaking efforts as
well, with market search databases such as
After Mr. Elton suffers a humiliating rejection from Emma to his
proposal of marriage, he swiftly moves on, vacationing in Bath and
returning to Highbury a few short weeks later with a wife in tow.
Likewise, we would do well to avoid wasting time moping over
rejections. The best revenge to a disappointing response is a
well-placed sale. When rejection comes, swiftly move on to the next
Don’t sell yourself short.
In Ms. Austen’s novel, Emma finds love close to home. For most of
the novel she’s so busy trying to match up others that she nearly
misses the perfect opportunity for herself. I adore Sundays, reading
the Sunday paper and rifling through the inserts for the Boston
Globe. I read the front piece, the end piece and then browse
through the middle for my favorite columns. I never thought of it as
market research. Frankly, I thought the Boston Globe was out
of my league. But after years of reading it, I realized that I had
an essay idea that would be a good fit. When I received an “I’m
intrigued” response to my query I was elated. And when I actually
made the sale I was beyond thrilled. The market I knew so well
almost slipped by me because it was a comfortable old friend that I
curled up with on weekends. I never thought of it “that way.”
To many, the task of marketing their writing is a loathsome job. But
if you hone your matchmaking skills, you may find that the
satisfaction of facilitating a successful match is almost as
rewarding as one of Jane Austen’s happily-ever-after endings.
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