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 our writings.
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 Emmatakes 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 storiesfeels 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.
Be resourceful. 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 www.duotrope.com, www.writing-world.com, www.writerswrite.com, www.freelancewriting.com, and www.writingfordollars.com.
Move on. 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 market.
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.