Being Honest About a Project’s Commercial Potential By Rich Mintzer

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The American Society of Journalists and Authors holds an annual writers conference each spring in New York City. One of the three days always intrigues me. It’s the day in which they have what is called the Personal Pitch. This is an opportunity for writers to meet face to face with editors, publishers and agents and pitch ideas for books, blogs, articles or whatever they have to sell. Pitches need to be concise as this is almost akin to speed dating, except we need not determine that we both love walks on the beach.

It’s very easy to read the expression on the face of the editor, agent or publisher sitting across from you thinking, “What’s in it for the reader? Who will buy this book?” They want to know if there is sales potential for a property before putting in time or putting up money. In this professional setting, there needs to be a market out there wanting to read what you write, and when they roll their eyes that means, “no market.”

And Yet…

As a ghostwriter, I’ve encountered so many people who want to sell written material in some form about themselves, their life, their home, their friends, their families, their neighborhoods, etc. etc. The focus is that of an opera singer in rehearsals…me me me me me me me! And while it’s been said that “everyone has a book in them,” the harsh reality is that many people have only a chapter or two, and in many cases there is little or no market for that chapter, much less a book.

Don’t get me wrong – writing as a form of expression or as a means of putting your ideas on paper or in a blog is wonderful. In fact, I took a few of my father’s stories from World War II and had them bound into a small book. I gave him the book for Father’s Day a few years ago and he was very touched. He talks about his “book” to this day, even though it’s all of about 22 pages. The point is, there are great personal moments to be shared, and even cherished, from writing.

There is, however, a clear difference between personal writing and writing for a broader market. And, too often people don’t distinguish that line in the sand. A book, article, blog or anything to be read by a wider audience, even a free blog, needs to reach an audience in such a way that they are touched, informed, educated, moved to action, angered, enlightened or motivated. Someone’s day-to-day routine may fit nicely on their Facebook page, but who’s going to pay to read it? Hence the difficulty in selling memoirs.

Best Sellers and Tons of Blog Hits

By and large, most professional writers understand the need to write for an audience, whether it’s young children, your peers or a specific niche market. It is when you write for clients that you may stumble over the questions of what’s marketable, what’s not, and what can you do, if anything, to bridge that gap? Sometimes the personality and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of the client can be very infectious, and it’s easy to get caught up in their fantasy of a best seller. But at some point, you need to take a step back and ask yourself: Is there a market?

It’s terrific when you meet someone with a defined audience in mind. For example, I worked with a woman named Helen Irlen on a book about Irlen Syndrome, a visual processing disorder, which she discovered over 20 years ago, that makes it very difficult for children (and some adults) to read. She also discovered a cure. Yes, it was a book about her and her work, but her story affected millions of people worldwide who have perceptual reading problems. Her book had a buying market – parents and educators who needed information on this problem and how it could be helped.

I contrast this with another project in which I was asked to write about a baby boomer and how he’s seen the world change as he’s grown up. He enthusiastically offers up plenty of descriptive information about his home, his neighborhood and nostalgia from the 1960s when he was young. But how is his conclusion that the world has changed over the past 40 years new and groundbreaking? We need to find some thread of a story that impacts others in some way if this is going to be a worthwhile commercial endeavor.

As a writer for other people, you owe it to your clients to let them know which ideas have a potential buying market, which will make the editors, agents and publishers roll their eyes, and which are best suited for family, friends or maybe as giveaways to their own clients. Sure, there are always exceptions and surprises, but the risks, just like those of investors, should be made clear upfront before you take on a new client. Then it’s up to them as to whether they want to move forward. It will also increase referrals and give you the competitive edge over the those writers, packagers, self-publishing houses and others in the industry that falsely promise clients best sellers and tons of blog hits.

Rich Mintzer is the author and ghostwriter of over 60 published non-fiction books. He also writes online business articles and edits blogs.