Monday, June 14, 2010

Do Readers Want to Read Your Work or Do You Wish They Did?

Have a great idea for a book - a magazine feature? Treat it like a widget or other sales commodity. Make sure that it's something that the public wants. Marcia Yudkin publishes a Marketing Minute each week that is so simple and wrought with common sense. She recently had this one to offer (permission obtained from Ms. Yudkin):

The Marketing Minute

by Marcia Yudkin, Marketing Expert and Mentor

Short of seeing into the future, three steps provide good (though not perfect) indicators of which information products are and aren't worth your time to develop.
 1. Do people really want to know the topic or do you wish they did? Consider the idea of a guide for casual hikers on how not to get lost in the woods. Unfortunately, those who most need this guidance usually don't have a clue they need it. Many, many ideas have this weakness.
 2. Check the availability and popularity of books on the topic at Just one book comes up in a "get lost in the woods" search, published in 1997 with a ranking showing that few people have ever purchased it. Likewise, the article directory shows how many people are reading up on your topic.
 3. Are people willing to pay for this information? Search Google with a few keyword phrases and look in the right-hand column for advertisers. Finding none, as for the "lost in the woods" idea, means others are not successfully reaching out to your target market.

I consult folks on query letters, where they pitch their ideas to magazines and publishers. The majority of the pitches I see fall in one of two categories:
1. Tries too hard. In their earnest to be different, the members of this group pitch books and features that are so far out there that you can count on two hands the number of people who'd be interested. Imagine someone so in love with a topic that he thinks the whole world will love it, too, just as soon as he finds the people and exposes them to it. In his query, he proclaims that thousands of people have an interest in the subject. Problem is, how many people see the need to read up about it? Not everyone who likes a topic is a reader or wants to read someone else's advice. Let's say someone barbecue's crayfish on the grill. Or fixes antique lawnmowers. Or runs a PTO and wants to teach others how to manage parents. Or recycles bluejeans. Some of these might work as articles in trade or niche publications, but a book? A feature in a high exposure international magazine?  Not so much.
2. Doesn't try hard enough.  Someone recently send me a query that spoke about getting the kids ready for school. The bio wasn't catchy either. Very ecru. The writer thought that since the magazine had published similar pieces in the past, the editor would like this one, too. He proposed a topic anyone can write without throwing a unique slant on it. There's nothing wrong with pitching evergreen ideas, as long as you discuss them in a way that's never been done before. I've also known writers who pitched ideas in generalities, often telling instead of showing. I knew that the writer was an expert at the subject and had a great idea, but could not express in a few short words how she was the perfect person to talk about this most profound subject matter. She almost expected the editor to read between the lines. In other words, not trying hard enough to communicate.
It's all about the topic, and then it's all about the spin. If your title and subject don't POP and grab attention, you aren't trying hard enough or you are hanging your hat on a subject that isn't worth pursuing. Just don't be afraid to give your subject the desirability test Marcia mentions above. Don't talk yourself into writing a piece. Let the piece call to you. Then don't be so flattered with the unusual idea that you don't make it prove itself.
Now give it my credibility test. Make your magazine or book subject answer these questions:
1. Who cares about this subject?
2. Why should they care about your version of it?
3. What makes you the best expert of this story?
4. What makes you the best WRITER of this story?
Because you can write doesn't make you an expert. Because you are an expert doesn't mean you can write. Take it one step further. Because you experienced something doesn't mean you have the ability to write about it.
Only when you sense you have the knowledge, experience, writing talent and diligence to follow through with a pitch to a particular publication/publisher, do you go for it. Ninety percent of rejections occur because the author falls short of one of these and is afraid to admit it.


Karen Lange said...

Good info, thank you! Have been tossing around some ideas and will measure them with this. Appreciate you sharing this with us:)

Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing! I will definitely keep those questions in mind as I work on my query letters.

BJGMedia said...

Definitely thanks for the advice. I followed your very simple instructions and found that the subject for my book was prolific. Is that also something to be mindful of?

Hope Clark said...

Scribbler - I'm assuming by prolific, you mean the topic has been done a lot, by a lot of authors. You need to also answer the questions:

1. Has it been overdone?
2. How is your address of the topic different from all the others to make it fresh?

BJGMedia said...

Well I think mine is a little different. Most of the authors that have handle the subject of time travel have primarily been either science fiction writers or romance writers. My book is for young adults.