The most important question to ask when identifying a potential clientele

Editors who are just starting out or who are moving in new directions usually have an idea in mind of the work they want to do. Often this starts out as a very broad concept: they want to help novelists write better stories. Then they realize this is too broad – where do you find “novelists who want to write better stories”? Everywhere and nowhere.

So they narrow it down: “emerging novelists who are writing stories about their lives.”

This is great! Niches make it easier to figure out where and how to market to potential clients. So, narrowing further, they realize that one group of “emerging novelists who are writing stories about their lives” that springs immediately to mind is teens. And the idea of helping teens nurture their burgeoning talents is wonderfully attractive! Think of mentoring the next Azar Nafisi or Jesmyn Ward.

The next step a lot of editors take is to think about where they could find the target audience in order to market to them.

But that’s not the next step. The next step is to ask, “Can this clientele pay a fair market value for my services?” Because if the answer is no, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. Or, possibly a nonprofit organization funded by arts grants but that is outside my realm of expertise so let’s just assume you’re as profit-motivated as I am.

And I would say that teen writers as a potential clientele do not pass the “Can this clientele pay a fair market value for my services?” test. Teens writing memoir or other creative work about their lives almost certainly don’t have the money to spend on your services. Their parents might but it is doubtful that they would dig very deep or very often. So while this could be a nice gig you do on the side because who doesn’t love to see thirteen-year-olds realize they have potential, the plan will have to be revisited insofar as profit motive is concerned.

What kinds of emerging writers could afford editorial services? Who else might want to learn to tell stories about their lives?

What about retirees interested in the legacy they are leaving? “Legacy” isn’t just about their estate. Maybe they want to share what they know or give their children a better sense of what their lives were like. Retirees are much more likely to have disposable income and be willing to spend it on something as important to them as a story they want to leave behind. And from here an editor can identify places where this clientele can be found – the senior center, the Osher Institute, next door . . . .

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