Should Writers Focus On One Niche?

The easiest way to build your author brand is to consistently publish the same type of content

Should Writers Focus On One Niche? by Peter DeHaanI remember when I started taking writing seriously. I moved from simply writing to being a writer. The shift was huge.

I had so much to learn about the industry (and I still do). Of the many surprises I encountered as I learned about writing was the importance of focusing on one niche. I didn’t like that. Don’t tie me down to writing one thing; I need variety. Yet the advice I received said to pick nonfiction or fiction or memoir. Just one. Then narrow the focus even more. If fiction, which genre? If nonfiction, what slice?

The thought that I had to pick one, and only one area, parallelized me. First, it sounded boring. Second, what if I picked wrong? Yikes! Though once I established myself in that one area, I might have an opportunity to branch out. But the idea still sounded too restrictive for too long.

Another person suggested I try all three options and whichever one sold first, that would be my niche. Though that made sense, it seemed I’d waste a lot of time and effort.

I went back to agonizing between nonfiction, fiction, and memoir. (Yes, memoir is technically nonfiction, but it contains elements of fiction writing, so it’s really a both-and pursuit.)

A third person opined that memoirs were selling, so I pursued that. I later learned this person was in error, or I had heard wrong. Writers can only sell their memoirs if they are famous, infamous, or suffered through the mother of all tragedies. As a regular guy with a normal life, I had none of these. Though I’ve written a few memoirs, none have sold.

I next moved to nonfiction and wrote a couple more books in this category. I also pitched several other nonfiction book ideas, but nada.

Between waiting for publishers to decide on my nonfiction books and book ideas, I dabbled in fiction, the remaining area not yet explored. First I wrote short stories and then wrote a couple novels, too. Interestingly, I receive better feedback on my short stories and novels than on my nonfiction and memoirs.

In this way, I ended up writing in all three areas, and I’m waiting to see which one pops first. When it does, the wise career move will be focusing on that as my niche. But my interests are too eclectic to do that. I’ll probably end up pursuing multiple paths simultaneously. I’ll have to, or I will surely get bored.

By the way, besides memoir, nonfiction, and fiction books, I also write for publications and am a commercial freelance writer, in addition to blogging. I like the variety; I need the variety. It keeps me from getting bored.

Yes, the best advice is to specialize in one area and build our author brand around that. But that’s not me. Don’t force me into a corner.

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Is Writing Fun?

With some creativity and planning, authors can hang onto their joy of writing

Some writers hate to write, but their love of completing a book spurs them on. I understand the ecstasy of a job that’s done. I love finishing a writing project, be it a book, a ghostwriting assignment, an article, or a post. But I also enjoy the actual writing. I can even say I love to write. This is a good thing because I spend a lot of time doing it.

Is Writing Fun?What’s your attitude towards writing?

Do you enjoy it? Think writing is fun? Look forward to it? Love to write? I hope you’re able to say “yes” to at least one of these questions.

Or do you find writing hard? Need to force yourself to write? Would rather do anything but write? Is the allure of finishing a project no longer enough to motivate you? Though I occasionally find myself in this place, it is infrequent and short-lived.

The key for me is variety. I’m never working on just one thing. I’m always going in different directions, with multiple projects. And occasionally when I really don’t want to write what I’m supposed to at that moment, I just switch to something else.

Here are some of the projects that give me variety:

  • A monthly column: Currently I have two magazines and a couple of newsletters. Each includes a column from the publisher, me.
  • Weekly blog posts: I have too many blogs and write too many posts, but I do enjoy it. Soon I may cut back, but I can’t envision ever stopping completely. (Every post is eligible to be repurposed or become part of a book.)
  • A book: I am always writing a book as my primary focus, but I also give thought to the book that comes next, along with follow-up work on the one just finished. This makes three books at once, sometimes more.
  • Freelance work: I write for clients: content marketing, website content, marketing copy, presentations, interviews, and so on. Each project excites me.
  • A short story: Though I write nonfiction and memoir, I also write one short story a month for fun and experience. Maybe I’ll one day find a novelist inside me.

Weekday mornings are for writing my book. Weekend mornings are for my blogs. Weekday afternoons are for my columns and freelance work. However, I must squeeze in the short story somewhere.

The benefit of this variety is the diversity it provides. While this scope of writing may be overwhelming or not feasible for you at this time, the key is to break up your writing by working on more than one thing and having more than one interest.

For me, this helps make writing fun.

What motivates you to write? How do you keep your writing fun? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Writers Should Meet Reader Expectations

Last week we discussed “Why Writers Should Follow the Rules of Writing.” Now we’ll focus on reader expectations.

When readers consider our writing, they have a set of expectations – whether they realize it or not. If we don’t meet their expectations, they will stop reading. If we fail miserably, they may never read anything else we write – ever again.

The first expectation of readers is interesting writing that holds their attention. Without that, nothing else matters.

Nonfiction readers expect our writing will educate, encourage, or enlighten them. There are probably other reasons, too, but these are the main ones. Our writing must be logical, carefully researched, and well organized. It can’t contain factual errors or circular logic. It needs a compelling premise and a strong conclusion. Even if a reader disagrees with what we say, they shouldn’t find fault with how we said it.

Fiction readers seek escapism, entertainment, or an emotional journey. Like nonfiction readers, they may also want to be educated, encouraged, or enlightened, but, if so, these are secondary needs. With fiction, we need to hook the reader quickly, give them a reason to keep turning pages, delight them with surprises along the way, and not leave them disappointed at the end.

Also, each fiction genre carries its own set of expectations, such as word length, writing style, point of view, target audience, and so forth. These can best be learned by reading extensively in that genre. Read the classics, as well as contemporary works. Also consider those with critical acclaim, along with bestsellers – even if experts berate the writing.

The expectation of memoir readers falls somewhere in between nonfiction and fiction, while poetry and other written art (screenplays, song lyrics, ad copy, and so forth) carry their own unique expectations. Again, study successful pieces and praised works in the particular category to discern what expectations readers may hold.

Meeting reader expectations will go a long way towards success as an author, but the key is to simply write something people enjoy reading.

Six Options When Your Memory Fails You

When I was in high school, I remember sitting in my parents living room watching the USA hockey team play the Soviet Union in the medal round of the 1980 Olympics. My dad, like most everyone else, predicted a sound defeat for the USA, but I held out hope a miracle would happen. And it did. A few days later, again sitting in their living room, I watched the scrappy USA team win the gold medal.

There’s only one problem with my story. It couldn’t have happened.

When the game took place in 1980, I was neither in high school nor living with my parents. My memories are obviously faulty.

If you’re writing a memoir or autobiography and face this dilemma, what are your options?

1) Write it anyway – it’s your memoir so say what you remember
2) Write it and admit your recollections are not correct
3) Ask others to fill in the blanks or correct misconceptions
4) Omit the facts that don’t add up
5) Write it as you remember, but don’t present it as fact; perhaps it was a dream or make it an idealized version of what you wish had happened
6) Don’t write about it because it is in error

Which approach would you take?

Six Things to Consider Before Writing Your Personal Story

I recently had someone share a book idea with me. It was about him dealing with a tragedy. If you want to write your story about a personal struggle, here are some questions to ask:

Are you emotionally able to write? This man was in the middle of his struggle. He was on edge and barely hanging on. He could journal about it or make notes for later, but I doubt any good writing could take place now. Time is needed for healing before writing.

Why do you want to write? Writing can be a catharsis, but that doesn’t necessarily make it worthy of publication. Are you writing to heal, to understand, or to share with others?

What’s the main point? A book needs one theme and only one. His had several, with the only connection being they emanated from the ripples of his experience. He had enough themes for several books. Clarify and focus before writing.

Has your idea already been published? Do some serious online research to learn how many others have written about the same thing. If too many books have been published then there’s likely no room for one more. Conversely, if nothing’s been published, there’s probably a reason why: from a business standpoint there’s not enough interest in your topic. (Personally your book is significant, but publishers will approach it as a product they must be able to sell and turn a profit.)

Are you able to complete the work? Writing is easy; writing well is hard. It requires work and perseverance. It takes time to hone your skills and letting others see your work is a baring of your soul. Are you at a point where you can do that?

Are you able to follow through? Finishing your book is just the first step, not the last. You need to find a publisher or agent — and sell them on your idea. Rejection is common at this step. Next your book will be edited. Will you be able to have someone correct and change your words? Once it’s published, you will need to promote it. Publishers focus their marketing efforts on the big name authors who will sell a million copies, not people like you or me.

This may seem overwhelming and discouraging. That’s the point. Know what you are facing before starting. But if you do proceed, know that books are published every day, so why can’t you be one of them?

Five Ideas of What to Write

Hopefully, you’ve given some thought as when is the best time to write, as well as where is the best place to write. Even if these decisions are works in progress, needing to be fine-tuned, you need to move on.

Now we get to the question of what to write. Although, it may seem a nonsensical query; for some, especially those just starting out, it is not. Here are some ideas:

  • If you have a project, you need to be working on it. This is an obvious answer — if you have a project.
  • Work on a potential project, something that could turn into a project. That is, work on an article or a book that you could sell in the future. Write a query letter or proposal for this project.

However, if you’re just starting out, you likely need to develop and hone your writing skills before seriously embarking on a project. So, here are some more ideas:

  • Blogging is a great way to release creative ideas and develop a writing style. (I don’t put Facebook in this category, though I do know some who compose intriguing and well-written posts. I do not recommend journaling or keeping a diary as worthy writing exercises either; they are too informal, introspective, and narcissist — however, they may provide useful fodder for a future memoir.)
  • Write book or movie reviews. Work on developing a reviewer style and on being concise, fair, and helpful. Avoid the mistake of many professional reviewers — being unnecessarily critical or writing a review merely to call attention to your skill as a writer.
  • Writing exercises are other worthy considerations. “Exercising” will get you in the habit of writing and provide opportunities to develop your skills. Here are some ideas for writing exercises.

(I am currently working on a project — my dissertation — which is also a potential project, a future book.  I usually blog one day a week and also write reviews — mostly book reviews — which I hope to soon post on my Website.)