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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A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for Writers

What writers can learn from the life and career of Carrie Fisher

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for WritersOn December 26, 2016 my wife and I went to see the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The next morning I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. Like most people I knew her for her iconic performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Her obituary revealed so much more:

  • Worked steadily as an actress from 1975 through to her death
  • Author of several semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge
  • Wrote the screenplay for the film of the book
  • Starred in an autobiographical one-woman play
  • Author of the non-fiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on her play
  • Spoke about her experiences with bipolar disorder and drug addiction
  • Mental health advocate
  • Script doctor

All these items are impressive, but the last one caught my attention: script doctor. As the title suggests, a script doctor is someone who comes in to fix the screenplays of other writers. In short, when a screenplay is good but not working as well as it should, a script doctor reworks it to make it shine.

Carrie Fisher’s Wikipedia page says she was “one of the top script doctors in Hollywood.” Who would have thought? According to her Wikipedia page and her IMDB bio, here are some of the movies she worked on as a script doctor:

  • Hook
  • Sister Act
  • Lethal Weapon 3
  • Last Action Hero
  • The River Wild
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Coyote Ugly
  • My Girl 2
  • Outbreak
  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Milk Money
  • Love Affair
  • Made in America

I’ve seen all but one of these flicks. In a lot of them she worked on dialogue or to develop a specific character. She worked as a script doctor for about fifteen years and said that at that time it was lucrative work (but apparently not so much anymore).

Carrie Fisher was known primarily as an actress, but she was also an author of books—both fiction and nonfiction—and screenplays, a script doctor, and an advocate. From her example, I have four takeaways for authors:

  1. Diversify our income stream. (She earned money as an actress, author, and script doctor.)
  2. Write in multiple genres. (She wrote fiction, nonfiction, and scripts.)
  3. Capitalize on our strengths. (She had a knack for dialogue and character development.)
  4. Use whatever platform we have to be a voice for what we’re passionate about. (She was able to use her popularity to talk about mental health issues and substance abuse.)

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. You entertained me and taught me about writing.

Can You Write a Novel in a Month?

Now is the time to prepare for NaNoWriMo in November

NaNoWriMo: Can You Write a Book in a Month?I’ve written nonfiction all of my adult life and recently began writing fiction for some variety. I started with short story (mostly flash fiction: under 1,000 words) because it was faster to write and easier to experiment. And if it doesn’t work, I haven’t invested too much time. Recently I received some professional feedback on my short stories.

Then I upped the word count and wrote a novella (longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.) When I outlined it – yes, I’m a planner – I expected a word count in the lower 20s. It ended up at 29,000 words. I sent it off to another editor for her professional opinion on the overall content and writing.

Though I say the first draft of my novella is done, I wonder if it is. After sending it off, I had an idea to weave in a second story arc of another character. I’ve outlined her story, too, which will give me another 12,000 to 15,000 words. Now its approaching novel length (at least for YA romance).

I’m doing all of this in preparation to write a novel. Since writers first novels are generally bad, I want to get this out of my system and move on. Besides my story idea isn’t too marketable, so it’s definitely practice.

I plan to write the first draft this November as part of NaNoWriMo, something I’ve wanted to do for the past few years but never had the time. This year will be different – I hope. The idea of NaNoWriMo is to write the first 50,000 words of a novel in one month.

When working on my Novella, my low word count day was about 1,000 and my best day was 3,600 (the words really flowed, and I didn’t want to stop). Most days I was in the 1,500 to 2,000 word range, but that was only for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. For NaNoWriMo, I need to keep up that pace seven days a week, which I could definitely do if I didn’t have to work.

The rules of NaNoWriMo allow you to prepare prior to November 1, but you can’t do any actual writing until after midnight October 31. I’ve done my prep work and am itching to start. Though I doubt I will achieve 50,000 words in a month, I do want to participate and see how far I can get.

The one possible roadblock would be if my agent finds a publisher for one of my nonfiction book ideas. Then NaNoWriMo will go on hold for another year, and I’ll spend November writing nonfiction – and I’m okay with that. After all, I’ll still be writing, and that’s what’s important.

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Writing in Your Dreams

Tap into your subconscious to spur creativity and inspire great stories

Writing in Your DreamsLast week I asked the question, “Do you dream of writing?” I talked about five fatal perspectives common to aspiring authors and ended with the admonition to stop dreaming about writing and just start doing it.

However, today I’m going to encourage you to dream. Say what? My advice is not to dream about writing, but to dream about your story. Though I never go to bed mulling over a story idea – that’s a sure fire way to engage my mind and chase sleep away – I do deliberate creative thoughts when I wake up. As I float between daytime reality and nighttime delusion, stories take shape. Characters emerge, opening lines unfold, plot twists reveal themselves, and poignant endings jump out.

When the pieces converge into a collective whole, I hop out of bed and start writing. It’s a compulsion I dare not deny. The words flow with clarity and burst with creativity. At least that’s my take on it.

Sometimes it’s a short story. Other times it’s a nonfiction idea. Occasionally it’s a blog post. Once in a while it is the dream itself.

This doesn’t happen every morning, but when it does I must write my new words before my subliminal muse withdraws her inspiration. Yes, my muse is decidedly female. Don’t ask me how I know; she just is.

When my muse guides me it’s a wondrous creative adventure of words.

I wish I could teach you how to tap into your subconscious as you awake. Gee, I wish I could comprehend it myself, but I don’t understand it. I don’t know how to cultivate it – other than perhaps to train your mind to always look for writing inspiration.

I suspect sleep frees my mind to wander from the tangible into the imaginable, with the best ideas percolating to the top of my awareness and boiling over as the morning light turns my slumber to reality. Or maybe not.

What I do know is to watch for creativity to stir as I greet the new day, for my subconscious to give me words to write. Then I jump on that train and ride for as long as I can. And it’s always a joyous journey.

What stirs you to write? Are you able to train your muse?

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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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May is National Short Story Month (Sorry for the late notice)

Last week I was disappointed when I learned that May is National Short Story Month. Gee, the month was all but over before discovered this. We could have spent the whole month talking about short story, but I missed the opportunity. Maybe next year.

A short story is one category of short-form fiction, generally with a length of 1,000 to 7,000 words. As a person used to writing and editing 1,000 word articles, a 1,000 word short story feels right to me.

Until recently there weren’t many options for writers to publish short stories (or any fiction shorter than a novel, for that matter), but with the advent of e-readers, new opportunities have opened up. With e-readers and self-publishing, the short story has been resuscitated as a viable option for writers.

Short stories can fill many needs for authors:

  • Offer a creative outlet
  • Supply a way to make some extra cash
  • Provide a use for good fiction ideas that aren’t extensive enough to fill a novel-length work
  • Flesh out minor characters from a novel, possibly providing backstory that novel fans will devour
  • Present content for fans to fill the gap between novel releases
  • Fit nicely in a short story anthology
  • Be compiled into your own short story collection, something traditional publishers have avoided but is viable when self-publishing.

I primarily write nonfiction, but I dabble in fiction. While I feel confident in my ability to write nonfiction and to discuss writing in general, when it comes to skills unique to fiction, I feel I have so much to learn. Writing short stories is a great place to start. Let me hone my skills on shorter works before diving into longer ones.

If you write mainly fiction, where do short stories fit in? If you primarily write nonfiction, do short stories offer a diversion or perhaps a creative outlet?