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. The best advice is to specialize in one area and build an author brand around it. Click To Tweet

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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How I’ll Write My Next Book

NaNoWriMo inspired me on a new way to approach writing a book

How I’ll Write My Next BookI’ve written several books, most of which didn’t have a deadline. Though I would regularly sit down to write and methodically plod through from start to finish, I wasn’t as intentional as I could have been. I would take several months to complete my first draft of these books—and it was arduous.

Last November I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time, where the goal is to write the first draft of a novel in one month. I effectively did this, but it didn’t happen as expected. (Check out my post of my first NaNoWriMo experience).

Going forward I plan to write all my books NaNoWriMo style. I’ll hunker down and crank through the first draft in one month. Here are the benefits of taking this approach.

Increased Focus: Writing a book in one month requires making it a priority. It’s not one of many things to dilute focus; it’s the one thing. This gives a hyper-intensive focus. In fact, I was so into my novel, which took place in May, that I actually thought it was spring in real life; I had to keep reminding myself that summer was not about to happen, but eight months out. That’s intense (or crazy). Regardless I had focus and finished writing that book.

Better Continuity: When writing large chunks of a book every day, it’s much easier to keep everything straight. One chapter easily moves into the next. But had time interrupted my writing it would have also caused me to lose my comprehension of the story arc. This would necessitate re-reading large sections, a too-frequent referring to my notes, and missed opportunities to produce a better read. But because I was able to stay in the writing zone, the words flowed forth with greater ease. Taking fewer days to write a book gets me to the end faster and avoids a mid-book slump. Click To Tweet

Faster Results: For me the difficulty in writing a book isn’t the number of words I need to write, it’s the number of days it takes. When I write a book in one month, there’s no time to bog down in the middle, yet a book that takes several months to complete will always produce a discouraging sag of motivation midway through. Taking fewer days to write a book gets me to the end faster and avoids a mid-book slump.

Sense of Accomplishment: It’s a great feeling to finish the first draft of a book. Writing with NaNoWriMo intention rewards me with that feeling of satisfaction faster. Having that great sense of accomplishment encourages me as a writer and motivates me to produce even more.

Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I plan to write the first draft of my next book in a month. And I won’t even wait until November to start.

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.

What do you do to make your writing fun? Click To TweetWeekday 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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Ramping Up Our Writing

I just began writing a book, an 85,000-word book. It needs to be finished by the end of November. That’s a lot of words in a short amount of time.

I made a schedule. I will write Monday through Friday and edit on Saturday. With a few exceptions, I need to write 1,750 words a day to make this work. So far, so good.

Ramping Up Our WritingIf I had been faced with this project five years ago, I would have laughed at how unrealistic that would have been for me to do. I would have turned it down without hesitating. But now this seems feasible; it is realistic that I can write that many words a day. The only question is: How well will I fair at keeping this pace up every day until after Thanksgiving? Again, so far so good.

What has changed between five years ago and now? Quite simply, I have ramped up my writing.

I went from haphazard blogging to blogging regularly. I then moved from blogging regularly to writing every day, if only for a few minutes. Next I upped the goal to writing for one hour each weekday. Then I added Saturdays and later Sundays, too. Writing for an hour every day, eventually became two.

More recently I changed the goal to write at least a thousand words each weekday, and then I began adding additional time to write more. I wondered if I could devote my entire morning to writing and handle my job in the afternoons. It looks like I can.

Along the way, I have found my writing voice, learned so much about the art and craft, and have improved. Yes, I have written other books, but this is my first with such an aggressive deadline.

Fortunately I have been in training for five years. I am ready for the challenge.

Each writer has a different path, a different situation, and a different schedule. You are likely at a different point in your writing. Don’t compare yourself to me. Whether you are ahead of me or behind, comparison accomplishes nothing good. Only compare yourself to you. Strive to write, to learn, and to improve. Then you will be ready when opportunity comes to you.Don't compare yourself to others. Only #compare yourself to you. Click To Tweet

What are you doing to ramp up your writing? What are your experiences with deadlines? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Stay Within Your Genre: The Importance of Consistency

Although I resisted it for months, I recently immersed myself in a Young Adult book, a romance, no less: Ditched: A Love Story, by Robin Mellom. I poured over it with can’t-put-it-down abandon. I read it in two days.

When I finished reading it, the next thing I did was I read it again. I enjoyed it that much.

After the second time, I went to Amazon to buy her next book. Alas, she has none – at least not any YA books. She does have a couple middle-grade/junior books, but as much as I like her writing style and voice, I couldn’t force myself to buy a book written for a nine year old.

She found a fan in me – and then had nothing more to offer.

Then I finally understood why people in the know, tell writers to “stay within your genre.” If you write period romance, then write only period romance – that’s what your audience expects. If you write crime novels, write only crime novels. Would you buy a romance by Steven King? No. Or sci-fi by Dick Francis? No, even if it had a horse in it, it wouldn’t work.

I never understood why I couldn’t make a career by writing non-fiction and speculative fiction and devotionals and children’s books and memoirs and even poetry. It might be fun for me but would leave my audience confused and my career would fail to gain traction.

Now I understand why I can’t do that. I still don’t like it, but I do comprehend.

Can you see yourself writing in only one genre for the rest of your career? What genre is it?

Don’t Just Think About Writing

River Jordan’s book The Messenger on Magnolia Street (which I highly recommend) is not a book about writing, but one of the secondary characters does flirt with the idea.

Regarding this person, River writes, “She had once thought about writing a book and naming it … To the Pacific and Back Again. But she didn’t. She couldn’t think of another line besides the title and that slowed her down some” (pg 158).

We all know people like this character, those who intend to write a book but never do. They may talk about it, dream about it, or even plan to do it. They may have the title, know the opening line, or even have the plot mapped out in their head. Perhaps they don’t even get that far.

Regardless they never move forward. Maybe their book is no more than an obscure thought or a romantic notion. They talk about writing, but they never do it.

A book that stays in your head is a book that never reaches its potential. Don’t be one of those people.

Just write. That’s the first step to becoming an author.

Why Do You Write?

In his book Unleash the Writer Within Cecil Murphey opens by asking the question, “Why do you write?”

What he’s not looking for is the safe answer, the politically correct response, a blast of bravado, or an eloquent, but meaningless marketing statement. He desires the real answer, the truth — and as writers we owe it to ourselves to be honest.

I could say I write to make a difference in the world. Although not untrue, it’s not my primary driving force. If my goal in writing was solely to make a difference, that would put a lot of pressure on me and quickly sap me of all joy for the craft.

To be completely open, I have two reasons why I write:

  1. I believe I have something worth sharing, and
  2. If I didn’t write, I think I would die — first figuratively and then literally.

Why do you write?

[Read my review of Unleash the Writer Within.] 

Happy Birthday Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born February 7, 1812. This month marks his 200th birthday.

One of his most popular books — and my favorite — is A Christmas Carol. It has been loved by generations and made into many a movie.

I recently heard a radio segment about Dickens. NPR reported that in 1843 he wrote A Christmas Carol in a mere six weeks. (He was working to meet a deadline). Even more notable is that his first draft was also his final draft.

Although there were edits and deleted sections in this first and final version, what he wrote on his first pass was essentially what was published. In just six weeks, Dickens wrote a book that lived on longer than he, becoming a classic and delighting readers for 169 years — and most assuredly for many more.

While not every one of his efforts came into being so quickly or flowed with such relative ease, this one did. Such is what can happen when an experienced writer is inspired — and under a deadline.

Have you ever had a similar writing experience?

Tips on Writing Book Reviews

Last week I shared of my foray into writing movie reviews. It wasn’t long before I began penning book reviews as well. However, unlike my short-lived tenure writing movie reviews, book reviewing is a practice that has continued. So far I’ve written 53 (it takes longer to read a book, so the numbers accumulate slower.)

The best time to write a review is within a day of finishing the book or watching the movie, allowing for some time to process it, but not enough to forget important details.

For example, after watching “The Life Before Her Eyes” it was several hours before I actually “got” the ending — and some reviewers hadn’t — so had I written immediately, I would have been one of them.

However, waiting too long is never good. I have six books sitting in my “to be reviewed” pile that were read in the midst of working on a big project (my dissertation) and set aside for a later review. I hope to get to them, but fear that I have already waited too long.

I just finished reading “The Reluctant Prophet” by Nancy Rue, which I hope to review today.

Like my movie reviews, about half of my book reviews have also been posted on my A Bible A Day website; the other half are patiently sitting in my computer, awaiting their eventual liberation. I plan to also add them to my soon-to-be-relaunched PeterDeHaan.name website.

The Birthday of Peter Pan

Written by J. M. Barrie in 1911, the novel Peter Pan (aka: Peter and Wendy or Peter Pan and Wendy) is 100 years old. Whether or not you have read the book, you are no doubt familiar with the story, having likely seen an adaptation or two on video or stage. While much can be said about Peter Pan, the one undeniable fact is that it has endured through time.

Will any books written today have the staying power to last for a hundred years? Or will technology and the rapidity of change thwart any legacy they may have?

Although many works, by the nature of their topic, will have a short shelf life, some have the potential to maintain the interest and attention of future generations. While writing a timeless classic is more the result of circumstance and less of intention or plan, we can write so as to connect with present day readers, as well as their children — and grandchildren.

Though I doubt if anything I have written yet will persevere, I do hope that some of my future work will stand the test of time and touch future generations.

Do you think anything written today can last? Is it important to you that your writing endure?