Think of your favorite writer. An author, a journalist, a blogger – it doesn’t matter. Now, what do they write about?
Chances are, your favorite writer has cornered a specific writing niche. Stephen King commands the horror novel. Andy Borowitz is a leading authority on satirical news. And nobody can touch Paul Krugman on Op-Eds concerning economic issues.
As a freelance writer, finding and owning a writing niche is an important component for a successful career.
- A niche cuts out competition.
Writing in a niche shrinks your world to a manageable size. If you write about a little bit of everything, you’re competing with a little bit of everyone. But if you write in a niche, you’re only competing with other writers occupying that same niche.
- A niche gets you more work.
Committing to a niche enhances your credibility and builds you a reputation as a thought-leader in that niche. Though leaders are like lighthouses to clients. Jen Miller, an award-winning freelance writing specializing in running, says that when you’re working in a niche, you don’t have to do as much pitching. “And when you do pitch, you don’t have to do the whole long song and dance if you’re a known figure in the writing part of that industry.”
To find your writing niche, start by doing some soul searching.
What Do You Care About?
When we’re young, we absorb all stimuli with equal enthusiasm. That tree is incredible! That spoon is spectacular! That pile of dirt is miraculous!
But as time goes by, we begin to construct a hierarchy of importance. Our passions begin to materialize. Our interests start to sharpen. We gain a better sense of what excites us, what moves us, what intrigues us.
Writing niches can stem from these interests and passions. Furthermore, writing about something you truly care about is an added motivation to find work, pursue stories, and deliver the highest quality product. Passion translates to the page.
What Do You Like To Write?
A niche isn’t always defined by a single element. Deforestation isn’t really a niche so much as it is a subject, but writing long-form journalistic articles about deforestation is certainly a niche. Architecture is a profession, but writing B2B articles for architecture firms? Now that’s a niche.
A writing niche is informed by your writing preferences, so pair your passions with preferences by asking yourself the following questions:
- What is your preferred writing medium? Print or web? Articles or case studies? Blog posts or eBooks?
- What is your writing style? Lighthearted or deeply serious? Flowery or austere? Do you excel at translating complex technical language into layman’s terms? Do you enjoy weaving interviews into you work? Do you prefer to express your own opinions?
- What audience do your enjoy writing for? Consumers or businesses? Men or women? Twenty-somethings or seniors?
Put It All Together
If I had the technical skills to build you a writing niche calculator, I would, but unfortunately we’ll have to settle for some plain old critical thinking.
By now you’ve hopefully identified a few of your interests, passions, and writing preferences. Now let’s put them all together.
For example, perhaps you care about issues facing the LGBT community. You also prefer writing for web publications, as you’re comfortable with quick turnaround times and enjoy seeing your work published right away. You tend to strike more serious notes when you write, and you don’t mind who your audience is as long as they’re reading.
In this case, I might be well-suited as a blogger for a liberal news blog such as ThinkProgress.
Write About Everything You Can
Sometimes the only way to discover what you like is to try a bit of everything.
It should be noted that when first starting out, you may not even have a choice in the matter, as less experienced writers don’t have as much pull in what they write. But embrace your eclectic workload as an opportunity to find the perfect niche.
“I wrote about whatever people would assign me,” Miller says about the beginning of her career. “I wrote for Jeep magazine … I wrote about healthy eating for a food company website. I also wrote a lot of profiles.”
In Miller’s case, writing about everything introduced her to the sport of running, and subsequently, her prized writing niche.
“I started running in 2006 because a magazine paid me to. It took some time for running to catch on, but when it did, I didn’t let go. I always write about things going on in my life, so it made sense to write about running.”
When You Find Your Writing Niche, Write It No Matter What
Your goal is to become a subject-matter expert on your niche. If your niche is basket weaving, then you’re the one magazines call when they want an expose on underground basket weaving competitions. If your niche is writing white papers on cloud computing, then IBM should have you on speed dial.
However, you can’t become an expert without ample experience, and the way to gain that experience is simple: go forth and write, write, and write some more. If you can’t find jobs in your writing niche, start pitching to publications. If your pitches are failing, write the stories anyway. Start your own blog. Publish them on Medium. Get them out into the world in any way you can.
The more you write, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more you have to offer.
How To Write About What You Don’t Know
The road to subject-matter expert is paved with knowledge gaps, and sticking to a niche requires a certain fake-it-till-you-make-it sense of ambition. If a client asks, “Do you know X?” you say yes. If a magazine asks, “Can you write about Y?” you say yes. Even if you didn’t understand anything you just heard, smile, nod, and then get to researching.
When writing about what you don’t know, your first instinct will most likely be to Google the subject in question. This route can be fruitful, and you may discover insightful articles, podcasts, and videos to help illuminate the subject.
But the temptations of a quick Google search can fog up your vision. A simple query for auto repair, for example, turns up over 250 million results, and it’s easy to get lost in the rabbit hole of web content. For a more focused research approach, try these tactics when you’re writing about what you don’t know.
- Interview a subject-matter expert. If your editor is open to the idea, interview someone who can speak with authority on your topic. If an interview isn’t an option, contact someone for an informational interview. You’d be surprised at how willing many people are to help you out. If you’re not sure who to contact, college professors are always great resources.
- Forums. Posting questions on forums and message boards within your niche can be enormously helpful. Personally, websites like Reddit have come in very handy when I’m researching a topic I know nothing about. Subreddits like r/webdevelopment and r/economics harbor a thriving community of people who are willing to engage in serious discussion about relevant topics. So find a subreddit that represents your niche and ask questions, reply to comments, and offer advice when you can give it.
- Join a local community. Hop on Meetup.com and find a group in your niche. Search for a local class or join a weekend workshop. Find out if there are any upcoming seminars on your niche. Local resources should not overlooked, and you’ll not only learn a lot, you’ll also meet people with the same niche interests. Those relationships can be very beneficial down the road.
- Join an online community. If it exists, there is a LinkedIn or Facebook group about it. Find an online community orbiting your niche and get involved. Now that geography isn’t restricted, you’ll find people from all over the world with knowledge of your niche. A global perspective on a subject can provide you with a more rounded sense of your niche.
To find your niche, parse through your interests, passions, and personal writing preferences until you establish what you want to write about, and where you want to write it. Owning your niche is a little more labor intensive, and there are no shortcuts. Your best option is to hunker down and write your niche until your fingers fall off. To learn more about your niche, join a community or befriend a subject-matter expert. Going it alone may sound glamorous, but there is wisdom in the crowd, and you need all the wisdom you can get.