How to Develop a Lucrative Freelance Writing Niche
Imagine a “niche writer,” and you might think of someone who is limited. Boxed in. Pigeonholed.
Or maybe you actually envy niche writers because they obviously have years of deep experience in a particular field which they can now apply to their writing. And you don’t.
I haven’t been writing for decades, nor do I have any spectacular educational or career experience in the topic I write about most. I write for a variety of publications, from national and local mags to those entertaining booklets that grocery stores hand out before the holidays. Most importantly, I am able to make more money—and write for a much wider variety of clients—now that I have developed a niche.
Connect the Dots
Sometimes your niche is something you never would have thought about developing. This was certainly the case for me. When I started writing, I had a dream… I had an awesome dream. Lionel Richie would narrate my life through song while I wrote for the big glossies. Focus area? I didn’t need that! I could write about anything!
It went well at first. And then, I got frustrated. Each new piece required research into an area I was completely unfamiliar with. It was interesting and educational, but it was time consuming. When I broke down my hourly rate for these pieces, it wasn’t looking good.
I had written for a national food and lifestyle title when I learned about a new in-store magazine that was being developed for a big grocery store chain. I contacted the editor, flaunting my food mag experience. She immediately assigned me an article. A job had never come so easily.
Shortly after that, I was in another grocery store when I noticed this store had a much larger, very professional looking food-based booklet. I called up the publisher, introduced myself as a food writer, and stated my credentials. By the next week, I had two assignments for the publisher worth a total of $4,000. I had never had an assignment that paid so well.
Wanna know a secret? The articles I had written for the big food magazine—the one I name-dropped to get my other food assignments—weren’t even about food.
But I was familiar with the world of food writing and publication, and I connected the dots… and if you have even a few clips, you can do the same. Maybe you’ve done a round-up of hot new lunch box ideas, a review of a children’s book, and a article for the local newspaper about new policies at the elementary school. Who would be interested in all of these articles? Parents. Why not say you specialize in topics of interest to parents?
Once you’ve narrowed down your niche, it’s time to niche down your pitches.
Go long! Go wide! Go…less obvious!
Linda tells me many of her Renegade Writer students would love to write about a topic close to their hearts. This is a fantastic—having a topic you are truly passionate about is a great start to building a niche. Yet the problem is that many of these would-be niche writers think about markets where they would be preaching to the choir.
Having a niche sometimes means being an ambassador for your special topic. Give some thought to whether your piece would drive the average reader of that publication to action. Let’s say you love dogs, and want to tell the world how great they are. Do you think the readers of Dog Fancy magazine will change their thinking when they read a point-by-point analysis on why dogs are terrific pets? No. Those readers already love dogs, and except for a rare few have already acted on dog ownership.
Why not think about niche groups of people who may want to learn about a certain facet of dog ownership? For example, you could pitch a trade magazine dealing with geriatric communities on the perks of having a dog live full-time in a nursing facility. A magazine about Autism issues might want to run your article incorporating new research on why dogs are effective therapy animals for Autistic children.
Finding a Niche as Pitch-less Writer
The above ideas work if you’re trying to crack the nationals and trade mags. But one of the most powerful things about having a niche is that you’re no longer reliant on feverishly pitching new and unique ideas to editors. Custom publishers and corporate clients are excellent avenues for niche writers. I wrote dozens of pieces for food-related custom publishers last year, and they are some of my most reliable and best-paying clients. They come to me—the food writer—with jobs; I just send a quote and get to work.
Niche it Down
Ramit Sethi, author of the book I Will Teach You to be Rich, advises his students and mentees to niche down their business and product ideas. Interestingly enough, he calls out the title of a magazine devoted to women’s short hairstyles to illustrate his point: Short Hair.
“I will never buy this magazine,” Ramit writes. “But the creators of Short Hair magazine don’t care about people who aren’t going to buy like me. They deliberately engineered their product and marketing to appeal to people who will buy.”
To put Ramit’s point in writer terms, when you try to appeal to every editor you lose out on attracting the editor who is specifically looking for a writer with vast experience covering the tech market or health trends. Do you think the editor of a magazine looking for innovative lunch box ideas is going to respond better to someone introducing themselves as a “writer” or a “food writer”?
Art Thou Bored?
Once you niche yourself, you can still write about non-niche topics—you’ll probably just do it less frequently. Right now I’m working on three food pieces, as well as a profile on some cool local jewelers for a regional magazine.
What about the idea that niche writers are limited, churning out redundant work? Some of the assignments I have completed as a food writer include a piece on allergen-free foods and new label laws, a travel short that covered a cool restaurant and other food-related hot spots, a booklet on football tailgating parties (two of ‘em, actually!), and a roundup of beauty products with food ingredients. I’m not bored yet!
How about you… Do you have an area that could become a niche? Got some great ideas on how to leverage a niche so clients pay attention to your pitches—or pay more for your work? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.
Daisha Cassel is a writer who splits her time between all fifty states, Montreal (the Paris of Canada), Paris (the Paris of Europe), and Mogadishu (the most dangerous city in the world). You wanna step, mofos? You can contact her at www.daishacassel.com.