Should Writers Specialize?

Saturday, April 03, 2010
I've known since I was a young age that I wanted to be a writer. In high school and college, I wrote for my school newspapers. After working in corporate America and teaching both high school and college English and Journalism, I took the plunge into freelance writing.

Experts say "write what you know." What should I write about? Education? Writing? Cooking? Current events? I made a list of topics I felt I could successfully write about. Sure, they were fun, and my knowledge base in many of them ran deep, but I wanted to write and learn. Would I be able to write about any topic and sell a piece to a magazine or should I focus on one area and specialize?

Sure, some experts preach sticking to one area. With social networking and author branding, specializing may seem like a no-brainer. For me, specializing limits my writing style. I've been lucky. I've had investigative pieces appear in national magazines. Regional topics appeal to me and make up half of my monthly sales. And since I have experience teaching writing, I've used that knowledge to bolster sales.

What I've realized about specializing is this: writers need to find the best fit for their writing style. This month, a national glossy may want a 3,000 word article. Next month, a regional newspaper or magazine may offer you eight assignments.

For writers who do choose to specialize - and for writers in general - here are a few ideas to break out of your niche and find new homes for your work:

  • Branch out. Think about the subtopics associated with your specialization area. Under those topics, you'll find even more subtopics, and eventually you'll have a huge cluster of possible articles.
  • Consider the opposite. If you primarily write for women, tailor an article on the same subject toward men. Write for adults? Why not focus on teens or tweens?
  • Find common bond. I once had a writing teacher who said you should be able to write about any topic for any publication if your writing is strong. Look at a topic and consider how it can fit the editorial needs of a magazine or publication you've never queried before.
  • Renew interests. Even writers need to renew their interest in a topic. Are there conferences or classes you can attend that offer new insight? Sign up and learn all you can. Not only may you find new writing ideas, you may also find that you'd like to write a different style of article.
  • Understand trends.Use trends to boost timely sales. Look at trends and find a correlation between them and your area of expertise.

Determine if specializing will be best for your writing career. Discover what fits your style. Decide what writing goals drive your freelance business.

And then, write.

by LuAnn Schindler

Visit LuAnn's website or follow her on Twitter @luannschindler.


Analisa said...

Great advice!

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