It’s an age-old question: Should a freelance writer be a generalist – writing about anything and everything? Or is it better to concentrate in one or two subject areas? Back in the day, it was called specializing. Today it’s called having a niche – same thing.
How specializing made a full-time freelance income a reality
Let me share my own experience to see if it might help you in your decision.
In my early freelance days, my part-time writing efforts had been varied, with sporadic sales ranging from children’s short stories to greeting card verse to women’s nonfiction to business articles.
Once I had accumulated enough sales – around 50, as I recall – to tell myself, “Hey, I could really do this! – I decided to get serious about my writing. Next step: I analyzed my sales up to that point.
● I listed each sale according to type of material (puzzle, juvenile fiction, trade journal article, women’s article, etc.).
● Then I compared the number of ideas queried in each field, and the number of go-aheads or assignments in each field.
● Next I compared the number of manuscripts submitted in each field, and the number of sales in each field.
● By comparing ratios, it was apparent that my natural “market” or niche was the trade journal field – It was here that I needed the fewest number of queries mailed to receive the most go-aheads, as well as the highest manuscript submission to manuscript sale ratio. It was the trade journal field in which I decided to concentrate when I initially went full-time.
When you focus (or concentrate or specialize) your writing in one, two or even three areas, several benefits result:
#1 – You have a better chance of reusing the research it cost you time and money to accumulate. It’s okay as a hobbyist to spend sixteen hours and several dollars researching a piece just because it’s interesting. But the successful full-time professional leverages that research into additional or spin-off material to sell at a much higher dollar-per-hour-invested rate. I like to call it “making your research earn its keep.”
#2 – You soon are perceived by editors as an “expert,” and receive more assignments. I recall when one editor was assigning me at least one article every year on a security topic. While I had sent her several queries over a period of many months on that subject, I never did score with one of my own ideas. But – and this is why specialization can pay off – she called me when she later wanted one of her ideas on the subject written. This concentration on a few business subjects (security, marketing, retailing) also led to several assigned article series – even one seven-article supplement.
#3 – Because you soon build comprehensive reference/source files in a specialty field, future writing in that field is easier and faster – and, therefore, more profitable. For example, I had already written and sold more than a hundred articles on retail advertising/promotion when I proposed my book, How to Advertise and Promote Your Retail Store (AMACOM). Not only did this help me get the book contract, it made writing the book a breeze.
Now, don’t take me too literally and resign yourself to writing about only one subject or performing one type of editorial service for the rest of your career. I’d be the first to look upon that as b-o-r-i-n-g. Writing about something different, or trying a new editorial service (e.g., book editing, copywriting, case studies) once in awhile keeps life interesting, forestalls writer’s block, and can even lead to unexpected profit centers. In fact, I now write about totally different topics than in those early days.
And the secret to specialization is . . .
The success secret is to concentrate at least 80 percent of your efforts in your proven success field(s), then experiment with or test new subjects and editorial fields with up to 20 percent of your time. Periodically re-examine your ratios, and you’ll note declining subjects and markets before they become “soft,” as well as spot new ones to pursue while they’re still “hot.”
Now it’s your turn –
Have you found benefits to specializing? Do you stick solely to one or two niche topics? Or do you portion your time so as to try out other fields – for variety or to test for possible future niches? (Be sure to mention your specialty – an editor or client may be lurking 🙂 )
Or – if you’ve had more success as a generalist, tell us why you think that has worked better for you.
Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net