Share this article on Facebook
Narrow your Focus: Why Writers Should Specialize
by Kelly James-Enger
Want to set yourself from other freelancers?
Save time pitching, researching, and writing stories? Create a lucrative niche
for yourself? And best of all, make more money as a freelancer?
I have one word for you:
When I started my fulltime freelance writing
career seven years ago, I employed what I now call the "saturation bombing"
technique. I queried every magazine I could think of with a wide variety of
ideas. At one point, I had 54 queries outyet few were assigned. Those that were
assigned covered the gamut of topics from business articles to bridal pieces to
personal finance stories. Nearly every article concerned a subject new to me, so
each time I wrote one, I spent hours researching and learning about the topic so
I could write about it with authority.
Finally, I got smart, and started focusing my
energies on three basic areas: health, fitness and nutrition. In the process, I
quadrupled my income, broke into high-paying markets like Health,
Redbook,Self, and Modern Maturity, and hit the six-figure
mark for the first time as a freelancer. By choosing to focus on lucrative
writing specialties, you can do the same.
In The Beginning
So, what specialty is right for you? Think back
to what you first wrote aboutmany freelancers find that their first assignments
involve subjects that theyre already familiar with. The same was true for memy
first article sale was to Cosmopolitan magazine. I wrote a
service-oriented piece about how to survive your "last two weeks" at a job after
youve given your notice. I had first-hand experience with this subjectas an
unhappy lawyer, I had changed firms several times during my short career, each
time hoping that the new job would be the right fit for me.
This trend continuedmost of the first twenty or
so articles I wrote were inspired by personal experiences. Looking back, I now
realize that I was pitching fitness ideas early in my writing career. Thats not
surprisingIve been a runner for eighteen years, during which time Ive
competed in marathons and shorter races. My hobby unintentionally turned into a
writing nicheand soon after, I branched into nutrition and womens health as
Youre No Expert? Think Again
You say you dont have a PhD? You dont need one
to focus your writing in a particular area. Your educational background, life
experience, and interest in certain subjects can all be translated into
writing-related specialties. When I teach magazine writing, I have students list
at least five subjects that they have specialized knowledge of or an interest
in. Make a list of your own to get you started thinking about possible
For example, if youre a parent, you can easily
turn your childcare knowledge into a specialty. Janet Mazur, a freelancer in
Ocean Grove, New Jersey, had written about a variety of subjects. When she
became a parent, she decided to add parenting and child care articles to her
list of writing areas.
"It seemed a logical transition," says Mazur.
"And frankly, I've written partially for selfish purposes when it comes to
parenting. For example, there are so many things I wanted to know and explore
a new mom, at home by choice, I yearned to connect with other women in the same
boat." Mazurs first parenting story was a feature for a newspaper on how new
moms could hook up with each other.
Another benefit of choosing a specialty that
reflects your life is that youre often provided with an inexhaustible supply of
story ideas. "It is one of the unexpected bonuses of having children and being a
writera gift, really," says Mazur. "Children are an easy source, an endless
well of ideas, because they change and grow all the time."
Creating Your Specialty
If you have experience in a particular industry,
use it. My legal background led to stories on what brides should know about
signing contracts with caterers, ways that small business owners can protect
themselves from discrimination claims, and techniques that freelancers can use
to negotiate contracts with editors. Writers who have experience in one field
can use that as a stepping stone to others as well.
Joan Lisante, an attorney based in Oakton,
Virginia, started her freelance career by publishing a humorous essay in several
newspapers. She then realized that her legal background gave her a unique
perspective on legal and business topicsand soon after, branched out to write
about medical and technology subjects as well. Specializing has made her more
efficient in her research and writing.
"I know lots of lawyers, so I don't have much
trouble digging up legal experts," Lisante explains. "Even in medical writing,
where I started out knowing no one, I've built a group of doctors I can contact
for future articles. That's the bonus of a nichegetting that network
established, so subsequent articles aren't as from scratch."
Youre not limited to one specialty, either. Bob
Bittner of Charlotte, Michigan, writes about a variety of subjects, but hes
creating a niche for himself writing about animals. "I wanted to break into
Family Circle and I wanted to develop a specialty writing about animals
and pets (yes, we have two cats)," says Bittner. "I had noticed that Family
Circle ran a regular "Pets" column, so I thought that was a good
place to pitch, rather than trying to break in with an investigative health
piece or a "Women Who Make a Difference" story. Also, I figured that they'd get
fewer well-targeted (and fresh) ideas for that section, so mine would really
stand out. I must have done something right. My first pitch resulted in an
With clips of several pet articles in hand,
Bobs now pitching to conservation markets as well. "For me, it's a matter of,
first, wanting to make a living writing about things that interest me," says
Bittner. "Following each of those interests results in developing a variety of
Will you create a specialty from the outset or
choose a niche after youve had a chance to write about a variety of topics? The
choice is yours. By pitching yourself as a writer with a unique background and
specialized knowledge, however, youll boost your profile with editors and
increase the likelihood that youll be offered an assignment. And in todays
marketplace, with so many writers competing for stories, that factor can only
work to your advantage.
© Copyright 2003, Kelly James-Enger
Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.
Other articles by Kelly James-Enger :
Check out the latest articles in
How to Promote Your Book BLOG
Find out what works.
Join the Writing for DOLLARS! group on Facebook.
Writing for DOLLARS!
is a publication of