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Let Your Writing Niche Find You

freelance writing nichesHi Anne, can you help me decide on a writing niche?

I have been doing all sorts of writing, and know that I enjoy some more than others.

I think I have read every article on niche-finding there is, but am still confused.

I know they say that money follows you if you follow your passion, but… what if I’m not sure myself?

Taken from an anonymous survey.

Hi, I’m glad you asked,

I’m going to suggest that it’s folly to decide on a writing niche except in the most general way. And even that may be suspect. Although I’m sure there are writers out there who decided right from the beginning to write a particular type of novel or to do marketing writing for non-profits, etc. and have made it stick, I’m also sure many more have stumbled into their niches. Not only that, most of us find, over time, our niches change.

For example, I didn’t intend to write about writing. At least not until I did. It happened more or less this way.

I had just moved back to San Diego from the San Francisco Bay area where I’d done a bunch of writing for dotcoms and internet companies. I was reading a magazine I can no longer find and Durant Imboden wrote something about what was then called Miningco.com. They wanted someone to develop a site about San Diego, I applied, and they hired me. That job morphed over time to my becoming the guide to freelance writing at about.com, a gig held down well by Allena Tapia.

Then, as usual, I was following the directive we see so often: write what you know!

I’d stumbled into writing about running back when I was jogging. I began writing about 12 step recovery, a niche you’ll still find me in, as I sobered up, and about parenting when my kids were young, etc. etc. etc.

I did what you say you’re doing, “…doing all sorts of writing, and know that I enjoy some more than others.” I wrote about what I knew, and what I liked. In that sense I followed my passion.

Work the niche that finds you

But I did one other thing. When I found I could sell in a particular topic or niche that I liked, I worked it. Once I sold one newbie type article to a computer magazine, I queried others. As my computer knowledge grew I was able to write more technical articles which paid better. Eventually I landed a tech writing job inside. They also published a magazine and after about 6 months I moved to that department. That led, after some time, to magazine editing.


On the other hand, there are lucrative areas where I seem to have at least some talent that I haven’t perused much.

Profitable niche’s I didn’t pursue

For example, I’m a more than decent copywriter, but writing to sell stuff bores me so I don’t do it often. It turns out I’m also good at tech writing, but after awhile I get cross eyed with the details.

As I look back, there’s absolutely no way I could have planned going from running to blogging. Or from recovery to ghostwriting. Or from writing articles to editing magazines.

And you’re not the only one who gets confused!

Over at WhenGrandmotherSpeaks.com I’m trying to articulate my own sense of what today I might call sustainability, spirituality, and mindfulness. That isn’t it, but I’m called to write in that arena, whatever it is, and so I do. No clue yet how or if it will earn any money. I now have enough self-confidence to try something like this without any clue if it will work or not.

I’ve mostly followed my bliss, as they say, and enough money has followed me to make a nice life.

You can, most likely, do the same thing.

What’s been your experience with niches?

Do you have a question about freelance writing? Contact me with Q&A in the subject line and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Great response, Anne!

    One of my niches kind of just came to me, too, with a few “right place, right time” scenarios mixed in.

    Not long after I first started getting involved in mental health advocacy (starting and leading my area’s NAMI Affiliate Group, working health fair booths, doing news interviews, etc.), the then-channel editor of the then-health and wellness channel of b5media approached me about launching the channel’s mental health blog. She knew about my interest, and so I was who came to her mind.

    A couple of years later, that blog led to my being offered my current mental health blogging gig at Psych Central.

    And, after a couple of years there, my name had gotten out there a little bit as far as someone who writes about mental health issues in the celebrity realm, and I was approached about developing some materials for a former NFL player to use during last year’s Super Bowl Media Center/Radio Row event (the player had just signed on as the celebrity spokesperson for a mental health nonprofit).

    Looking back on it now, it all happened fairly organically. I think for many writers, patience and letting things happen naturally are a couple of keys to finding a niche you’re happy with (and prosper at) for years to come.

    • I love this advice, “Looking back on it now, it all happened fairly organically. I think for many writers, patience and letting things happen naturally are a couple of keys to finding a niche you’re happy with (and prosper at) for years to come.” Thank you!

    • Great example, Alicia. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Hello, Anne-

    First, thank you for what you do! When I first started writing my fitness column for our local newspaper (it lasted 5 years, pretty good), I read that idea from you. To start out with what you know and then, where you live. That expanded to ediets.com, fitday.com and on.

    Just keep looking, keep writing and reaching out to editors. I recently said to myself, I’m looking for a literary agent. So, yes, pulled my resources together and sent our queries. Granted, received very nice rejects but still hopeful.

    Keep writing and dreaming the dream. It’s fun writing and connecting with people.

    High Fives, Anne!

  • So what if you have three or more niches that you might write about? Personal finance, pets, history and business don’t seem to go together. Oh wait, self sufficiency is in there somewhere. And how do you find which way to go first?

    • So you write in each one… it goes together because it’s you and your writing business. And some of those can work together… Business and personal finance, while not the same, share something. Self-sufficiency and personal finance work together, and pets can fit in there occasionally.

      Go which every way offers to pay you first… watch your schedule. Prepare to raise your rates.

  • Thanks for this! The Nike quote applies, “just do it.”
    I think what holds me back is not actually wanting to write for magazines in print, and thinking that is one of my only outlets. Currently I undersell myself to a local newspaper for pennies and am afraid to let go of it, even though my editor is fiercely anal and I end up having diminishing returns on each article I write because of endless critiquing of rather banal details. He doesn’t seem to trust me, even after eight months of consistent work on an almost daily basis, and consistently good readership and feedback from the local public.
    All of the things I enjoy writing (about creativity, music, writing, exercise, life) I do for free on my blog, which I’m learning how to use. I write fun music reviews in exchange for free music. And lots of poetry. Following my bliss right now seems to be keeping a part-time day job so I can do what I really love which doesn’t pay at all.
    But I think that’s OK right now. I’m happy. And things will unfold as they’re supposed to. I just haven’t found a way to get paid to write about the fun stuff, (yet).
    Writing for me is necessary for my livelihood. I am finding myself and still searching for my audience. I follow my bliss…I have to to stay joyous, happy and free.

    • Krysten, if it were me, I’d move on from the newspaper. A bad editor can kill your creativity and cast doubt on your abilities. I had a situation a few years back where a client did something similar with me – frankly, after 15 years of this, you think it wouldn’t affect me, but it did. It took an outsider to tell me that the problem seemed to be on the client side before I saw it just didn’t fit.

      Try local magazines. I managed to move from newspaper to the city magazine fairly easily. You can do it. 🙂

      BTW, that would be my last name, too. My husband’s a Bean. 🙂

      • there are human beans, lima beans kitty beans and lori beans… sorry, couldn’t resist. I often make a song out of this for my cat and me.

        And your advice is right on!

        • LOL! He was raised in England. He’s been called Limey Bean. 🙂

    • Kyrsten, I’m with Lori… and let me ask, what are you afraid will happen if you do let the bad gig go? I had an editor like that and I did learn a ton from him. Once I met his standards I started pushing back. Are you in that situation?

      • Lori and Anne, thank you for your feedback. I don’t have a writing community here to bounce things off of, so I am working on sharing my experiences in blog posts and writing communities.

        I have a feeling if I let the bad gig go, I will focus more on writing the work I want to. Actually, Lori, after reading your comment I opened up a query I’ve been letting sit and am about to send it to a regional magazine. It inspired me to get crackin’.

        Anne, I have learned a lot from him about journalism and fact-checking. It seems as if he starts harping on minor details (for example, he asked me if a girl I interviewed really wanted to be called Sam and not Samantha and I was a bit shocked. That’s just one example. Another right now is how we are niggling over whether a woman who is quoted as calling herself a professor and works at two major colleges is actually a professor or if she is a lecturer. I guess that’s valid, but it seems a little bit silly.) when he is stressed out, which is a lot. I am kind of an empath, which shoots me in the foot often. And I’m a perfectionist, so I can be critical of others as well.

        He writes me essays on these details written in a condescending tone. It’s not rare to get a 6 paragraph email about some detail that turns out to be perfectly fine.

        I don’t like working with him, but I do like interviewing local people in my city. I’m thinking I’m letting him go in May. I’ve learned what I needed to and I’m ready for better gigs. Fear is there of course. This gig helped me during a time when I had little confidence in the local economy and very little direction as well, so I am grateful for it. I do want to open the door for new things, though. I’ve been writing for other people who love and appreciate my work, so I know it’s possible.

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