A guest post by Brenna Fender
Recently, I had the unfortunate need to visit a urologist. During the “getting to know you” phase of our appointment, he asked me what I did for a living.
“Oh really? Neat! What do you write about?” he asked.
“Dog sports,” I replied.
“Dogs and sports. That’s interesting,” he said.
“No, dog sports. Like, sports people do with their dogs.”
And then I tried to briefly explain what I write about every day. He seemed pretty incredulous that someone could make a living writing about something that he didn’t know even existed. But I do, and so can you.
I wrote my first published article in the late 1990s. I started by writing about what I knew and felt passionate about: the sport of dog agility. I was an ardent competitor with an unusual breed of dog and I felt moved to write about it. There was one main publication that served the sport, so I found an email address inside the masthead of the magazine and sent a query letter and the finished product. They agreed to run it and offered me a year’s subscription in return. I thought that was awesome.
I started looking for other outlets for this same type of writing. I found several additional dog sport magazines, and referred to my first published article while pitching new ones. I got several assignments (and free subscriptions) this way. And then I submitted another idea to the first magazine, Clean Run, and they accepted it. I already had a free subscription, so, you know, they paid me actual money. And that, my fellow writers, was even more awesome.
Clean Run kept buying my articles for a variety of reasons:
- I offered relevant ideas
- I proofed my articles eleventy million times so that the editors didn’t have much extra work to do
- I followed instructions, and I always turned assignments in on time. Editors in small niche publications appreciate those things (as do editors of giant magazines, I imagine).
By being reliable and persistent, I got more work. I also found another dog sport magazine that actually paid their writers too, and I started pitching ideas to them. I now write steadily for them as well.
The publisher of Clean Run Magazine went to a large national dog agility event to do some reporting in conjunction with the organization’s website and asked if I would go along with her to help. I agreed and attended as a paid reporter. At the event, I met the president of the organization (the United States Dog Agility Association), whom I’d interviewed via email and phone previously for various articles. He already knew me as a persistent writer because I often politely nagged him for his responses. Sometime later, he called me and asked me if I’d like to become the editor for a subscription portion of his website. Of course, I said “Yes.” By then I had also accepted an associate managing editor position with Clean Run. It wasn’t long before the USDAA started doing a quarterly newsletter, with me as editor.
More than 10 years into my freelance writing career, I make a living freelance writing almost exclusively for three magazines/organizations and their websites, editing for two, and doing social media for those two as well. I run a facebook page, two twitters, and some Yahoo! groups. And every single one of them is related to dog sports. A little niche, with, apparently, a lot of writing opportunities.
To get into niche writing, you need to know the subject well. While you can research and write on a topic for a general magazine without having a lot of background in the subject, that is not going to work for niche publications. You need to have a lot of first-hand knowledge and have access to many resources related to the subject.
If you have a hobby or other topic that you’d love to get paid to write about, do some research. Look for websites, magazines, and organizations that serve that niche. You might have to write for free at first to get your foot in the door because many of these groups are more a labor of love than a majorly profitable organization. But if you do write for free, make sure you are getting something out of it that’s worth it to you. A free subscription or live links to your blog are two examples. Don’t make a practice of writing for free because it undermines the rest of us and don’t let them take advantage of you.
Be polite but persistent. Be fearless. Always say “yes” to work and then figure out how you’ll do it later. And then do it well, make it error-free, and turn it in on time. It’s really not hard. It’s just… well, it’s kind of hard. But it’s not rocket science.
One last thing about writing for niche publications: they are probably part of small, interconnected communities. Don’t burn any bridges or be indiscrete. You never know when you’ll need someone as a source, or when that someone might need a writer.
What’s been your experience in finding and profiting from niche writing?
Image from http://www.sxc.hu