In the cinnamon hue and coffee waves of my Barnes and Noble, a woman with short purple and blonde hair approached me at the circular kiosk. Above my head, the banner that meant books, books, books, to any American book lover. It also meant that often people would come to test or argue with us booksellers about various topics.
This led many of us, including me, to be on high alert more often than not. This woman was different, though. Even from afar, I could tell that she was friendly, kind, and an open person.
“Hi there.” She beamed at me from across the counter.
“Hey! What can I do for you?”
“Well,” she said still smiling and holding my gaze. “I’m a local author and was in the area. Curious on if you have any of my books left that I could sign? I do this whenever I’m around and just want to update your collection.”
I was a young bookseller and writer trying to understand the wild world of publishing so that I could better grow as a writer.
Hearing this made my breath catch.
After helping her gather up her books and bringing them back to the kiosk counter so she could sign them and I could stamp them, I worked up the courage to say:
“I’m a beginning writer. Do you have any tips or advice?” I nervously added, “I ask every author who comes in this question!”
I did. And it never made it any easier. Talking to people who were making the dream work was absolutely nerve wrecking to me. It made me feel like I was speaking to high level wizards.
She smiled and politely told me, “You have that look like you’re a writer.” Signing another book and sliding it over to me, she went on, “If you’re serious about making it, the one thing that I was told when I first started out that I never listened to but as soon as I did my career started taking off is to find a niche and stick to it.”
That wasn’t anything new. I’d heard this from many authors who had come through the store. This time was different, though. She had said exactly what I was doing. I had heard the advice, but never put it to practice. And had yet to sell a piece or place it anywhere but in school papers.
“Go out and decide what type of stories you want to write. Pick your genre. Find your readers. Don’t stop writing.” Book after book she signed until they piled up between us like a wall.
Pushing them aside so that she could see me, she smiled. I returned her warmth.
“Besides all of that,” she concluded. “Write what you want and be happy to do it. Not everyday as a writer is going to be dreamy, so enjoy the process and journey.”
What is a Niche?
As soon as Sheila left, I grabbed a stack of books that needed to go back to their shelves and set out to find my niche. Honestly, it didn’t take long. A niche had been playing at the back of my mind for a while, but I had been reluctant to but myself into a box.
In my mind, I wanted to see my books and stories splattered across a book store. No matter what someone’s interest, I wanted to have a book for them. Ambitious, but even back then, I knew that I was going to be a high output author. But when I was first starting out, it was hard for me to focus my efforts and intentions.
I had ideas for fantasy stories, fiction, cookbooks, true crime, and more. That made it nearly impossible for me to settle on classes, articles, tutorials, or resources to use to help me advance or work in those areas.
I was all over the place and going nowhere.
But my heart was with the speculative genre. I realized that no matter what topic or genre I was interested in there was always a hint of the speculative. Plus, whenever I got near that section at any bookstore, my mind and heart soared. There are no bounds in the speculative fiction genre, only possibilities and hope.
As I put back books in that section, I paid attention to which subgenres or niches stood out within the larger genre of speculative fiction. A few made my top contenders:
- Science fiction
Now, those are broad niches, but they still target a genre, audience, and community. That’s what is meant by a niche. A targeted genre or section of a larger group. For example, cooking is a group or topic, but southern cooking is a niche.
How to Pick a Niche
I went about picking my niche by following my heart. I didn’t think about what was trending or popular, but instead focused on what I would enjoy writing. Like the advice given to me, the writing life isn’t all writing and daisies. A passion and love of the work that you do is beneficial to the perseverance of a writer.
It also occurred to me that many of the successful writers that I followed wrote in niches and genres that they had always loved and had a passion for. Horror was something that I grew up believing in. It wasn’t just a genre; it was what existed alongside our real world. So choosing to write dark fiction wasn’t something that was particularly hard for me to decide it.
For writers who have a wide variety of passions, I advise spending time making a Venn diagram of your top interests and passions. Where are topics overlapping?
For me it was the darker side of things. So all of my writing has a darkness to it. Well, except for my writing reference articles like this. Though I suspect that the darkness is still here, lurking beneath the prose, haunting you past the page.
If you’re feeling it’s safe to do so, do what I did. Go to a book store and follow your heart. Where are you naturally drawn too? Take notes of your interests and the books that call to you. What topics can you see writing about for a substantial amount of time?
Choosing a niche doesn’t have to mean that you are tying yourself down to one thing forever. You can have multiple niches and even change them as you move deeper into your career. It’s always advised however that you should never use trends to pick your niches.
The publishing world, even the self-publishing world, moves slower than the readers. Writing in topics or niches that are trending one day won’t guarantee that they will be trending the day your book is finally available for ordering. This can cause a lot of frustration when you’ve spent time writing about something you don’t care about only to see that no one else cares about it either.
Benefits of having a writing Niche
With a niche in my mind and a spark in my step, I took to my craft with a renewed fervor. Knowing what I wanted to write and having authors I could pick and learn from helped me:
- Find places to submit to
- Find classes and courses to take
- Discover communities of readers hungry for my stories
- Come up with an endless supply of ideas
- Sell my work
When I first started out, I always viewed niches as pigeonholes. I didn’t realize that they were keys to readers and communities. Choosing a niche opened up an actionable path to success. No more did I spend night after night in my closet turned writing office penning random stories without focus. I had a targeted plan of attack.
I became knowledgeable about the craft, about my niche, and about publishing. While I grew, I also had fun doing it. I wasn’t being pigeonholed. I had given myself the freedom and voice to write what made me the happiest.
Following my passions led me to getting my first story published and the story after that and every story since.
Using Your Niche to Grow Your Earnings
It took exactly 1 year, 8 months, and 7 days from the meeting with that author for me to make my first sale. I know because I sent an email to Sheila as soon as I got home. Her words of advice had changed something in me. The way was possible.
I needed to give thanks for that.
During those 20 months, I studied the craft specific to upping my dark speculative fiction game. That didn’t just mean that I wrote stories, I read deeply into my genre. Something that I have noticed specifically about the speculative genre is many writers will only read what was popular years ago and not what is being published now.
I read what was current. I focused on trends not to figure out what was selling, but to figure out what direction editors, readers, and publishers minds were going. I read what was current to see what places I could submit my work to. I read what was current to learn.
This helped me figure out what markets were out there for me, and I started making an excel doc. It included all the current publishers within my niche and what they paid. Knowing that allowed me to see how much I would have to write to make x-earnings.
It also showed me that fiction wasn’t lucrative. Even the top sellers in my genre of short fiction still worked part-time jobs in an effort to go full-time author. Nonfiction is what paid well. So I added that to my wheelhouse of things to learn.
Find what markets are the highest paying in your niche and practice writing for them. Work on your craft and target your stories. This is what I did by spending years reading within my niche and researching markets or publications.
Whenever I need or want to up my income or earnings, I turn to my excel sheet of markets. I’ve been updating it over the years, taking some markets out and adding others. If I want to up my earnings by an extra $1,000, I find markets that will either pay me that for one article or find places that will pay me that for a series of articles.
Once I find a market, I study it. I read back issues, interviews with the editors, follow writers they’ve published in the past. In essence, I consume the market. Master it. Then I begin submitting or pitching and don’t stop till I make it.
When I do start submitting because I’ve written within my niche for years, I have publications stacked on my CV that are recognizable to the editors. In some cases, I have even had the editors from those niche specific publications connect me with other paying opportunities or vouch for me.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:
The professional publishing world is small and only gets smaller as you work within niches.
You can use this as an advantage, as I have, or you can flounder in the vast sea of genres and niches and readers, never finding your home. But I wouldn’t advise it.