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Why Freelance Writers Must "Niche" Themselves

by Susan C. Daffron, SPAWN President

If you've been a freelance writer for a while, you are probably adept at two or three types of writing. If you are a good advertising copywriter, you can probably also write good catalog copy and good promotional copy. A good short story writer can often write good human-interest features. Some good technical writers can also write good how-to articles and instructional manuals.

However, like the old adage says, just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. We've all seen writer Web sites where the person is attempting to be all things to all people. In nine cases out of ten, these writers over-promote their expertise. It's common to see the same person claim to be an expert at newsletters, autoresponder sequences, advertising copy, feature articles, technical reports, how-to books, sales letters, Web site copy, and motivational stories.

The reality is that too much information just confuses your potential customer. Claiming to be good at everything smacks of hype (or desperation). Both turn publishers off. Editors who control the most lucrative assignments want to hire experts. Do they want to hire a political columnist to write a manual about project management software? No.

Selling more than one skill set in the same portfolio, on the same Web site, with the same brochure and business cards only works if you have a strong, established client base and more work than you can handle. Otherwise, it's professional suicide.

Choosing one, two, or even three specialties can be an agonizing process for some writers. But remember that professional specialists always command higher fees than generalists. It's in your own best interest to sell only what you do best.

On the Internet it is remarkably easy to promote yourself to multiple markets. Just use multiple Web sites. For example, you might have a central company site that explains your business and lists your customers. Then you might set up a second site that just focuses on your newsletter writing services. There you can focus just on your newsletter experience. If you're saying, "but I don't have a Web site" that's a problem. At this point, every working writer today absolutely must have at least one Web site. It's not just nice to have -- it's expected.

When you are trying to decide on a writing specialty, always be sure to play to your strengths and interests. For example, a writer on technical subjects needs to be good at using computers. You have to be the type of person who is willing to read all those user guides. If you can't install (much less use) the software you are supposed to review, or if it bores you, you can't write about it. No editor wants to hear complaints about how your computer "won't work today and I don't know why." You need to be good at figuring out software and learning how it "thinks" reasonably quickly.

Similarly, if your specialty is writing about gardening, you had better have a garden. If you can't sell anything, don't become a marketing copywriter. If you think shopping is boring, don't write catalog copy. That old saw about writing what you know is true.

Your enthusiasm, or lack of it, shows through in your writing. Always. People can tell if you are faking it, and you won't get any assignments if your writing isn't authentic.

The bottom line reality is, if you want to get published, accept the fact that there's just too much competition out there. Then stop competing in a dozen markets and choose a few. Instead of trying to get every assignment, you can focus on winning the ones you can write absolutely brilliantly.

Susan Daffron aka The Book Consultant is the President and Webmaster of SPAWN. She is the author of 12 books, including Publishize: How to Quickly and Affordably Self-Publish a Book That Promotes Your Expertise. Susan owns a book and software publishing company called Logical Expressions, Inc., which offers book layout, design and consulting services.

You can read more of Susan's publishing articles on the Book Consultant Web site.



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