I’ve heard this term used before, finding one’s niche, when it came to writers marketing themselves. But it wasn’t until I recently attended the Writing Day Workshop in Hoffman Estates, Illinois that I understood what it meant and how it applied to me.
This workshop was a day of lectures by in-your-face-giving-it-to-you-straight-no-chaser Chuck Sambuchino. If you’ve never heard him speak, you’re missing an entertaining and informational treat. The part of his speech I was most interested in involved marketing. Yes, I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn and Goodreads, and I tweet and blog as often as I can, but what I needed to know was how that translated into my writing getting recognized and read by more people. “I’m a writer,” I’ve said in an attempt to justify why I thought marketing myself wouldn’t work. My Twitter feed and Facebook timeline is full of other writers posting READ MY STUFF! information. And for a while, my blog posts consisted of writing about writing. Then Chuck talked about finding your niche.
In a nutshell, the term means finding and targeting readers who are more likely to read your work. Not your mother or your friends, not even other writers. But people who share the same interests in what you write. For example, while my published short fiction includes a variety of genres, my longer manuscripts are primarily historical fiction taking place in northwest Indiana. So my niche would be people interested in history, Midwestern history, Indiana history, and Gary, Indiana history.
The next step is figuring out how to find those people.
So I joined groups with those specific interests. I didn’t blast them with links to my blogs or flood their Twitter feeds with information on my writing progress. I interacted with them. Social Media guru Jane Friedman spoke at the 2014 Midwest Writers Workshop about writers forgetting the social aspect of social media. How many times do you click on someone’s advertising tease? I never do unless it’s an author or band I’m already a fan of. Or how many times have you opened a link with an intriguing title only to find it a bait-and-switch? Now think about how many times you’ve commented on an interesting or controversial Facebook thread or tweet. See where I’m going with this?
Be social. Comment on threads. Start a discussion on a topic relevant to your niche group. Ask a question to get the group talking. A lot of my Twitter followers are folks I tweet with during the Saturday night showing of Svengoolie, a creature-feature program out of Chicago. I don’t write horror, but I enjoy watching and reading it. And because I used my writing chops to post witty tweets about the movie, people began to follow. Some have even hit up my blog and began following that.
If you’re following my blog, you may have noticed I’ve deviated from my normal writing-about-writing posts. Those only reached other writers. So I began posting about my city’s past, mentioning briefly how it inspired my writing. That was the first serious uptick in readers I’d experienced in the nearly two years of blogging. Why? Because after socializing for awhile on those interest sites, I shared my history post with them and connected it with my Pinterest page of historical pictures related to the post.
I’m learning that in today’s publishing climate, whether the plan is to self-publish or go the traditional route with an agent or small press publisher, the writer is expected to do some marketing. The more readers you already have, the better. My friend, Julie Perkins, writes fiction. But she also runs a farm, actively participates in the agriculture community and writes on spec for a gardening magazine. Should she ever decide to publish a novel or chapbook of her poetry, imagine how many people she’s already reached because she’s offered them something of interest before!
So before you start marketing your blog or short stories or self-published memoir, give readers something about you to hang their hat on. It’s like falling in love with someone because you share the same interests as they do. If you want readers to fall in love with you the writer, make them interested in you the person first.