Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Into Something Special

Spring is here once again—well, it is if you live in someplace warm. It’s a time for renewal and optimism, a time for looking beyond what you’ve accomplished into new waters. If you’ve been freelancing for a while and are just sort of floating along, perhaps it’s time to consider developing a specialty.

If you’re a good writer, you should be able to write about anything. Right? Not exactly. In the world of freelance writing, there are two groups, generalists and specialists. The former is a person who writes fairly well on just about any topic. These writers usually sell their work to local or regional publications. The latter is a person who writes knowledgeably and passionately about a particular subject.

The difference between these two types of writers is the difference between the words “subject” and “topic.” Understanding that difference can make a mediocre writer shine. A subject is a broad category, perhaps travel. A topic is a specific idea within the subject. You’d think that the two should be reversed for generalists and specialists. But they’re not.

As a generalist, you’ll write about a variety of topics, none of them in depth. Switching from one topic to a completely different one constantly uses a lot of energy and resources. You’ll have to do two or three times the research because you most likely won’t know anything about each topic. While some may be related, most won’t be.

But as a specialist, you’ll have studied a subject extensively. In short, you’ll become somewhat of an expert. So instead of writing about just one topic, you’ll write about many topics within the realm of that subject. Instead of writing about travel and switching from one country to another, you would write about just one country or group of countries, say Italy, in depth. But won’t that limit my markets, you ask? It might, but on the other hand, once editors get to know how much you know about a subject, they’ll seek you out.

So how do you go about developing a specialty. Learning about a particular subject can take years, but it’s possible to get a running start in about two years. That means you’ll still have to write generally while you’re learning.

The first step you want to take is to study the markets for your subject. If there has been a lot of writing done on it, then perhaps you should consider another subject altogether. However, if the topics you’re planning to write about are a bit overdone, you may want to consider others. If little has been written on the subject, say Norway, then perhaps the market isn’t big enough to specialize in that subject.

After you’ve researched the markets and decided whether to specialize in your subject, find one or two really good general books about the subject in which you plan to specialize. Read them not once but several times. Learn all about your subject.

Next, find articles on your subject and study them to see what other writers are doing on the same subject. Begin with your interests. If your specialty is Italy, what about that country interests you—history, food, culture, politics, etc.  Watch videos related to your subject.

Develop a network of resources. Search the Internet for Web sites and blogs specializing in your subject. Bookmark the sites and follow a few of the blogs. Subscribe to publications dealing with your subject, either in print or online.

Finally, and most importantly, begin to develop a network of contacts. You’ll need to know a variety of people who are knowledgeable about the topics you plan to write about.

After you’ve done all of the above, you’ll be ready to begin writing some short articles about your subject. Don’t make the mistake of diving in too deep and writing a definitive article about any topic within your subject area at first. At this point, you aren’t knowledgeable enough. Wait until you become an expert on the subject to do that.

Over the years, your knowledge about your subject will grow and so will your markets. Your articles will become more in-depth and insightful. Eventually, you may be doing half or more of your writing on that subject. And by that time, it may be a good idea to consider writing a book on it.

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