Four Reasons Why Freelance Writers Should Specialize

by John Soares on May 6, 2014

niche-course-250Some may write for love, but most freelance writers write for money — and they’ll make more money when they specialize in one or more niches.

Don’t misunderstand: I really enjoy my main writing specialty. Creating college textbook supplements and ancillaries that help students learn better and instructors teach better is interesting and challenging, and it ultimately helps college students learn more about the world and their role in it.

But I wouldn’t do it for free, or for low pay.

You’ll get the most writing done in the shortest amount of time, and you’ll likely make the most money per hour, when you specialize in one niche.

Four Reasons to Focus on a Specific Freelance Writing Niche

1. You’ll become known as an expert in your specialty. Your publications list will impress editors and business owners, and many of them will contact you with choice projects they know you’re perfect for.

2. Since you have a high level of background information in your niche, you won’t need to spend as much time doing research. Plus staying current with trends and changing information is much easier when you focus on one niche.

3. You’ll be able to do projects faster because you’ve done the same thing many times before.

4. Editors will pay you higher rates because they know you have a proven track record and will deliver the goods. Editors want high-quality work delivered on time, and they will pay you well to get it. As noted above, for most of my freelance writing career I’ve specialized in writing supplements and ancillaries for college textbooks (instructor’s manuals, test questions, student study guides, Internet exercises, etc). As I built up my publications list and my contacts list, I won more and more projects, and those projects typically had higher per-hour pay rates. For many years I’ve made $50-$100 per hour. (See my e-book Writing College Textbook Supplements: The Definitive Guide to Winning High-Paying Assignments in the College Textbook Publishing Market.)

Develop One or Two Sub-Niches

I actually started my writing career as an outdoors writer. I’ve written hiking guides for various parts of northern California, along with a hundred or so magazine and newspaper articles. I no longer spend much time writing about hiking, but I do keep my two remaining books in print and I write the Northern California Hiking Trails blog to publicize the books and to promote hiking and outdoors recreation, and also protection of the environment.

Sub-niches can be related to your main niche, or they can be in totally different areas. Of course, it’s easier to develop a sub-niche that is similar to your main niche.

It’s OK to Shift Niches

For example, I still work on textbook supplements and keep a toe in outdoor writing, but I now spend significant time creating information products about writing and productivity.  I’m shifting my focus because I’ve learned a lot about these areas over the last twenty years, I want to share what I know, and I want new challenges.

The Problems with Being a Generalist

Some freelance writers can pay the bills by being generalists, meaning they seek any writing assignment that meets their personal payment and interest criteria. However, most generalist freelancers don’t do very well. Editors and businesses will be wary of hiring someone without a high level of subject expertise, and when they do occasionally hire a generalist, they typically won’t pay as much as they would for a specialist.

Need Help on How to Pick Your Specialties?

Then check out my self-guided course Find Your Freelance Writing Niches: Make More Money For Less Work. I go into much more detail about the advantages of specialization and I lay out detailed methods that help you pick the niches that best suit you and will make you the most money.

Your Take

Do you have a specific writing niche? What is it? How has specialization helped you in your career?

Freelance writers who specialize make much more money than those who don't. My short and focused course Find Your Freelance Writing Niches: Make More Money for Less Work guides you through all the key steps you need to take to discover the specialties that will take your freelance writing income to a much higher level. Click here for all the details.

    { 27 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Jennifer Mattern May 6, 2014 at 7:31 AM

    Twitter: @Jenn_Mattern

    Good post John. This is a topic I’ve written about passionately for years, and it’s one of the first things I try to help new writers with. I agree with you completely on the benefits of specializing.

    One of the biggest arguments I receive from generalists is that they’ll limit themselves by specializing. They say there aren’t as many gigs out there for a specialist as opposed to someone who will write about anything. On the surface that’s true.

    What they often fail is realizing is that, because of some of the things you’ve mentioned here, they don’t NEED as many gigs. They’ll get paid more for taking on fewer gigs. Building that expert reputation attracts clients to them which cuts down on the time needed to find new clients in many cases. And for the outward marketing they do they’ll be able to focus their efforts much better when they narrow down their specialty, which again makes it easier to find clients, not more difficult.

    As clients want more detailed content, having solid background in the subject matter is becoming more important. Being able to research things is great. But it will never be as good as being able to combine that research with real-world experiences and authoritative insight.

    Reply

    2 John Soares May 6, 2014 at 8:04 AM

    Excellent points Jenn. As you point out, the great thing about specializing is the much higher hourly rate we earn. This gives us the option to either work more and earn more, or earn enough for a comfortable living and spend the extra time doing whatever we want.

    Specializing as a textbook supplements writer has made a huge difference in my career. Many clients come back to me time and again because they know I’ll deliver high-quality work. I often go months at a time without needing to do any marketing.
    John Soares recently posted…When a Freelance Writer Gets Only Silence from an Editor

    Reply

    3 Cathy Miller May 6, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    It works for me, John. ;-) As you know, my specialty is health care and employee benefits/insurance. I spent over 30 years in the industry and my goal is making a complex industry easier for everyone.

    By many writers’ standards, I am practically part-time when it comes to billable hours. I need that flexibility for my personal responsibilities. My specialty niche allows me that flexibility by the level of compensation.

    As you’ve shown, it doesn’t mean you cannot have what you refer to as sub-niches. In fact, I developed an entirely foreign specialty (for me) in logistics management when one client left her health care organization to go to a logistics management company. She liked working with me (the feeling was very mutual) and she liked my writing so she taught me the new niche. :-)
    Cathy Miller recently posted…My Google+ YouTube Fiasco

    Reply

    4 John Soares May 6, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    Cathy, I’ve also found that having a lucrative niche allows me to work part-time when I want to. It allows me to take off many weeks a year to go hiking and exploring.

    And within my main niche, I moved from working on political science textbooks to working in subjects in many areas in which I had little academic experience, including an MBA course in marketing.
    John Soares recently posted…Why Freelance Writers Often Miss Deadlines

    Reply

    5 Anne Wayman May 6, 2014 at 10:15 AM

    Twitter: @annewayman

    Good post John, although when I’m working with my coaching clients I emphasize picking any niche to get started. So many seem to feel it’s a life-time commitment and that there is only one perfect niche for them.

    So pick a niche to get started, change niches when desire or life takes you in that direction.

    You and Jenn are so right about working in familiar territory means doing less work because you’ve become an expert and can charge more.
    Anne Wayman recently posted…3 Secrets To Responding To A Freelance Writing Job Ad

    Reply

    6 John Soares May 6, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    Totally agree about switching niches. I started as an outdoors writer and shifted to textbook publishing. Sometimes we’re just guided/directed to a specific niche.
    John Soares recently posted…Six Copy Editing Tips for Freelance Writers

    Reply

    7 Lori Ferguson May 6, 2014 at 11:00 AM

    Twitter: @lorilferguson

    Good article, John. Another benefit of focusing in on one or two niches is that you’re likely gravitating to them for a reason–past work experience, a passionate hobby, etc.–which means you almost certainly have already established a network in the specialty. That makes it easier to prospect, let people in the field know you’re available, and may even provide a bit of advance vetting. For instance, I’ve worked in communications at both Princeton University and Harvard Business School Publishing, so when I call a secondary school or college about writing for them/their alumni magazine, that sort of thing, I already have ‘street cred’ in a manner of speaking.

    Thanks for continuing to share your knowledge!

    Reply

    8 John Soares May 6, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    LYou are so right about how we gravitate to certain niches Lori. I cover this in detail in my Find Your Freelance Writing Niches course.

    And having the “street cred” of having written for Ivy League schools will definitely help you work for educational institutions lower down. (I’m impressed by your Princeton/Harvard experience!)
    John Soares recently posted…How to Align Your Writing Income with Your Career Goals

    Reply

    9 Lori Ferguson May 6, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    Twitter: @lorilferguson

    I’ve actually taken your ‘Find Your Freelance Writing Niches’ course, John, and found it very helpful. :-)

    Reply

    10 John Soares May 6, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    Thank you Lori! I’m glad the course helped you.
    John Soares recently posted…Successful Freelance Writers Do These Small Things Early

    Reply

    11 Samar May 6, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    Twitter: @samarowais

    I’m with you on specializing, John. But I’ve never understood the idea of specializing by topic. That’s probably because I’m interested in multiple subjects and have a tendency to find connections between them.

    When it comes to specialization, I prefer to do so in the kind of writing I do rather than topic.

    I started off as a freelance writer who wrote web copy, sales copy, product descriptions etc. I slowly moved to blogging and it has now become my biggest source of income… and my specialization in a way.
    Samar recently posted…10 Step Guide To Setting Up Your Freelance Writing Business For Success (From Day One)

    Reply

    12 John Soares May 6, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    There are two main ways to specialize: by type of business and by type of writing. Some writers also combine the two, like writing white papers software companies or writing sales pages for apparel companies.

    Sounds like you’ve found a way to make specialization work for you!
    John Soares recently posted…Two Motivating Questions I Ask Myself Every Morning

    Reply

    13 Matthew May 6, 2014 at 11:43 PM

    Twitter: @settermjd

    Hey John,

    thanks for sharing. I’ve been a freelance writer (tech) for some time now and wholeheartedly agree that it’s more satisfying specialising in a few niches.

    Given tech is such a diverse topic specialising in sub-niches is even more satisfying, mainly because of points 2 & 3. There’s always so much to learn and keep up with. So a narrower, more specific, focus really helps.

    Thanks kindly.

    Reply

    14 John Soares May 7, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    Matthew, I’ve also specialized in sub-niches of textbook supplement writing, both by subject and by type of project. However, I’m open to new subjects and projects that interest me and that I can do efficiently.
    John Soares recently posted…The Power of a Small Website for House-Sitting Writers

    Reply

    15 Amir Sibboni May 7, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    I have been writing for many industries in the last few years, including tanning, electrical, and security, but the research almost takes up all of my time. I’ve actually never considered specializing since it always felt like I would be limiting myself. Of course, I had no idea that people would pay more for a specialist, even though that’s common sense, isn’t it?

    Anyway, thank you for this post. It helped me greatly!

    Reply

    16 Stephen Quinn May 7, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    Twitter: @quinn_pens

    Hello John,

    I actually came across this (your) website about a week ago via the Freelance Writers Den. At the time, I was looking at websites to emulate because I am new to the freelance writing field. I was surprised to see that your chosen niche – textbook supplements is similar to my main interest right now.

    I went back to college to complete my bachelors degree here in New England. Before this I was attending community college in San Diego. There was a several year gap before I got back to college here.

    I love college courses. I enjoy doing research papers ( that may sound crazy). My main interests are Geography, some of the Social Sciences (as near as I can figure), and Literature. I have always enjoyed Literature courses. I just recently discovered my keen interest in the other mentioned disciplines.

    I also worked on a web site that often required researching sources and writing the articles from early 2009 until the present – without pay. I have over 200 articles on that site but only about 20 – 25 are of any substantial length. My main focus on this website is mostly science related articles. But I have since realized I have more interest in Geography and some of the Social Sciences. I also helped out others on other articles there.

    After deciding on a freelance writing career this past January I find myself wanting to write about the stuff I learn in college – as writing assignments and blogging. But, I intend to eventually monetize my blog – and I haven’t noticed any other successful blogs that write about scholarly topics.

    My guess is I would have to relate my blogging topics to a general audience in a way that interests them, and who would then be interested in related quality products (not half-baked products).

    Likewise, with writing assignments – I would have to relate my chosen topics to a general audience. Also, I would have to get editors interested in my topic so I could land that assignment. Have you had to spin scholarly topics for a general audience?

    So, after reading the above blog post (by you) I wonder if I would be able to break into something related to college textbook writing. Or go into other aspects of this field such as writing supplements?

    Coincidentally, my first blog post that I just posted is focused on two research papers I did for a Cultural Anthropology course. There is a link to ResearchGate where these papers are posted. These are ultimately intended for my portfolio. I have others in the pipeline.

    Would you mind taking a look at how I set this up with a blog blurb and links (and let me know what you think) ? If you have time – that is.

    I am not looking for a critique on the website, by the way. I am still working on the website so don’t mind how it is setup – it is undergoing changes.

    Sorry if this comment is too long.
    Stephen Quinn recently posted…A Tale of Two Anthropolgy Papers

    Reply

    17 John Soares May 8, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    Stephen, creating a successful blog that generates substantial money is a very daunting task. Very few bloggers are able to do it.

    I suggest you focus on making money as a freelance writer. You said you’re interested in higher education, so consider doing what I do: creating textbook supplements. I see from your comment below that you found the page for my ebook Writing College Textbook Supplements. That’s the best way to get started.

    Also go through the bootcamps and courses in the Freelance Writers Den.
    John Soares recently posted…How to Align Your Writing Income with Your Career Goals

    Reply

    18 Stephen Quinn May 7, 2014 at 10:23 PM

    Twitter: @quinn_pens

    I may have just answered one of my questions – at least partially. I just found the page to purchase your book “Writing College Textbook Supplements”.

    Well, you can count on me buying this, and I’m looking forward to reading it.
    Stephen Quinn recently posted…A Tale of Two Anthropolgy Papers

    Reply

    19 John Soares May 8, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    I think you’ll find it very useful Stephen.
    John Soares recently posted…Six Copy Editing Tips for Freelance Writers

    Reply

    20 Kaloyan Banev May 7, 2014 at 11:17 PM

    Twitter: @webmaisterpro

    No doubt about it. I personally would never hire a writer who doesn’t specilize in particular niche. The opposite will simply lead to shallow article.
    Kaloyan Banev recently posted…How to Improve eCommerce Checkout Process

    Reply

    21 Damian Chmiel May 12, 2014 at 4:42 AM

    3 times YES! One year ago I decided – “you cannot write about everything!” I’ve chosen three main topics where I feel the most comfortable and which are fun for me to write. And? Now I have to work less, I do not get bored nor frustrated in my work and earnings are better :)

    Reply

    22 Lori May 12, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    Twitter: @LoriWidmer

    Great post, John!

    I hear writers saying they don’t specialize, and usually for the reason Jenn states. But I contend that on some level, we all have a specialized area.

    I know as a specialist, I’m getting top dollar right now because I have an expertise in one area, and a reputation as the go-to writer for that topic. I couldn’t get that in a generalized career. Right now, clients tell me how expert I am at something, which is kind of awkward since I’m a five-minute scholar. :) Sure, I get their industry, but I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as their industry gurus.

    But that’s the thing — you get seen answering the questions they have. That gets you noticed and, as Jenn says, gets you paid more for less work.

    Reply

    23 John Soares May 12, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    Lori, for me it’s all about getting “… paid more for less work.” That, and getting to work in niches I really love.
    John Soares recently posted…Successful Freelance Writers Do These Small Things Early

    Reply

    24 Jyoti Chauhan May 15, 2014 at 1:56 AM

    Twitter: @JSCVats

    Hi John,

    You wrote a killer post, writing in one niche helps to pay huge amount and gets lot of projects by reference easily, when you write for same niche from a long time, people and client like your work due to your good work.

    Thanks for sharing such great post :)

    Regards,
    Jyoti

    Reply

    25 Sagar May 16, 2014 at 1:03 AM

    Twitter: @wisestepp

    Nice post

    Freelancing is a very good form of earning money. Many people who have the expertise and subject turn in to freelancers to earn more money. The above post explains 4 major points or reasons to tell why freelancers should be expertise.

    All the reasons are very essential for any freelancers. This will help them in their own work . If they specialize in any thing they need not waste time in searching for content, can complete the work faster and save time. There will be more chances with people ready to pay high amounts.
    It is only beneficial in all ways.

    Great post and i hope this post would help all freelancers especially beginners in this stream.

    Thank you for searching.
    Sagar recently posted…How to attract more visitors to read your blog or website

    Reply

    26 Alicia May 18, 2014 at 6:21 PM

    The Contents of this site is great and very entertaining, makes you want to visit the website often for updates, thank you very much for the contributions made daily. Greetings from Colombia
    Alicia recently posted…Zuluaga se fortalece entre los escándalos

    Reply

    27 Wyatt Hunter May 19, 2014 at 4:39 AM

    Hi,
    Thanks for sharing such a great article about why free lance writers should specialize. This is very useful information for online digital marketing department. Keep it up such a nice posting like this.

    Regards,
    Wyatt Hunter,
    Billing Gurus.

    Reply

    Leave a Comment

    CommentLuv badge

    { 3 trackbacks }

    Previous post:

    Next post:

    Google