The purpose of this article is to encourage you, my fellow writers, to consider writing for a second audience – one that is distinct from your present audience. Why would I dare to suggest such a thing? Firstly, because you might enjoy it as much as you enjoy your present writing. Secondly, because you may find it far more lucrative (though most of us are not in it for the money.)
My comments are addressed mainly (but not only) to those writing fiction, and I suspect they will be more useful for those who self-publish, or who intend to.
I start from two basic premises:
(1) All writers are capable of writing in more than one genre and for more than one audience.
(2) The key fact about good fiction writers is that they are good writers.
If you disagree with one or both of these statements, you should go and take the dog for a walk or eat another slice of carrot cake.
Let’s be clear: I’m not for one moment suggesting you should abandon what you are doing. Keep writing what you love writing. I’m suggesting that, for many, it’s a good idea to add a second string to your bow.
We all know the problem with the fiction market: it’s flooded. After we spend years writing a novel, pouring our heart and soul into it, we want zillions of people to read it (and review it). Whether we self-publish or not, we know that publishers expect us to do lots of marketing. We spread the word on Facebook and Twitter hoping for massive sales, and when they don’t materialise, we go on Facebook and Twitter even more to drum up sales. We overpost. Why aren’t people buying our book in their thousands? Don’t they realise how brilliant it is?
Most of us will have to accept that we won’t earn megabucks by writing fiction. Last month I read two articles about the average annual income of writers. One said £8000, the other £12,000. Let’s call it £10,000. Of the fiction writers I know, well under 10% earn as much as £10,000 a year from writing. They have other jobs. They do it for the love of it; so do I.
With the fiction market being so overcrowded, it is at least worth considering a second avenue, and I suggest finding a niche. Niche publishing means writing for a specific, limited audience.
Let’s take cookery as an example. For the general market, you have titles like “The Good Housekeeping Cookery Book” or “Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course”.
Examples of niche cookery titles are “Cooking in a Bedsitter” and “Cooking with a Wok”. The bedsitter one was a pretty neat idea, wasn’t it? Think of all the single people in big cities who’d just cut their mums’ apron strings. By the way, it’s just been reissued after more than 50 years.
As time goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a niche that hasn’t been covered. Rien de nouveau sous le soleil. So you have to find a niche within a niche, now known as a “micro-niche”. An example would be “Cooking with a Wok in a Bedsitter”. (Nobody has covered this yet – here’s your chance.) Then you get to a niche within a niche within a niche, e.g. “Cooking with a Wok in a Bedsitter for the over-60s”.
There’s a delicate balance to be struck here:
(a) GOOD: The more micro you get, the less likely that someone has written a book on it.
(b) BAD: The more micro you get, the lower your potential sales.
A bit more money
One thing is certain: you have a higher statistical chance of making money in a niche than you have in a universal market, especially the fiction market. Once you have found a niche you would like to write in, the key point is to write something better than anything else in the niche.
Fourth Level Niche
Let’s look at an example close to home. In 1989, I co-wrote a book called “German-English False Friends”. Look how specialised this is:
English Language for Foreigners
English Language for Germans
English Language for Advanced Germans
English Vocabulary Problems for Advanced Germans
That book is in a niche within a niche within a niche within a niche. Even at this level, it was not the only book in the niche, but there were fewer than half a dozen others. Co-author Alan Cornell and I set out to make our book the best available. It’s the only book in that niche from that era still in print. I don’t advertise it. I haven’t written anything similar for ten years. This year it sold 1085 copies.
I love writing fiction. I get a buzz from it that I never got from EFL. Those of you who write plays or poetry or biographies or travel guides no doubt feel the same. We couldn’t not do it. Yet I can’t escape the feeling that most of us don’t get the rewards we deserve. We’re not in it for the money, but we wouldn’t say no to a bit extra. Niche publishing could provide that extra.
If you’ve managed to read this far, congratulations. Give that last bit of carrot cake to the dog (or cat).