The Case Against Niche Writing
If there’s a common trait I’ve noticed that’s shared by a lot of writers I come across on this platform, it’s an over-abundance of self-confidence.
I’m, of course, talking about a very specific kind of self conference; the kind that makes a writer believe that they can guess what the reader really wants.
Writers want more than anything to accurately predict what the reader will desire when he or she is opening the Medium app on their phone each day.
Unfortunately for almost all of us, our creative genius just isn’t that finely attuned to the desires of the world at large to know what the reader wants in any given moment, and that’s ok!
Achieving the Coveted Status of “Viral”
The first story of mine to go somewhat “viral” was one that I wrote in late 2019 about apple cider vinegar. The article details the health benefits of ACV, then provides a simple recipe that a reader can follow to make their own at home.
For nearly two months the post went almost unread, as all my articles were at the time.
But suddenly, about halfway through December, the post took off. The world at large was thinking about gut health, so posts like mine began to surge in popularity.
For about two weeks, the post was viewed by thousands of people and made me hundreds of dollars. I could never have predicted this, and I’ve never since been able to purposefully replicate it.
I tried to build on the success by writing a very similar follow-up article that talked more about the health benefits of apple cider vinegar, but no luck. That post was forgotten and lost to the sands of time.
The cultural moment that cared about gut health shifted by the time January came along, so the post died down in popularity. But it still rocketed ahead of my other posts through January because the viewership it had enjoyed over December had propelled it to the surface of Medium’s algorithm.
Even after the moment was gone, Medium was still publicising the post as a response to the attention it had already received. So the post limped on until February when it died completely.
Capitalising on the Moment
PR firms exist to try and give companies the sort of buzz I received by accident.
They push a brand or an image out into the world and hope to god that it piggybacks the global conversation of the time and reach stellar success.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have articles take-off unexpectedly multiple times, but they’re all very different from each other, and I never ever saw it coming.
Some people have the gift of knowing what the feeling of the world is at any given moment. They spend a lot of time on message boards and Reddit and can predict an interest or fad before it happens.
Unfortunately, this person is rarely a writer, so that knowledge is lost to the depths of 4Chan.
But for the rest of us, we’re really wasting our time by trying to predict a trend and write an article to suit what we think people will be talking about tomorrow.
Instead, we should endeavour to write on a broad number of topics with all the knowledge and enthusiasm we can muster.
I’m aware that this advice flies in the face of the niche-writing wisdom of the elders.
The lovers-of-niche will tell you that keeping to your niche will build you a small, cult-like following who will read all your stories and push up your royalties with constant engagement.
But I don’t prescribe to this wisdom for a couple of reasons.
Why to Avoid a Niche
Firstly, if you have any dedicated readers, they’re likely not dedicated solely because of your content; they’re dedicated because of your voice.
My favourite blogger in the world is a writer who used to have a Wordpress blog called “The Secret Bookseller.”
I have no interest in selling books and haven’t been inside a bookshop since I was a teenager, but I love her voice so much. She could write about literally anything, and I would read it.
She’s given up blogging unfortunately, and I have no idea how to find out if she’s writing in any other capacity. (I really don’t even know whether she is even a she, I just picture her as a she when I read “her” work).
If she self-published a book and I found out about it, I’d buy it in a heartbeat regardless of the content. I love how she writes, and that’s it.
Secondly, I just don’t think you’re ever likely to ride a moment in time by sticking to just one topic.
We all love multiple things, and that’s what makes us all so interesting. On the one hand, I love finance and investment, but on the other hand, I love to make cheese and really love video games.
I’m not going to confine my passions to one topic just because I’m scared of pissing off some readers who thought I only wrote about one thing.
If they follow me because I write about finance and would unfollow me the second I wrote about video games, they’re not really interested in me at all, they’re interested in finance.
The problem with readers who are only interested in the subject matter is that they’re not truly loyal readers, they’re going to go wherever the finance writing is best.
It’s fine to have casual readers, but you can’t build your philosophy around keeping them.
One day it’s me they’re interested in, maybe because I wrote something no-one else has written because I include Chinese sources as part of my research (because I live in China). But then tomorrow the Motley Fool puts out a far more interesting story that I could never have written in a million years, they’ll leave me in a heartbeat for wherever finance is best at that moment.
Your true followers love your voice and would read you even if you wrote a 10 part series that profiled every character on Downton Abbey.
(Ok I was trying to give an example of something that would be boring to read, but I would literally read the hell out of that).
If your true readers are along for the ride no matter what you write, then write as broadly as you can and cast the biggest net possible.
In my experience, it only takes a few big fish to pay you a liveable salary in royalties. But you’ll never catch those big fish without first throwing the net out an infuriating amount of times. So keep at it, keep sticking it out.
There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of casual readers interested in an article you’ve written, but you don’t decorate a house for people who are just visiting.
Once you’ve built up a solid backlog of diverse content, you should notice a pattern in your stats that shows a rise and fall in interest in your articles.
Interest rises as something you’ve written takes off in the right moment, then falls as nothing you’ve written addresses the moment that follows. Once your stats follow this trend, you’ll notice that you’re still being paid even during months you’re not contributing at all. Your bases are covered.
Write what you love, all of what you love. Sooner or later, you’ll stumble your way into a hit!