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How specializing serves your writing business

To specialize or not to specialize—that is the question.

But is there really any question about the advantages of being a niche, versus a generalist, writer? For me, it’s long been clear that being a jack of all trades, but master of none does not lead to success as a scribe.

Like most writers, I started my career writing stories about everything under the sun. As a special sections editor at the Toronto Sun, I wrote about and edited sections on travel, home decor, cars, relationships, food, booze, self improvement, and so on. That exposure to so many beats helped me home in on what I did and didn’t like to write about. About halfway through my time at the paper, I started editing a weekly section about employment and education. It was that last area that intrigued me the most—writing about successful post-secondary graduates, new programs and courses, and trends in teaching and learning was really interesting.

It’s an interest that I slowly developed into a specialty after leaving the paper to start my freelance writing business. Using the knowledge I had built and contacts I had made, I started pitching mainstream publications about issues, trends and opportunities in higher education. Eventually, I started focusing more on education-sector publications—specifically, the alumni or community magazines of universities, colleges, education associations and private schools. That shift lead me to into communications consulting and copywriting services for the education sector. My experience as an education journalist gave me an edge when working with schools on their newsletters, brochures, website content and news releases.

The diverse range of writing opportunities in the education arena can be found in other specialty areas. For example, PWAC member Jane Langille specializes in health care writing, and has provides services to hospitals, health-oriented associations, health product manufacturers, health magazines, a plastic surgeon, and a vitamin maker. The same could be said for areas such as automotive, parenting, travel, culture and business. Another approach is to focus on a specific type of service. A great example of someone succeeding with that approach is PWAC member Gordon Graham, who’s nicely integrated his specialty into his brand with the moniker That White Paper Guy.

Becoming an expert in a specific subject or type of service helps you in the following areas:
Productivity: You can be more targeted in how you build your skills, prospect for new business, market your services, research story ideas, and network. Being this focused in your business development helps you to operate more efficiently and effectively.

Reputation: Being a specialist bolsters your professional brand: clients and colleagues remember you more easily, which makes it easier for them to refer you to others. As well, prospective clients searching for particular types of experts will be more likely to find you.

Earning potential: The more you know about a subject, or the better you are at a certain type of service, the more money you can command. My experience is that many organizations are willing to pay top dollar for the services of an expert, because they know it will give them an edge in their communications.

Want to learn more about the how-to’s and benefits of niche writing? Check out this PWAC Toronto Chapter seminar I am co-organizing with Krystyna Lagowski on Thursday, November 28: Pursue Your Passion: How to Succeed at Specialty Writing. Parenting writer Ann Douglas, mining and science writer Virginia Heffernan and food writer Valerie Howes will share their insights on how they’ve built their specialties, and how this strategy has served their careers.

Are you a specialty writer? We’d love to hear about how you’ve made it in your beat.

PWAC Toronto Chapter blog editor Sharon Aschaiek writes about education for media publications and websites, and provides communication consulting and copywriting services to post-secondary schools and educational organizations.

- Sharon Aschaiek


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