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I'm a writer and library worker who wears many hats. I believe a good book and a good piece of chocolate are the keys to a happy life.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Specialize or Diversify?

When people find out I’m a writer, the question that inevitably follows is, "What do you write?"

This is always met with a confused look when I reply, "That depends on what day of the week it is."

I'm one of those that let my imagination visit many different camps. I'm commonly referred to as a diversified writer. OK, some call me eccentric but we'll not even go there.

Depending on what day it is (very literally) I could be writing medical professional study materials and articles, consumer health articles, children's nonfiction, children’s and adult fiction, and many different types of religious nonfiction. Every once in a while I'll throw something else in the mix as well. Yep, I'm definitely diversified.

Every once in a while I'll try to follow a more "prolific" (read- makes more money than me) writer's advice. I’ll try to go the other way and specialize. I get too bored. There are many writers who do specialize. They choose one field as their area of expertise and write only in that area, building a specific name for themselves with a specific clientele. They argue that doing so gives you "expert" status in your chosen area and keeps your name and talent in front of a specific group of clients. There's less fighting in the submission pile when the editor recognizes your name as someone who has written for them before. Your name comes to mind if they need someone to write specific content in your area. (You wouldn't ask a sports writer to do an article on unique spices from around the world; you'd also be a little more wary of the sports writer who pitched that topic to you.) Plus, specializing means you already have a set number of places that you know to look for work and a set number of places that will take your work. You don't have to go searching every time for a market that fits what you want to write or be constantly searching for new markets to write for. If you have to research a certain topic for one client, odds are you'll end up with more information than you need to write that article. For the diversifier those notes may be tucked away for "future reference". For the specializer you already know 6 other places that carry the same type of content and could very quickly provide additional articles to them as well. It saves time and appears to make more money.

On the other hand I've heard arguments for diversification as well. I mentioned the boredom thing, right? There is also the nasty fact that our economy stinks right now. What happens if your target market area has to down-size, cut back or completely dissolved? If you've built a niche wall around yourself it can be more difficult to break in somewhere else if you should need it. Yes, you could probably take your focus area and find a slightly different vein for it. Many do. The other factor in the diversify argument is money. There are very few specializations that offer a big enough paying pool to meet the writer's bills every month. (Well, sure if you are Cosmo’s number one time management expert you’ll do it, but for the rest of us…) Diversifying means many different people are willing to pay you for your work, it means that they know you can take any type of work that can be thrown at you and turn it into something readable and interesting.

Here's how the diversification money factor works out for me. I write for clients who pay me within a week of my work. I write for clients who pay me within a month of my work. I write for those who pay me in three months and in six. I write for those who pay on acceptance and those who pay on publication (two very different creatures). I write books that I don't see royalties from for a year or more after it's written depending on the publisher and content. All that means is that in any given month my money can come from a variety of sources, it may not be huge but it always comes. I can't imagine holding my breath waiting for one specific type of pay to come through. If I have a long term goal, I can look at larger markets with bigger payoffs after a long delay. If I have an immediate need (like having to replace the washer last weekend). I can focus on those who pay more immediately. If a project completely bores me to tears I can reward myself for working on it by spending some time with a more fun project. I have options, depending on what day of the week it is.

So, what about you? Do you specialize or diversify? Tell me why, I’d love to know what the experts think!


Marsha Ward said...

I used to diversify, when I wrote for newspapers and magazines. Then I went to long-form fiction, and that was certainly specialization. Now I've committed to write an article for a magazine later this month, so maybe I'm back in the diversify camp--at least with one toe.

Candace E. Salima said...

A diversified writer, I like that. That is what I am and I never had a title to put to it!