Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Niche = Reining Horses

I'm late, I'm late, I know, I'm sorry!!

And I swear, I'm the queen of niche writing, so I really should have a lot to say on the topic, right?

Here's my backstory. I was a horse crazy teenager living in the city. I had a single mom who definitely couldn't afford a horse. Or even riding lessons. So I found an instructor who would let me wash her truck and trailer, polish the silver and clean stalls for lessons.

My brother did the same and he was a total natural at riding. Me? Not so much, but I loved the horses.

After I graduated from high school and all my friends were deciding which college they would attend, I went to the school of hard knocks. I started training horses over in Europe and here in Alberta. By the time I was 22 I was riding for Canada's number one reining trainer.

(insert stupid mistakes here)

By the time I was 25 I was divorced and a single mom of a toddler. Horse weren't in my future again for a long time... assistant horse trainers were paid about $1000 a month. Day care cost $900. Yeah.

But I had one other talent. Writing. I'd always written, but I hadn't written with a purpose. Now I had a purpose, to write about the horses I loved. So that's what I did.

My first article was in a horse association magazine. I volunteered with them and this was my contribution. I also did some editing and proofreading and helped to sell ads in the magazine. My second article came a couple months later when the editor of a horse publication in Canada emailed me to ask me if I wanted to write for her. And she paid me.

And that's how it started.

I have had about 250 articles and original columns published. I'd guesstimate that 225 of those were about horses.

Even more specifically, my articles were about reining horses. If you Google "reining horse writer", I'm the first link that comes up. My niche is so specific that I'd probably guess that there are far less than 100 writers specializing in it in North America.

And it was the mastering of this niche market that got me my book contract. Don't think for a moment the publisher didn't say "OK, this writer wants to write a book about reining horses, let's see what else she's done" and Googled my name. There I was.

I wasn't a reining horse trainer any more, I wasn't even riding at the time, I had the experience of being THE WRITER for THAT NICHE.

So, how can this help you?

Think of your niche. Now drill-down three or four layers. Get specific. Here's how mine works:

Western Riding
Reining Horses

This can be done with any topic. Parenting, Olympic Sports, Cleaning, Religion, Writing... Drill down into the topic and find a niche inside of a niche inside of a niche and become THE EXPERT on that topic.

Then start your way UP that ladder, next I'd focus on Western Riding (other sports like Cutting, Working Cow Horse, Western Pleasure, Trail) then Riding.... soon I'll be Queen of the World considered an expert on a much broader topic. The Martha Steward of Horses. (Incidentally, Martha has some really nice horses and even she has written about the topic!)

Here's an example:

Life Stages of Children
Babies & Toddlers
Sleep Issues

I have a difficult time when writers say "I want to write about X" and it's a broad topic like religion or parenting or health. You can call yourself a writer of "X" and that's fine, but don't you want to conquer the whole topic? Don't you want to be well-known as an expert in your topic? If so, then you absolutely have to conquer it one corner at a time.

Pick your topic, let's brainstorm your niche!


Carolyn Erickson said...

LOVE this, Heather! Absolutely, positively one of the most helpful things I've seen on thinking clearly about a niche. And you've really done a great job explaining how you can be THE expert in "one corner" of a topic, but not be confined to just. that. topic.

Thank you. :)


Kai said...

This is a great post!
If we're looking at niches that way - mine is:
Mental health - bipolar and depression - Living, thriving and surviving.
I like that niche, and I'm well known in those circles as someone that lives with her disorders as a positive role model.