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39: Do I need to niche down?

This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain talk about the pros and cons of nicheing–what is it and when do you want to do it?

Transcript

Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. It’s been a minute. I’m your host, Crys Cain, with my cohost, J Thorn.  

J: Hey, Crys. It’s been a while.  

Crys: I am officially in Costa Rica! I happened to have the lovely foresight to schedule both my travel day and my move in day to my new apartment on our normal recording day. Thankfully, because of our lovely summer slash fall of batching, we were good to go. And I am now in my new house. It’s pretty empty, but it’s lovely. And we’re getting back to work.  

J: Nice. Nice. What’s. What is your daily routine looking like right now? 

Are you starting one yet?  

Crys: I started one officially two days ago. So for The Author Success Mastermind Community, we have a yearly conference just for the members. And that started two days ago. We did two days and I used that to force me into a timeframe of I’m sitting and working, even though it was at the conference the whole time, like it was putting my brain in work mode. 

And I find that it’s really good. This is something I’ve seen this summer , when I’ve gotten back into work mode, there’s been a concentrated group connection with other writers that has helped put me back into full work mode. And that launches me into at least a couple of weeks of productivity. And then more chaos has come along.  

I’m hoping that this time we’re just going to sit down into scheduled productivity until the kids next to school break or whatever big thing is that comes in is a regular schedule disruption.  

J: Nice.  

Crys: Yeah, so right now it’s I get to work about eight, nine o’clock and I actually started off Tuesday morning before the conference started. 

I did a kind of a goal vision, not a planner really, but there’s this tool I use called the passion roadmap from the passion planner. And it’s just this quadrant thing where you say what you want accomplish in three months, one year, three years, a lifetime. I can’t envision lifetime right now, but I filled in the other boxes. 

And my next step, which I have not done yet is to sit down and say, okay, what is the one thing that’s going to move me forward in the direction I want to go most, if I start working on that one thing now, and then build a plan, step-by-step plan to do that one thing.  

J: My, my wirey brain’s thinking like, so how do you check off that lifetime goal one? 

Crys: Thankfully that wasn’t the framework. It is if you could wave a magic wand, whatever you would want to accomplish in these quadrants, without being realistic. So that definitely sets the framework of it’s okay if you don’t accomplish these things. You’re just like building a, Hey, if I were magic, this would be awesome. 

J: I’m just thinking of like my ghost in the afterlife with the checklist, did I accomplish my lifetime goals? Yeah.  

Crys: How about you? How’s things been going?  

J: Good. Good. I always put myself on a growing edge somewhere, like a into a place where things are crazy and chaotic and no one knows what’s going on because I thrive in that kind of learning environment. 

Which is weird because I get frustrated and overwhelmed. And, but at the same time, it’s really exciting to me. And the whole blockchain crypto NFT space is where that is right now. There were a number of things that I was doing this week and tokens that I purchased and discord communities that I’ve joined and just that cliche drinking from the fire hose, it’s exciting. And it’s just overwhelming all at the same.  

Crys: Excellent. I have some catching up to do on the NFT conversation that we have in the community. But it’s also a place where I’m just super interested in everything that’s happening. A lot of my investments are in cryptocurrency. I have a lot of belief in the fact that this is going to be our future. 

J: I am firmly convinced that this is going to be as big or not bigger than the internet was in the nineties. I think it’s going to change all of our lives that much. It’s crazy right now. And I know some people don’t want to deal with it. But I think in, five years or 10 years, a lot of this stuff we’re talking about now is going to be commonplace. 

Crys: It’s going to be very interesting how it will be understood by the society as a whole versus how it’s understood now. Now it feels very much like it’s a high tech, like you have to have a lot of knowledge, and to some extent you actually do, to participate, but at some point it’s just going to be the way we do things. 

Can you imagine explaining to somebody 60 years ago about email? It would have blown their mind.  

J: Exactly. Exactly. That’s the analogy I’ve been using too.  

Way back in the day, you had, you didn’t necessarily have to understand how the HTTP protocol worked to visit a website. And in the same token, you don’t need to understand how the blockchain works to purchase things in crypto. And I think that’s where we’re going.  

Crys: Okay there’s your nerdy segment for the day!  

This week, I can’t remember what prompted this thought for me. It did come from something in our group, but it was like a side thought in my question for us this week is do I need to niche down? 

This is something that is talked to in about in so many circles. And it comes down to marketing period because that’s how we sell ourselves. But I’m curious when I ask that question, what comes to mind for you?  

J: It is, that’s a juicy question. There’s so much that we can unpack here. 

Maybe we could start with… maybe we could question the assumption, which is absolutely you should niche down, right? That’s, especially in indie circles, that’s been preached for years. You have to niche down, you have to get very specific. You have to your thousand true fans, your, the Seth Goden, the 10 people who are going to tell 10 other people. 

This might be a time to step back and question that. I’m not saying it’s wrong. And I think for most people, that’s probably the approach you want to take. But I have a writer friend, and I’m not gonna mention them cause I don’t know how he’d feel about it, but he niched down for years he was in this serial, not serial killer, but paranormal horror, like very specific and just kind of didn’t go. Like marketing wise, sales wise, didn’t really make any money.  

He wasn’t feeling like he was successful and he went the other direction. He went completely mainstream thriller. I’m talking about the silhouette of the guy on the cover with the gun, in the city, totally right down the middle and is making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. 

He’s the same writer. His stories aren’t radically different, but niching down for him didn’t work.  

Crys: But wouldn’t you say that choosing thriller and not writing outside of that is in a form of niching down?  

J: Yeah, you could. The way I’m envisioning it though, is when you niche down what you’re essentially trying to do is you’re trying to target a very narrow, specific audience who are going to love that and it’s just for them and them only.  

The way I see it, that what he’s doing is going the opposite direction in saying, I want to write something that’s going to appeal to the most people possible. Like airport bookstore, Hollywood blockbuster style stories, where the readers are indiscriminately interested. 

Like they’re not, they read everything or they don’t read it all, but they really like these kinds of stories. In his production, like he’s being very niche but in his marketing, he’s being very mainstream.  

Crys: Yeah. That makes sense. 

The other example I have of the wider idea of not niching down of, someone who’s very successful at this, but isn’t a well-known name. It is Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I don’t think most people who listen to this podcast will have read her, unless they’ve been reading her nonfiction about indie publishing. And she and her husband are extremely militant, almost, about not limiting yourself to one niche.  

Their arguments against it are you never know what’s going to be the new hot thing. And this is not even just for people who are hot niche chasers. This is just for anyone who is I’m going to write this niche and this niche only, unless that is what you absolutely love to do.  

They say, you never know what’s going to be the new hot thing. If you like writing widely, write widely because you never know what’s going to be picked up and you never know what readers are going to be crossover readers. 

J: I think that is a wonderful approach if you are not under any pressure to get a return on investment.  

If you have a day job or you’re writing as a hobby or you’re writing simply because you enjoy doing it. I totally agree with that. I think you should jump around and you should try different things because you don’t necessarily know where your voice is going to resonate the most. 

You might think it’s paranormal romance and then you go and write some cozy mystery and people go nuts for it. And you have no way of knowing that unless you experiment. I think it’s where it gets different is where you put yourself into a situation. You have to make money to live on. And in that case, I think your room for experimentation, there’s not much there. 

 You have to find that niche, you have to find where it’s going to make the money. And then you’ve got to double down on that and you got to go the rapid release model.  

Crys: Yeah. So let’s talk about the benefits of niching, which can coincide often with the rapid release model. And I would say one of the, one of the major benefits of niching Is simply that you’re putting all of your steps in one direction. 

You’re pushing one thing as far as you can that makes your marketing easier. It makes your release plans easier. Especially if you’re writing in series, you’re building one, honestly, one product, even though you’re adding onto it every time.  

J: Yeah. That’s kinda, it’s the model that you used, right? For the romance?  

Crys: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s as niche as niche can be.  

J: Yeah. If that was the direction I would go, I would say go all in on that. Like you just said, not only write one genre, but write one series.  

Crys: One sub-sub genre series.  

J: Yeah. That’s it. And so you, and the reason for that is you can direct all of your marketing and all of your promotions and everything to one title. Because if you get that reader into book one and your stories are good, that’s going to drag them through the entire series.  

Crys: Yeah. People will be like who wants to read like this super niche, whatever, like, there’s not enough readers for that. But so many times I have seen in the super niche romance groups where readers will consistently say, oh, I want… 

I’m going to make a genre up. I want a gay mafia mermaid story. And if there’s only one story in that category, that story will consistently get recommended. It will consistently make money in a more evergreen way. So people consistently want this weird side thing and it may not be what the mainstream wants, but that one is going to get recommended all the time if there’s not a lot of competition.  

When you get into more of the nonfiction fast release kind of worlds or study any of that, that they recommend this kind of thing. Look for low competition, niche down become the expert.  

And you can do the same thing in fiction. That is in some ways, not necessarily going super niche, but niching down and putting all of your pennies in one direction, in some ways is more of the easy mode toward success. Not guaranteed, not in all ways, but in some way.  

J: Yeah, I’m reading one of Derek Sivers books right now. It’s funny we’re having this conversation because his advice to musicians is very parallel to what we’re talking about for authors. And he basically said, forget the mainstream music, write something that 99% of people are going to hate. And he said the musicians always come back to him and say seriously? You want me to write something that only 1% of the people enjoy? 

And he goes, yeah, worldwide, that’s 75 million people.  

Crys: Yeah. Even, if you found 1% of 1%, you’re still going doing great.  

J: Yeah. Millions and millions of people. Yeah.  

Crys: What’s your experience been with niching across all of the different endeavors you’ve had? Not just your books, but in general. 

J: I’ve gone through phases are, and I think this is something. I’m starting to recognize now that I’m, I don’t know how many years into 11, 12 years into this? I’m starting to… there are phases that I go through and it’s cyclical. Like I think things come back around.  

So like I started out hopping around a bit. I was writing some horror and some paranormal fiction and some time travel stuff. And then I went into a phase where I was only writing postapoc. That was it, just postapoc. and then Zack. And I did a lot of that.  

And now I’m in a different phase where I’m experimenting a little bit, like I’m getting more into parody and some comedy stuff. I think I have a comedy angle that might not even exist as a genre. And I’m really excited about pursuing that.  

So I think it’s dependent on where you are in your career and that it can change over time. That’s the thing we always talk about is if you make a decision and you don’t like it, then you just make another one. 

Crys: Yeah. Our ADHD listeners will be very familiar with that cyclical nature of hyper fixation, which often will be on like one genre or one series, then getting bored and jumping to something completely different.  

I’ve heard so many people get upset with themselves because they didn’t stick with the thing that, if I’d kept with it, it would have become successful. 

One. There’s no guarantee. Two, sometimes to feed your brain, you need to go magpie mode. And now that doesn’t give you an excuse to be a slacker.  

J: Okay.  

Crys: But I think you have to know yourself and know when you need a break to do something new, to refuel.  

J: Good point. Totally agree.  

Crys: When JP and I over on Write Away Podcast had a conversation with Dana K aye which was on branding, one of the things we asked her was, when we have all of these, when we’re multi-passionate, when we have all of these different pieces that we have, not just genres, but our non-fiction selves, and we’re really reluctant to create different threads or personas for each element…  

We want to keep them all together, cause that’s the only way our brains can actually handle things. Is that a problem? Because so often the advice is: keep all of your separate… product lines, I guess? So like your non-fiction self, your fiction, self separate because of marketing ease, particularly for authors, the Amazon, algorithm likes you to stay in your lane. It doesn’t like you crossing into lanes.  

So a lot of the times the advice is if you’re going to do multiple niches, have multiple pen names. That’s crazy-making for my brain. Can’t do it. That’s a lot of work. And one of the things she says is find the thread line that’s the same, no matter what.  

Cause you’re a multi faceted human, but there’s a core that’s going to carry over from what you do in your nonfiction, what you do in your teaching, what you do in your editing, what you do in your writing. What’s that core. That’s going to always draw people toward you. 

You can do sections out within, once you have your basket, you can put little separators in your basket. Go ahead and keep it all in one basket and figure out what that basket looks like.  

J: Yeah. If you’re making your living with KDP page reads, then you can’t afford to do that. 

You can’t confuse the algorithm. You have to have a single name, a single genre. But if you’re taking a more long-term approach and your books are wide and you’re not dependent on the Amazon algorithm, there’s no reason why you can’t write different genres with the same name. 

Crys: Absolutely.  

I guess my question for our listeners would be how much are they niching down? Is that something that they are trying to do right now? Or are they a bit more scattered jumpy? I’m curious how they would describe themselves. 

J: Great question. I’d love to hear it too.  

Crys: If you would like to join in on these conversations in real time, you can check us out at www.theauthorsuccessmastermind.com, where we having a thriving community of energetic and dedicated authors. 

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