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No Niche for Me: Confessions of an Unabashed Independent

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“You need to focus on a niche.”

That’s what Jan Nathan, PMA’s executive director, told me seven years ago, during my first year as an independent publisher. I don’t remember exactly what question or comment of mine precipitated her remark, but I distinctly recall her sage advice at that PMA conference about how I should follow up my Infertility Diet book with another book in that niche, about how the people who succeed as independent publishers are those who pick a niche and stick to it.

I wanted to be one of those success stories, and her words sounded like great advice to me.

They still do. And I resolved to follow them.

So I promptly went out and, in the subsequent six years, produced the following:

    • two more children
    • a book on 9/11
    • several books on publishing
    • Publishing Game workshops (now given in 12 cities)
    • a dozen audiotapes
    • a handful of videotapes
    • a high-end kit and workshop on how to achieve media attention
    • several e-books
    • five separate Web sites
    • two email newsletters (aimed at different audiences)
    • two workshop-on-audio packages
    • tote bags, T-shirts, and baseball hats
    • a novelty mug
    • a Literary Agent Kit
    • a line of gift baskets for writers
    • a subscription Web site

“You need to focus.” Well, the two kids were sorta in the same genre as The Infertility Diet, but that was about it.

I still believe that the advice I got from Jan was not only well intentioned but totally on target: Sticking to a niche probably is the best route to publishing success.

The problem is, focusing is not one of my fortes. It was lucky for me that ADHD wasn’t a popular diagnosis 30-plus years ago, or I’m sure I would have spent my childhood chugging Ritalin.

Breaking and Making the Rules

In the 15 years before I discovered the joys of independent publishing, my experience included working at daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, magazines, several independently created newsletters, and a nonprofit association, as well as a technical documentation gig, a case-study-writing stint, and various forays into freelance writing. The longest I’ve ever held a job in my life has been three years. (That was when I was working for Digital Equipment Corporation, and the only reason I lasted that long is because I met, courted, and married my husband there, and was pursuing an MBA at the same time, so I was more distracted than usual.) I was never asked to leave a job–in fact, I was always enthusiastically encouraged to stay–but my attention span for any particular sort of work never seemed to last more than about eight months; then I got bored.

It wasn’t that I disagreed with Jan; I didn’t, and don’t. It was that my personality didn’t seem built for focus. Besides, Pat Johnston of Perspectives Press was already in the infertility niche, and doing a great job of it. But nobody is in my niche–because I don’t sit down anywhere long enough to be pigeonholed.

Focusing on a niche is an admirable, worthy, and profitable goal. But what’s most fun about independent publishing for me–and the reason I’ve managed to stick with it for seven whole years, a longer commitment than to anything in my life except my 15-year marriage–is because you don’t have to focus. You can dance all over the creativity map, inventing it as you go along. You can delve wholeheartedly into one area, and then turn around and delve into something totally different. You can make up the rules as you go along. (Did I mention that I also have a tricky time with rules?)

I still encourage the fledgling writers who attend my Publishing Game workshops to focus on a niche. I still believe it’s the best route to publishing success. It’s definitely easier to market several books in the same genre; it’s definitely easier to get shelf space in bookstores if you have several books in the same series; it’s definitely easier to build audience loyalty if you stay in the same space.

But when it comes right down to it, I’m an independent publisher because I enjoy it. And most of what I enjoy is the freedom to create my own map, and follow it my own way.

And now, excuse me, but I need to get back to the work that I love. This week, I’m putting the final touches on my Expertizing book, on how people can achieve fame for their expertise and media attention for their business. As soon as that’s done, I have an idea for a photographic book on children’s homelessness, written for children. I don’t know what’s on the docket for the following week–and that not knowing is the part I most enjoy.

Fern Reiss is CEO of Expertizing.com/PublishingGame.com, and the author of The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and the forthcoming book, Expertizing: Position Yourself as a Name Brand. Her Expertizing newsletter is free at PublishingGame.com.

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