Friday, May 29, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 15: Establish a Niche.

Like a low-rent lout, I say it “nitch.” Highfalutin folks pronounce it “neesh.”
However you say it, if you’re a writer you’re supposed to find one, crawl inside, and close the lid. That’s how successful writers do it, they’ll tell you.
Writers who sell lots of books establish a loyal following by giving readers what they expect. When they see your name on the cover of a new book, having read other books by you, they have a pretty good idea of what’s inside—it’s a shoot-’em-up Western novel, because that’s what you write. Or a romance novel. A mystery. Science fiction. A thriller. History. Scholarly biography. Or whatever your “niche” is.
Establishing a niche leads to success for a writer, they say. 
And they’re probably right.
No lie, this time, to my way of thinking. Because if there’s one subject I am well versed in, it’s how not to be a successful writer.
There are, no doubt, myriad reasons for that. One of which is my lack of a niche. Everything I write is related to the West, but after that it’s all over the place. Novels that bear little resemblance to one another. Nonfiction on a variety of historic subjects. Poetry of the Western and cowboy type. Short stories in several styles.
Because of all that, my name on the cover of a book doesn’t say much about what’s inside.
So in the future, from now on, henceforth and forever, I am going to establish a niche and stop writing things that don’t fit.
At least that’s the lie I keep telling myself.


  1. Rod, You're right about reader expectations. I call it brand. Brand takes less wrist flexibility than 'neesh'. It is worth thinking about; but I don't think a writer has to climb in a box and seal the lid. Look at Loren Estleman. He writes westerns and contemporary mysteries. I suspect he enjoys a brand in each genre. Rod Miller probably has a poetry brand and a novelist brand; and a brand and a brand for whatever you do. A writer can go off brand in some new direction as long as you let the reader know what you're doing. Full disclosure is better than buyer's remorse.

    1. Always nice to hear from you, Paul. As an advertising agency copywriter and creative director for 37 years I have been through more iterations of “brand” bullshit than you can wrap a cinch around—image, identity, position, persona, promise, reputation…. “Brand” is the buzzword currently in favor. But you can substitute the word “brand” for the word “niche” and it all comes out the same.

      Still and all, my each of my books tends to go its own way, based more on what I found interesting to write about at the time than on fitting into a box labeled “brand” (or “niche”). It would be difficult, for example, to find any similarity on any level in the novels COLD AS THE CLAY and RAWHIDE ROBINSON RIDES THE RANGE.

      That's no way to build a brand. Or create a niche. But it's a fine way to find enjoyment in writing.