How much of a specialist should you aim to be?

Easy Target

Some of the most successful ghostwriters specialize in a particular niche or subject, such as health, or business, or parenting. By knowing more than most about a particular topic, writers who specialize reap a number of rewards, from needing to do little background research when given an assignment, to being connected to major industry players, to establishing themselves as the go-to expert on the topic, whatever it is.

Because of their increased efficiency, such writers and ghostwriters have a better chance at earning a high hourly rate. Not having to spend hours getting up-to-speed on a subject, hunting down the foremost experts in the subject, and having a strong sense of what has already been reported on a topic reduces the amount of time required to complete an assignment. That is true whether the ghostwriter is crafting an op-ed piece for the local newspaper, penning an article for an industry trade magazine, or writing a comprehensive book. Kelly James-Enger wrote Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own writing specialty and make more money! to highlight all of the reasons writers should consider specializing.

I, personally, recommend that ghostwriters specialize, for all the reasons mentioned above. When potential clients approach the Association of Ghostwriters for help in identifying a qualified ghostwriter for their project, they generally want to see that the individual has written extensively in that genre or niche. They want a specialist.

A client in need of a ghostwriter who specializes in travel will expect to see writing samples that demonstrate familiarity with a wide variety of geographic locations and, more than likely, experience in writing for leading travel magazines. Seeing such experience will inspire confidence. A writer who has written one travel piece out of 20 other recent assignments will have difficulty claiming to specialize in that topic.

Many of my colleagues have settled into their own niches, which range from food, to health, to small business, to crime, and more. They are all very successful, in part, I think, because they have developed a strong base of knowledge about their chosen specialty.

So now that you know I’m a fan of specializing, you may understand the conflict I initially felt when I heard movie director M. Night Shyamalan reveal this week that in addition to directing “The Sixth Sense,” which I loved, and “Signs,” and “After Earth,” his most recent work, he also wrote the screenplay for “Stuart Little.” “Stuart Little?” Here I thought Shyamalan was a specialist in creepy, suspense flicks. Apparently, that may be his specialty, but it is not all he does.

This fact made me stop and reconsider specialization for a split second. But only a split second.

The conclusion I ultimately came to is that while being a specialist is smart for marketing yourself as a ghostwriter to clients, it doesn’t have to limit the topics you write about. If you’re a technology writer who is also fascinated by old-school video arcade games, for example, don’t deny yourself the fun of writing about both. Or if you’re a mommy blogger who is also into monster trucks, more power to you. You can write about both.

Shyamalan didn’t hide the fact that he wrote the cute kids’ movie, but he also didn’t talk much about it either. So what should you do if you have several topics you’re passionate about that may or may not be complementary? One solution may simply be that you don’t post writing samples about your “other love” on your website. Maybe you don’t send those “other” samples to potential clients, even if they do run in major newspapers or magazines. Or maybe you even go so far as to take a pseudonym or pen name, which many writers do.

The bottom line: Being a specialist shouldn’t limit what you write about, but if your interests are far afield, you may not want to draw attention to them.



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Marcia Layton Turner

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