Don’t make this huge (and common) mistake when choosing your niche – or you’ll be leaving money on the table

One of the best things you can do for the long-term of your career is to choose a niche. This has the huge benefit of giving your career a solid trajectory, while also giving you the potential to earn much more money in the long term.

Most writers, if they’ve been around long enough, have probably been advised to choose a niche.

However, there is one very big misconception most people have when they think about choosing a niche. It is an incredibly common misconception, and a very easy trap to fall into. (Even I fall into this trap on occasion.)

Here’s the deal: A niche is not a topic. For example, if you say you’re a “health writer” that’s a topic. That’s not a niche. If the word “niche” meant the same thing as the word “topic,” then there would be little point is using the word “niche.”

The topic is just one possible element of a niche.

Why? Because, as with all marketing, a niche has more to do with people than with the topic you’re writing about.

Think about it: If you’re putting yourself out there, trying to find opportunities to get paid to write, then ultimately, you’re not “writing for a topic,” you are writing for people.

It goes deeper than this, though.

A niche isn’t just about people, it is about how you fit into the broader community. It is about your role as a writer. Think about the types of people you want to serve and how you will reach them.

An example: If you’re a writer looking to make a living by working for magazines, then do you want to be known as an expert on a topic, such as “organic farming?” Sure. That’s not a bad topic. However, it’s just a topic. The bigger question is, how are you going to fit into the broader picture, in terms of developing relationships with editors? Your niche is your position in the marketplace. In this example, maybe you’d start building real relationships with editors of farming magazines. You could start going to conferences, start building relationships with major vendors and “personalities” in the field. Maybe you’d land interviews with people such as Michael Pollan or Joel Salatin. In short, you would position yourself in the center of the “organic farming community” by doing the hard work of making connections and building relationships. That position, and those relationships, are huge. They’re your niche, much more so than the topic “organic farming.”

Again, that’s just an example. There are many types of niches — not all of them are relationship based, but the best of them are about finding a unique and valuable position in the marketplace.

Now, let’s go back and talk about Michael Pollan for a minute. He’s an interesting example, because he is very much known as an expert on organic farming, even though that is decidedly not his niche. I would argue that his niche is more defined by certain accomplishments of his, including:

  • Multiple bestselling books
  • Extensive experience with narrative journalism
  • Deep relationships at publishing houses, magazines, etc
  • Deep relationships that he’s able to leverage for massive publicity for his books

The above list makes it clear why he was able to write and publish an incredibly successful book about a topic that was decidedly not organic farming, but actually about psychedelic drugs.

If he’d thought his niche was the same as his topic, he may be stuck writing about Botany, which was the topic of one of his earlier books. By not letting himself get blinded by the topics he’s written about, he’s been able to build a massively successful career as one of the most popular non-fiction authors of the past twenty years.

Obviously, few of us are going to be as successful as Michael Pollan in our careers. However, we should keep in mind certain principles, when we’re thinking about the direction of our careers, and the niche that we choose:

Don’t get stuck on the topic of your niche. This is often secondary. What is it secondary to? Your position in the broader community. Spend time to think about the people you are serving, and how you can find a unique (and valuable) position in the marketplace.

Finally, don’t fret if you struggle to find your “unique position” right away. This is a long term process that takes time. Instead, think of this as a long term goal. Something to build. If you’re starting from scratch, acknowledge that you probably have a lot of work ahead of you. However, stay focused on building a solid position. Over time, this will pay many dividends.

Your Comments:

  1. Trudy Robinson says:

    Thank you for this information about “Choosing your Niche.” I was under the impression that you needed to have a niche, in order to know what market to write for. I have so much to learn, and so many ideas! I appreciate all that you do for the writing community, thank you.

  2. Anella Harmeyer says:

    This is the best post I’ve ever read about niches.


    Forgive me, I do not have a high level of intelligence ,,,
    Unfortunately I have a very low level of understanding, and I really don’t understand anything at all

  4. Judith Makona says:

    Thank you so much.I have now learnt something I have been struggling to know for so long.

  5. Etoile says:

    I know what niche (demographic) I belong to, and the topics within it will be varied. This put things into perspective for me. Thank you.

  6. Glenda says:

    I have been confused for quite a while. Thank you for explaining in a clear and concise manner

  7. Charan Singh says:

    Thank you for this insightful knowledge. The question I have is for writers who enjoy writing about a niche that doesn’t fit into any subjects available? Example; Divination or Numerology.

    • Jacob Jans says:

      Based on your question, it seems like you’re still stuck, in terms of thinking in terms of “topics.”

      Start your thinking with a focus on people, groups, institutions, publishers, communities, etc. In other words, don’t try to “write about a niche,” rather, find people to serve with your writing.

  8. Natisha Parsons says:

    Is writing for children considered a niche?

    • Jacob Jans says:

      Natisha, I would consider that to be a very broad category; much too broad to be a ‘niche.’ However, that’s not say you couldn’t “find your place/niche” within that category. A niche, if done right, is a market position. Who you’re writing for (children) is just one aspect; you need to find a way to fit into their lives, interact with communities, build relationships, etc.

  9. Ernie Douglas says:

    Thanks for setting the record straight regarding this subject I especially liked this statement: Don’t get stuck on the topic of your niche. This is often secondary. What is it secondary to? Your position in the broader community. Spend time to think about the people you are serving, and how you can find a unique (and valuable) position in the marketplace…

  10. Zaher Talab says:

    The recent trends indicate not choosing a niche by rigid meanings, even in academic communities of the mere “topic” idea!

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