Writing to a Niche

So again this morning I find myself clicking from an Etsy newsletter to an article, and in that article finding so much that seems to pertain to us indie authors. I should probably have some kind of Etsyish Publishing category or tag on the blog.

Anyway, 4 Ways to Make Your Products More Niche on the Crafting an MBA blog is a great article for indie authors to read because it carries some of those same messages we read all the time: you can’t be all things to all readers, write the book you want to write and you’ll find the readers like you who have been waiting for just that… So click on that title and give it a read-through. Will just take a couple minutes, and as you read, think of parallels to what you’re trying to do as an indie author.

My early designs were average and unimaginative.

How are we going to stand out and get found? That’s a big thing with us, and it’s part of the reason I continue to click on these Etsy articles, because I know from

Everyday jeans and tees for an everyday doll earned me low wages and only a few very kind fans.

experience that it’s a big thing there too. When I started on Etsy, I really had no direction, except that I was going to make doll clothes, starting with Barbie. I knew they would be better quality than most of what was out there–because that’s part of what handmade is–and that they would fit well, but in terms of design I was very much average in my thinking.

My Blythe doll

When a friend pointed me at Blythe, showed me the doll’s increasing popularity, the higher price points for the indie clothing that was coming into the market, and finally sent me a doll to get me started, she was sending me into a niche. After all, I’d wager that most domiciles in this country have

I moved into the Blythe niche, but my designs were still nothing to get excited about.

seen at least one Barbie doll within their walls at one time or another, while most people still don’t know what a Blythe is.

My early designs for Blythe were boring, just like what I’d done for Barbie. I made more money per piece, because of the niche. A dress for Barbie could get $3. A similar dress for Blythe could get $10, and was more likely to sell (eventually). This was due to the increasing popularity of the doll (or genre, if you will), the demographic (adult collectors vs. children), and the lack of Blythe-sized clothing on the market.

So already I’m hoping that you’re seeing similarities. When you’re selling just another epic fantasy or just another apocalyptic thriller, it may be hard for you to get found. And this is true even if you move into a hot, trendy niche, as I did with Blythe or you might do with vampire romance.

Since Blythe was a growing trend, my friend wasn’t the only one who noticed the premium prices people were paying for her clothing. Soon, more and more Blythe-centric clothing shops opened up on Etsy. And this is very much like with indie publishing: anyone can try to do it. So we saw people who knew how to sew (write) who had been sewing completely different items like baby quilts and children’s clothing (writing in a completely different genre), buy dolls and start turning out Blythe clothes. We also saw Blythe enthusiasts who were just learning to sew opening up shops and trying to sell work that just wasn’t ready for a pricetag (and we’ve all seen those indie writers too).

All those listings flooded the Blythe market on Etsy. Literally thousands of items tagged Blythe or coming up in a search. Even if you were doing quality work,ย  putting out nice items at a reasonable price, how were you going to get seen in the deluge?

I was enjoying creating for Blythe, but I wasn’t making any real money at it. It was worth doing because I love to sew and play with my dolls, and even if I made $20 a month, it was $20 more than I had before. And then, and I know I’ve talked about this before, so just bear with me, I wanted to do

My first commissioned order.

something different. Something kind of crazy. I wanted to see if I could smock in miniature and make a smocked dress for Blythe. This was taking an embroidery technique that is usually done for babies and very young children on an area say 12″ x 4-6″ and reducing it to an area of about 2″ x 1″, and then crafting that finished embroidery piece into a garment that was somewhat more complicated in construction compared to most of the handmade Blythe garments being sold at that time.

I was really nervous about this. This won’t be much of a surprise to my regular readers as I seem to be nervous about every damned thing, but really, I was actually scared to put out something so different. In retrospect, I see what a ninny I was, but there’s a certain level of comfort in doing what everyone else is doing.

Overindulgence was my most expensive design ever.

Next thing you know, I had more interest in my work than I knew what to do with. My inbox was flooded with compliments and special requests. I had a waiting list of at least 20 special order clients for months, even though I was asking more than twice as much for these dresses as I did for the original smocked design.ย  I had started out making quality yet boring dresses for Barbie for $3, and these dresses were earning me an average of $45-$50. The most expensive dress I ever did went for

The design had 6 of these detailed floral spray embroideries

$120, and making the second one of that ridiculously detailed dress just about killed me. Let’s retire that design!

Why did this dress and all the others command such high prices, and why was there so much interest in my work? These were doll dresses for Heaven’s sake. Because I was in a popular niche, yes, but doing something that no one else was doing (people started referring to me as “the crazy smocking lady”) and doing it well because it was something that I loved.

I’ve wanted to write the Talent Chronicles because for years I’ve been loving the superheroes and having to sit back and say: That would have been awesome if they hadn’t screwed it up. The kinds of stories that I really wanted just weren’t part of the genre. Hell, the format that I wanted to work in–novels–really hasn’t been part of the genre. The book category is NOT Comic books, Graphic Novels, and Superhero Novels. There’s no place for me there. Which I’ve decided is fine. I don’t think I really belong there.

Your niche doesn’t have to be something that no one’s ever done before. I certainly didn’t create meta-humans. I want to come to be known for superhero romance, but I didn’t come up with that idea either. Superheroes have had all kinds of love stories, just mostly the kind where someone ends up dead or abandoned. And I’m certainly not the only one working on this. So you don’t have to re-invent the wheel here.

But there are tons of books out there and there are going to be more and more–because anyone can do it now. So now, more than ever before, I think we really need to think about what makes our concept different from everything else that’s out there, and we need to think about how we’re going to use that difference to market our fiction. And if you can’t come up with a difference, maybe you’ll want to take a harder look at what you’re working on. (Maybe not. Your call.)

Same sh!t, different doll. Oh no, wait, that's the same doll too.

Your story is so very special to you. Even my boring dresses and t-shirts were special to me because they were lovingly crafted and I spent a lot of time on them. But I look back at these photos and I can totally see how uninspiring they are. Part of why a lot of indies get angry with traditional publishers is because the publisher says they just can’t see how this is going to stand out and sell. And they know that it’s not enough to have a good book, you’ve got to get some people to read that thing. It’s not enough for us either. We have

My special sh!t for a special doll

to have some sense of what we can say about this book, about what makes it different and better than the sea of books already out there, in order to get people to look at it.

Maybe the hardest thing to accept about a niche is that it’s often small, and that often means small growth. It also means that we’re not always going to be able to make reasonable comparisons between our successes and those of our peers, when our peers are writing for a different audience.

I honestly think I’m writing for the same people who read Twilight (whether they loved it or not), and are still talking about Buffy. But I write vampire-free (I’m thinking of starting a tagging trend on that, btw), so I’m never going to get seen on the Vampire Romance Bestseller List on Amazon, and I’m never going to get found in vampy tag searches. I don’t even have any kind of normal demon/angel/shifter/witchy paranormal anything in my books, and how many people are out there searching “superhero romance”?

Not a lot.

Yet.

Hey, I’m just sayin’.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Writing to a Niche

  1. I’ve never heard of Blythe but some of those pictures are adorable! I think I might have found the perfect present for someone I know who is notoriously hard to shop for. Winning. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I search for superhero but not romance. I’m probably one of the few people on the planet who love superhero and paranormal stuff but skim the romance. I’ve noticed more superhero style books popping up in the last six months and I think it’s a growing market for sure. I would love it if superheroes became “the next big thing” in ebooks – it would give me a lot more must-buys. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think it’s probably a steady genre with loyal customers, the way most PnR would be if the semi-recent crazes hadn’t happened.

    • Blythe!! And I agree, superheroes as the next big thing would be awesome. When pirates were so big I really thought there would be a pirate romance swell that would bring historicals back to romance prominence. Didn’t really happen, though. So I fail at judging the market.

      • I expected more on the pirate front too. Maybe when the next PotC film comes out. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t know how people purposely write to a specific market though, I can’t even write a short story on spec. Sadly. ๐Ÿ˜›

        • Of course there’s always research regardless of genre, but the main reason I’m making shit up in PNR instead of writing piratical historicals is that research is mine enemy. Does not want.

          • I would *love* to write (Irish) historical fiction but I can’t deal with the thought of research. Too wide a margin for an epic fail. I keep telling myself I’ll be able for it when all of the kids move out, until then, I’ll keep making up my own rules. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. That’s a great post! I’m always a bit dubious when someone creates a parallel that seems pretty over-the-top. But this one really worked. Most of my fiction involves slavery, but it doesn’t fit any of the usual niches: romantic slavery, BDSM slavery, etc. When I serialized my first novel on a blog, some of the readers told me they liked it specifically because it was so different. There were none of the usual cliches and tropes, and they never knew what to expect as the story developed.

    You’re right about publishers. If a book doesn’t fit a genre or niche that they’re familiar with and that they know will make money for them, they’re not interested. Self-publishing gives writers the ability to creat their own niche and find their own readers. They *are* out there.

    • Thanks for your comment, Catana. I’m glad the comparison worked for you. One thing that I read a lot Etsy is this idea if you think of your work in terms of trying to appeal to a wide audience, chances are you won’t make anything that will catch their eye because it just won’t be very original. But once you start working on things that appeal to you, you’ll be serving that segment of the market that is like you, and they won’t be able to get enough of it because no one’s been serving them.

      • “But once you start working on things that appeal to you, youโ€™ll be serving that segment of the market that is like you, and they wonโ€™t be able to get enough of it because no oneโ€™s been serving them.”

        I think that will be the topic for a blog post pretty soon. Too many beginning writers seem to think that they have to fall into line and do what all the big, successful writers are doing. They don’t want to, because they have something different in mind that’s tugging at them to be written. But going against the flow takes a lot of courage, plus figuring out how to do it.

  3. The comparison really makes sense to me. Especially since I have an Etsy shop, too. :0)

    Love the dresses, btw. I didn’t realize how popular dolls were until I met you. LOL

  4. A really long post but I stuck to it! It totally makes sense. It’s like write what we love would love to read. What we need is to not fit into the mold because we’re unique in our own ways. We should try telling our stories the way we do and not fit in to a formula.

    • Exactly, Marilag. And the other component is that when we’re unique, we can use that to market our work. But if you can’t tell someone what’s unique about what you have to offer, why should they choose it?

  5. Author Kristen Lamb

    Just like the great Hollywood quote, “Give me the same…but different.” I even preach this when it comes to blogging. Authors need to blog. Do they have to? No. No one will take them to Writer Jail if they don’t, but blogging–and doing it well-can make a HUGE difference in our future success. Yet, there are a lot of writers either churning out the same stuff as everyone else OR they get so weird that it is hard to get a following. The trick with all content is just what you were talking about. We have to tap into that general fondness….then twist it to be unique. Thanks for the great blog.

    • It’s weird, isn’t it Kristen, how so much that works in writing fiction works about the same for blogging as far as voice, style, subject matter. And yet we fiction writers seem to have such a hard time making worlds collide. Thanks for the comment and the promo!

  6. Susan, Andrew pointed this post out to me, and it got me thinking about the value of specialization in general. In freelance copywriting work, it’s the same thing–specialists earn more. Really, it’s that way in almost any profession. Cardiologists earn more than GPs. Ad agencies that specialize in certain fields can charge more than agencies that are generalists.

    There’s a time to be a generalist–when you’re just starting out, when you’re changing fields, etc. But once you have your proverbial sea legs, you can specialize.

    I’m slowly coming to grips with the fact that I write romantic fantasy. I have issues with thinking of myself that way. I wanted to write epic fantasy, and then all these romantic storylines kept popping up, and I guess I just have to face that my specialty might be romantic epic fantasy. I dunno… We’ll see how history defines me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Pingback: Where To Begin #ROW80 Update | Come Out and Play

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