I hope this article gives you a few tools for your writerly tool chest, despite its somewhat uninspiring title. If you are knowledgeable and passionate about a topic, people will pay to read your stuff.
Set Your Sites
First, you need to assess your expertise. Most people know plenty about at least one topic, probably enough to write about it. This can be a hobby, a profession, or anything else you’ve given plenty of time and attention to. Know how to build kites from scratch? Perfect. Have strong opinions about Israeli settlements? Go for it. Can you decorate cupcakes like a boss? You get the idea.
Feel like you aren’t an expert in something? Do not fear. Just choose something you’re interested in. Curiosity will open doors.
Identify Your Target
Once you’ve figured out what to focus on you’ll want to hunt for publications directly related to your topic of choice. A simple Google search is the obvious place to start. Check the sites referenced by Wikipedia on the topic. Lookup other experts in the field and see where they’ve been published. This is what I call your niche base.
Now, you have a few options. First, you can try to pitch directly to niche base publications (e.g. magazines written by and for kite builders). This will require you to have extensive knowledge of the subject matter. You have to present something about kite building that most people in the industry don’t know. If you haven’t yet established yourself as an expert, this can feel a little intimidating, so I would suggest a second route.
Bust out the Venn Diagram
Most of the time, your subject matter will intersect with other spheres of interest. Kite building might intersect with, say, people who are interested in outdoor family activities. While these publications might know a lot about finding and scheduling outdoor stuff, they may know very little about how to build a kite. So. Voila. Your level of expertise matches their desired level of competency.
Sign up for C. Hope Clark’s newsletter to get ideas on publications to pitch. She does a great job of providing relevant, up-to-date markets and articles for newbie freelancers.
Here’s the fun and tricky part. You will want to tailor every piece that you write for a specific publication. A publication that emphasizes family outdoor activities might require a little research, on say, the appropriateness of certain craft materials for various age groups, (“Timmy put down that box cutter!”) etc. What you learn in tailoring your article to this particular magazine, you can turn into a brand new article somewhere else, for instance your niche base. Go back to the kite-building publications and talk about how to build kites with kids of various ages. You’ve gotten smarter, and become an expert in an even nichier niche. Boom. Done.
Find and Reapply
The other thing about research is that you can use it for multiple pieces and multiple publications. One interview with a professional kite builder could be used for a piece in his Alma Mater magazine, an outdoor craft 101 site, and the local newspaper looking for a profile on how local businessmen spend their weekends. When you hunt down a topic and kill it, be sure to use all the parts.
On it goes. The more you write, the more you research, the more you learn, the more you know, the more you write. It’s fun. It’s a little nerve wracking, but if you’ve got the goods you can make it work for you.
Next thing you’ll need to learn is how to pitch your idea to an editor which I will write about next week.