In April 2018, Ev Williams wrote this:
I sometimes describe Medium as a system for moving ideas between brains.
I’m a little obsessed with that idea.
It’s a beautifully succinct way of describing what we do as bloggers and, maybe most importantly, why.
We aren’t just writing because we love writing. We’re writing to communicate and to share ideas.
So, if we’re going to think of blogging in general as a system for moving ideas between brains, we can break it down to its parts. Your brain — the writer’s brain — and their brain — the reader’s brain.
Your Brain: You Need a Niche
I’ve been talking with Ninja Writers a lot lately about niches.
Another word for a niche is a nook or a cranny. A comfy little spot. Imagine a space where you can curl up and feel at home, completely in your own skin. Like your favorite chair or your spot on the sofa. The one that just fits you perfectly.
I was talking with my daughter this week about how sometimes you visit a place and you just know — that’s one of your places. You could live there. Maybe you never will. Your circumstances might never support it. But you could. It goes on the short list in your mind as one of your spaces.
A niche is like that.
When you’re thinking about what to write about, it can be super tempting to expand outward — you don’t want to exclude anyone. After all, no matter where you write, you’re paid one way or the other based on how many people come and read your work. So you want as many eyeballs as possible.
So doesn’t it make sense that you want to appeal to all seven billion humans on the planet? Why would you want to exclude anyone?
But if you think about blogging as a system for moving ideas between brains — it becomes very clear how important it is to find the brains who need the very distinct, unique, particular ideas that are in your brain.
That’s not everyone. And that’s okay. But it is some people, and that’s wonderful. It’s exciting. Figuring out your niche is how you find those people so you can share your ideas with them.
When you develop your niche — it’s like creating a neon sign that flashes a message that says this is your place, you’re welcome here! Your readers, the ones whose brains need the ideas that are inside your brain, will feel like they’ve come home. And that’s such a good feeling.
Maybe you’ll also attract other folks. But if you think about your readership like a bell curve, your niche readers are the big bulky area in the middle. The other readers are at the edges. You’re pleased they’re there. They’re welcome. But you’re focus is serving a very specific demographic.
Everyone else is getting what they can out of what you’re creating.
Their Brain: Finding Your Niche
The best way I know to figure out your niche is to start wide — with the whole 7 billion, or the largest portion of it that you think might be interested in what you want to write about — and drill down.
Let’s talk about my main topic — writing.
If I didn’t want to exclude anyone, I’d try to write for every writer. I’d have posts that touched on every aspect of writing I could think of. Novels. Short stories. Flash fiction. Non-fiction. Blogging. Self-publishing. Traditional publishing. Plotting. Editing. Finding an agent. Brand new writers. Experienced writers. Bestsellers. Midlist writers. Men. Women. Children. Everyone in between.
Drilling down starts with thinking about my own experience. I’m a novelist and a blogger. So that’s easy. I don’t really write non-fiction books or short fiction. Writing about those things wouldn’t make sense for me. I’ll let someone else cover those topics.
I’m traditionally published. I’ve never really self-published, so that drills my niche down more.
I’m a teacher by nature and I’m drawn to helping people who are just starting to figure out how to be a writer, so I love working with new writers. I could write for more established writers, I’m qualified to, but when I think about my niche, I know it’s writing for newer writers. Specifically writers who have worked for a while on their own and are ready to move to the next level.
Maybe they’ve done NaNoWriMo a time or two and they’re ready to really finish writing their first novel. Or they’ve been writing a while and they’d like to start making some money.
That’s my reader avatar. A portrait of my one, ideal reader.
My niche is adult writers — I would welcome younger writers, high school students maybe, but I don’t seek them out.
So — my niche, then, is writing about writing fiction (and blogging) for new writers who are ready to move to the next level. As far as fiction goes, they’re interested in traditional publishing and writing novels.
Putting it Together
Here’s what I love about this: once you have a niche in mind and it’s really solidified in your mind, you can use it as a litmus test.
Hold your ideas up against it. Will your post idea serve your niche audience? If it won’t, then how can you tweak it so that it will? There’s pretty much always a way.
Everything I write about writing, I write through the lens of my niche. Because my aim is to teach people how to actually write their first novel, I write a lot about plotting, but less about editing. When I do write about editing, it’s about first pass editing — how to write better in the first place — rather than how to do a third-draft edit.
I almost never write about how to find an agent, because the vast majority of my readers aren’t there yet. That’s not my niche. I touch on it sometimes, but it’s not my focus.
You’ll be able to do the same thing when you understand the brain on the other end of your idea exchange.
When you know exactly who is out there on the receiving your (fabulous) ideas, then you’ll suddenly start finding your ideas everywhere. They’ll be laying on the ground. It’s crazy how that works.
It seems like having a wide, wide open lens will open a world of ideas to you, but it’s closing the lens that causes focus to happen. I promise, the tighter you narrow your niche, the more freely those ideas will flow between your brain and your readers’ brains.
Because your readers will recognize you and what you’re creating as their place. Their home online. Something that you’re making for them. Not for everyone. Just for them. And everyone wants to feel special.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter and Instagram and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.