Should writers find a niche and stay there? Conventional wisdom says yes. Me? I'm not so sure. I while back, in a short post entitled Specialization and Books, blogger Becky Miller pondered this trend toward "niche-ing" (or is it niching?) in contemporary fiction. At some point, a writer is asked to identify their niche, what genre they write, and where their stories fit in the market. Nowadays, this is Writing 101. But Becky reflects upon the inherent deficiency of that demand:
In the effort to target an audience, we lose some who don't know to look in a niche they do not necessarily identify with. Perhaps this communication problem is why so many books take on a dual tag: romantic suspense or adventure thriller or science fantasy. Are the tags helpful? I don't really know.
I haven't seen bookstores expanding their sections to include the new dual tags. Christian books, even in Christian book stores, have yet to be sorted into sub genres. And I find the niche concept confining. I love fantasy, but I also read mystery, romance, even mom-lit, though I am not a mom. I don't really fit as a niche reader.
While authors are typically encouraged to find a niche and work it, I happen to find "the niche concept," like Becky, "confining." I mean, I don't read that way, so why should I write that way? For instance, I'm currently splitting reading time between Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Angelology by Danielle Trussoni, Bohoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, and Godric by Frederick Buechner.
Question: Is this unusual? Do people tend to read all over the map? Or are readers, for the most part, "confined" by genre?
For the aspiring author, the question can be very confusing. On the one hand, the novice novelist is told to write what they want to read, write what drives them, ignore trends and follow their heart. On the other hand, we're told to find a niche, a genre, a market brand, and build a base of readership. And, according to market experts, you can't build readership by being all over the map.
So which is it? If, as a new writer, I aim for a specific genre and target the market, I may end up writing something other than what I really want. But I'll gain readers who will, perhaps, follow me into uncharted terrain. Yet if I write what I want to read -- what my heart tells me to write -- I may feel satisfied, but I'll potentially undermine the opportunity to build readership. So which is it?
My first novel is "niched"; it's a supernatural suspense. But my current novel (the one in process) is wigging out. It keeps veering into other genres. Of course, I keep trying to steer her back into her "niche." But, to my dismay, the story has a mind of it's own.
So what should I do? Follow my heart or the market? Follow my story or conventional wisdom? Are you a "niche reader," or do you tend to wander all over the map? And does writing for a niche audience have a downside? Or does being "confined" ultimately pay off? For an author, do niches become ruts or runways?