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I'm just getting started as a freelance author and it seems like I'm not getting enough attention from editors to make this financially viable as an exclusive arrangement, so I'd like to build up my reputation in the best ways possible.

It seems to me that I should be trying to write as much as I possibly can on as many different topics as possible, but as I think about it more carefully tonight, I wonder if that's really the best plan after all.

The essence of my question is: "To draw more well-paying jobs, should I try to be a generalist and write about everything and anything, or should I be more of a specialist, maybe writing a weekly column on one subject area?" Please justify your answer with first-hand experiences, cogent arguments, and examples on why you think one plan is better than the other.

I realize that this is a subjective question, but I nonetheless think it is still definitively answerable provided that the answer follows the guidelines for good subjective Q&A here.

  • +1 Good question :) Got me thinking really :) – Siddharth Rout May 25 '13 at 5:49
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I think the normal progression is to start out general and then begin to specialize. The advantage of this is that you can start to get some gigs, and then build on what those gigs give you to focus more on depth. In general depth is more valuable than breadth in terms of knowledge, but both are needed to some extent.

Starting off as a generalist has the advantage that you are able to find a niche you may not have thought of when you started, and it provides some open opportunities for other things as they come up. For example, most of my paying work is in software development but I have had some significant freelance technical writing gigs doing things like integration documentation for companies like Microsoft. Having a generalist background even after I specialized was immensely helpful.

On the other hand this means that I have been able to develop depth in a number of areas and thus serve customers better both in writing gigs and other work.

So yes, starting off generalizing is not a bad approach, but try to build some depth at the same time, and be open to specialize as opportunities arise.

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It seems to me that I should be trying to write as much as I possibly can on as many different topics as possible, but as I think about it more carefully tonight, I wonder if that's really the best plan after all.

Umm, IMO, No. It is not really a best plan unless you are really desperate to launch yourself as a freelance author. Remember, we live in an era where whatever we do/write/comment etc remains accessible on the net for a very very long time. I am sure you wouldn't want to be known as an author who had a shabby start?

Writing for a weekly column sounds like a good idea. Or write a blog where you can display your flair for writing. There are people in this world who get success overnight in whatever they do. I don't know about you but I am definitely not one of them. :) So, take a step back... Go for a holiday. Identify what your forte is, plan on how you want to take it forward and then get into it.

Here is an interesting article on freelance writing. My thoughts absolutely echo with what it has to say so I am not going to repeat the same information here. Give it a read and I am sure you will find it pretty interesting...

Disclaimer: I am not a freelancer writer nor do I wish to become one. However, I do blog and one of the challenge that I face is how to keep my target audience interested.

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Specialists vs Generalists

To draw more well paying jobs, consider that specialists generally enjoy higher income than generalists do. Anyone with good writing skills can be a generalist, but becoming a specialist requires much deeper knowledge of the subject matter, and interest in the subject, and the aptitude to learn new concepts and ideas quickly. This is why, for instance, some tech writers have computer science or engineering degrees.

Our company hires freelance writers, as contractors, who specialize in marketing and who enjoy writing about new technologies. If you're a writer who has the latest smartphone and who has written reviews on them, you'd be more likely to fit into the culture of the organization, a culture that thrives on early adoption and technology advancement.

While this isn't always required to land writing gigs, being a specialist in a certain area makes you more attractive to clients who need a writer with your knowledge and aptitude, and it increases the chances that they will reach out to you specifically rather than you needing to apply with them.

How should I market myself?

One way to showcase these skills is to maintain your own blog on a specific topic that not only interests you but that also build an audience. Going back to the example of the tech-writers, their audience likely consists of people who might be interested in hiring them.

I once landed a contract position based on things I wrote about in my blog. It wasn't a writing gig, but the person who hired me discovered my skills because she was an avid follower of the topic I was writing about, and she initiated contact with me. That blog is mostly abandoned these days, but if I went back to writing about specialized topics, I know it would attract people looking to hire someone with a track record of success in my specialty.

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