Should Your Blog Have a Narrow or Broad Topic?

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Back when I got into blogging, in 2007, new bloggers were often told to choose a “niche”. If you wanted to be successful – so the thinking went – you needed to have a very specific topic, to differentiate yourself from all the other blogs out there.

Today, there are obviously even more blogs (not to mention podcasts, twitter chats, Facebook groups…) competing for attention.

Some bloggers still feel that, to succeed, they need to have a really unique topic or a very narrow niche, like “iPhone covers for the over 60s”.

But I think the “niche” advice is outdated … and I’m not sure it was ever quite right in the first place.

Many blogs – including many very popular blogs! – cover relatively broad topics. Write to Done, for instance, has advice on all sorts of aspects of writing – covering fiction, freelancing and blogging. Michael Hyatt’s blog centres on leadership, but takes in a huge number of diverse topics, from blogging and platform-building to hiring and managing a strong team.

So do you really need a niche? And if you do … how narrow should that niche be?

Let’s take a look first at why the “niche” advice became so popular in the first place.


Why Going TOO Broad Can Be a Problem

In the very early days of blogging, most blogs were essentially personal journals. Their “topic”, as such, was the blogger’s life and interests. There are still plenty of these blogs around (I like Richard Bartle’s) and they certainly still have their place.

However, if you want to get a large audience for your blog, you probably need to narrow your focus a little more than “everything I’m interested in”. (You might get away with it, though, if you’re an outstandingly good writer, or you have a particularly exciting and unusual life.)

If you’re struggling to see why blogging about anything and everything is a problem, look at it this way: most people will, inevitably, not share all your interests. They may well drift away if they’re only interested in, say, one out of every ten of your posts.

Here on Aliventures, I blog about writing. I occasionally mention other aspects of my life – like my two small children – but I don’t blog about, say, raising kids, or cooking, or great books I’ve read, or stuff to do around Leeds (where I live) or any of the other things going on in my life!

Why Too Narrow a Niche Won’t Work Either

When you pick a topic for your blog, though, you don’t want to rein yourself in too tightly. You want some room to develop and grow your ideas, without being tied into a very rigid and specific topic.

For instance, if you chose to blog only about “writing dialogue”, you’d probably find that you ran out of ideas and resources after a few weeks or months. Your blog might well become the go-to place for people wanting to craft better dialogue – and you could have a fairly static website designed to support, say, a book or course on the subject – but you’d be unlikely to want to write about dialogue every week for several years.

When you launch your blog and choose what to call it, you’ll also choose a domain name. (For help with that, check out my post Three Different Ways to Name Your Blog or Website.) If your name is too restrictive, it can make it difficult to change direction: writingdialogueforyournovel.com, for instance, is very specific, whereas something a little more general like talkingheads.com gives a bit more scope.

Finding a Middle Ground

A good blog topic, then, is one that’s clear and defined but that gives you some breathing and growing room.

And while on the surface of it, your topic might seem like the main thing that distinguishes you from other blogs, there are actually plenty of other ways to stand out:

  • With the “angle” you bring to your topic – e.g. The Write Life covers general writing advice but with a focus on freelancing and making a living.
  • With your voice or style – e.g. Naomi from IttyBiz very much built her blog on this, plus her specific audience focus on tiny businesses.
  • With the type of posts you publish – e.g. Smart Blogger have very long posts that go into lots of depth; Seth Godin is known for short, pithy but insightful posts.

 

If you’ve been blogging for a while about several quite different topics, you might want to survey your readers to find out what topics they’re most interested in (you could also look at which posts are performing best in Google Analytics).

 

There’s no “right” answer when it comes to blogging, and of course you should feel free to write about whatever you want – whether that’s one very narrow topic or several very broad ones! Keep in mind, though, that if you want your blog to gain readers, to make money, and/or to raise your profile in your field, you’ll do best if you focus on a clear topic that gives you – and your readers – room to grow.

If you’d like a bit more help with your blogging, do check out my free ebooks Ten Powerful Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Stronger and Ten Easy Ways to Attract Readers to Your Blog … And Keep Them There. They’re quick to read, packed with tips you can put into practice right away, and completely free – you can find out more and sign up for them here.

Getting Apostrophes Right: From the Easy to the Tricky Cases

 

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I think it’s a safe bet that you’ve come across the apostrophe before! (If not … there are two in the previous sentence.)

But even experienced writers can struggle with this punctuation mark.

In this post, I’m going to try to explain apostrophes as clearly as I can … and give you some help with the tricky cases that often trip people up.

If anything isn’t clear, or if you have any questions, just pop a comment below.

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Interview with Mark Gottlieb, New York Literary Agent

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What are literary agents really after? Do they want first-time authors who’ve already built a huge platform … or simply a great book?

New York agent Mark Gottlieb, who’s currently building his list, has been kind enough to answer some questions about his job and the state of publishing in general.

If you’ve been reading Aliventures for a while, you’ll know I’m very much a fan of self-publishing … but I also think traditional publishing still has a huge amount to offer. Mark argues the case for going down the agent and publisher route here.

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A Quick Guide to Formatting Your Microsoft Word Manuscript for Amazon’s Kindle

 

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One daunting task for many self-publishing authors is how to get their finished book up for sale on Amazon as an ebook. It’s not as simple as just uploading your manuscript … right?

Well, it can be!

Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) service gets easier to use every year. If you have a fairly straightforward manuscript – like a novel, collection of short stories, or text-only non-fiction book – you can upload your Microsoft Word document, preview it, and have a finished ebook in minutes.

In this post, I’ll explain how.

Quick note to Writers’ Huddle members – you have a much fuller version of this now available as a video seminar, with detailed step-by-step instructions. There’s also a transcript with screenshots.

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Is Writing a Novel a “Someday” Dream for You?

 

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Are you thinking of writing a novel someday?

Maybe you’re waiting because you don’t have an idea, yet.

Maybe you’re waiting because you don’t have much time, right now.

Maybe you’re waiting until you feel more confident: until you’re a good enough writer to tackle the challenge of a novel.

I’d like to – gently – suggest that perhaps it’s time to stop waiting.

Yes, a novel is a big undertaking. Yes, your life is hectic and you don’t feel ready and there are a dozen good reasons to wait.

Here’s why I think you shouldn’t.

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Three Different Ways to Name Your Blog or Website [Pros and Cons]

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If you’ve ever thought about starting a blog – or a website of any sort – you’ve probably run up against a pretty obvious problem.

It needs a name!

Choosing what to call your blog tends to be wrapped up in a whole host of other problems – like knowing what topics you want to write about and what sort of tone you want to use.

I’ve got stuck, plenty of times, at the naming stage: sometimes, it’s meant delaying projects for months because I just can’t figure out what to call the website.

In this post, I’ll run through the three different options you have, and explain why (or why not) you might want to go for each.

Note: This post is based on material from the Blog On ecourse in Writers’ Huddle – if you’re a member of Writers’ Huddle, do check out the rest of Blog On Module #1 for help with coming up with ideas for your blog. If you’re not a member, you can join the waiting list (and get some exclusive goodies) here.

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Why Being (a Little) Selfish Might Be the Best Thing You Do for Your Writing

 

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One of my writer friends – and my fiction editor – Lorna Ferguson wrote some wise words in her email newsletter recently:

Praise yourself for what you’ve achieved. Keep your promises to yourself when you say ‘I’ll have an early night’ or ‘I’ll go for that walk’. We don’t ever want to be described as selfish – but sometimes you have to think of self.

When I read that, Lorna’s words “we don’t ever want to be described as selfish” stood out to me. Because of course no-one does … but I think some writers go too far in avoiding this. They give so much of themselves to others that there’s very little left over for writing.

I think that we writers, by our nature, tend to be quite concerned with people – and not just imaginary ones!

We want the best for our children, friends, partners, and other loved ones. But this doesn’t mean putting everyone else’s needs and wants right at the top of the queue, every time.

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How to Take Back Control of Your Time (and Fit More Writing In)

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Do you spend as much time writing as you want to?

Hardly any writers do. Most of us have a lot of non-writing things going on.

Depending on the stage of life you’re at, that might be education (school, university, or evening classes), a day job (full time or part time), child-rearing (a more than full time job in itself!), volunteering, caring for disabled or elderly relatives … and quite possibly a combination of several of these.

It is hard to find the time, and if you haven’t been writing much (or at all) for a little while (or a long while), please don’t feel guilty about it.

I’ve spent far too long myself waiting for life to get “less busy” so I can write. With two small children now, I’ve finally accepted I’m never going to feel any less busy so I may as well get on with it as best as I can.

Here’s how you can do the same.

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How Long Should Your Novel Be? What’s Too Short … and What’s Too Long?

 

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For some writers, “how long should a novel be?” sounds a bit like “how long is a piece of string?” They feel that their novel should be long enough to get the job done – even if that means it falls outside the bounds of what readers and publishers might normally expect.

The truth is that, while there’s not necessarily a “right” answer to this question, you do need to stick to industry norms if you’re aiming for traditional publication … and if you’re planning to self-publish, you’ll want to make sure that readers aren’t being put off by a too-short or too-long book.

Where does the word count of your piece fall?

Novel: Over 40,000 words. 80,000 – 90,000 is considered the sweet spot; under 70,000 or over 100,00 will be hard to sell to an agent/publisher.

Novella: 17,000 – 40,000 words. (Longer than 40,000 is generally considered a “short novel”.)

Novelette: 7,500 – 17,000 words. (Rarely-used term; most people would call this a “long short story”.)

Short story: Under 7,500 words. (If it’s under 1,000, then it might be called “flash fiction”.)

The novella form has been around for centuries, and there are plenty of classic novels that are novella-length. For instance:

  • The Turn of the Screw (Henry James) – a shade over standard novella length at 42,000 words.
  • Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) – 38,000 words.
  • A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) – 29,000 words.

jf-penn-novellaWith the rise of e-readers, novellas have had a resurgence in popularity: they’re quick to get into and read, and they can be priced very cheaply. Some authors, like J.F. Penn, use a free novella to promote their email list – you can see a screenshot of her Day of the Vikings offer to the right (sign up and get your own copy here).

Print publishers tend to be reluctant to take on novellas, though, because they’re uneconomical to print.

So, if you’ve written a short novel, you may struggle to get a traditional deal … but it could work well for you as a self-publisher.

Marketing Your Short Novel or Novella

In general, you can market a short novel or novella in just the same way as you’d market a full-length one! These are just a few key things to keep in mind:

If you’ve written a 30-40,000 word book, don’t describe it as a “novel” in your sale material: readers may feel cheated! You might want to do what J.F. Penn does and use “book” rather than “novel”.  Phrases like “quick read” or “pacy read” can clue readers into the length (not all readers will necessarily be familiar with the fairly technical term “novella”).

You’ll also want to consider pricing, especially if you also have novels out. For instance, you might price your ebooks at $2.99 for your novels and $1.99 for novellas. Not unreasonably, most readers will expect short novels to cost less than full-length ones.

You might also want to consider using it as a cheap or free entry-point for readers new to your work (for instance, you could put it on Kindle Unlimited for free, run periodic giveaways, or use it as a permanently free incentive to get people to sign up for your mailing list).

Should You Cut Down a Long Novel?

Whether you’re seeking a traditional deal or publishing independently, a too-long novel is a problem.

Novels that top 100,000 words often have more words than they need: most authors over-write, at least a bit, and cutting 105,000 words to 95,000 could make for a tighter, better-paced novel.

(On – excellent – editorial advice, I cut my novel Lycopolis down from 135,000 words to 85,000 – it was a much better novel for it!)

Also, readers have certain expectations of novels. Many of these are structural (e.g. the novel will have an ending, major plot points will be resolved, the protagonist will grow/change in some way) … but one fairly basic expectation is how long the novel will be.

Even if you’ve written a well-paced novel that’s not too wordy, it may not go down well with readers if it’s considerably longer than what they’d normally expect.

In some genres, of course (fantasy and science-fiction especially), novels tend to run long. But in others (romances and Westerns), readers will normally expect shorter books.

Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if your novel really needs to be long – you can’t do justice to the story and characters otherwise – or if you’ve written more words than necessary. You may want to get beta-readers, or a professional editor, involved at this stage.

 

While I can’t give you the “right” answer to the question of your novel’s length, I can offer a quick rule of thumb. Here it is:

Aim for 75 – 95,000 words. This is a “normal” novel length in almost every genre; it’ll work fine whether you’re seeking traditional publication or whether you’re self-publishing.

write-publish-novel-2-yearsAnother big advantage to keeping your novel to a standard length is that it won’t take you a huge amount of time to write. You can complete a 75,000 – 80,000 word novel in two years – from initial idea to publication (or sending out queries) – by working for just 30 minutes every day. Here’s my full plan for doing just that.

Got questions? Disagree with me about how long novels should be – or whether it matters? Drop a comment below!

Seven Great Sources of New Ideas for Your Blog

light-bulbs-branded

Do you ever struggle to come up with ideas for your blog?

I think all bloggers do, at some point. Sadly, this is one common reason why blogs get abandoned: the blogger couldn’t think what to write about, and days went by, then weeks, with no new posts … before they eventually gave up altogether.

The great news is that there are tons of ideas all around you, just waiting to be written.

And don’t worry about ideas having already been “taken” by other bloggers. What matters is not having a totally new, never-before-seen idea – but having a solid idea that you can bring your unique perspective and skills to.

Here are seven of my favourite ways to come up with blogging inspiration:

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