As a writer, you often have to be a chameleon, in order to prove your ability to write for a particular topic or that you have “specialized” in a genre, discipline, or market. Writers know that if you write about widgets, you can probably also write about lipstick, simply because you’ve spent the time to hone your craft or, in other words, the ability to put words together in an appealing and grammatically-correct manner on the page in order to convey a message or a call to action.
Unfortunately, most non-writers do not view authors, novelists, copywriters, or journalists as having the “same” expertise — even though in many cases I’ve known several writers who could spin a press release, write a product review, and write short fiction exceedingly well. Now, that is not to say that every writer understands the different types of copy; that level of understanding is not limited by a writer’s ability to write, however, but by his (or her) ability to correctly read the market that they are writing for.
The writer’s conundrum is my way of describing the challenge every writer faces when trying to find work. Simply, it is the question of whether or not a writer should “specialize” in a particular topic in order to achieve “expert” status. Do so, and you limit your ability to find work in other areas. Don’t, and you run the risk of not being able to find work at all.
Personally, I don’t think that puzzle will ever be one hundred percent resolved — for any writer, including myself. Many writers follow the work, weathering the massive changes that have taken place within the publishing industry. Others complain that specialization is often hard to accomplish when many businesses won’t recognize their value as a writer, often lumping together several responsibilities into one, underpaid position. (Take a look at the classified ads; you’ll often find that writers exist within hybrid positions related to everything from marketing to financial analysis.)
So what is the solution to your writer’s conundrum? I don’t think there is “one solution,” because it depends upon what kind of career you want and what you are willing to put up with. What market you may want to write for now may change in six months, because business is that volatile. On the other hand, if your love is writing novels and you do publish a few, then you also need to consider what happens if your novels don’t sell. One example of a writer who had to switch genres in order to keep up with the market is Laurell K Hamilton, who was interviewed on Flames Rising.
For me, having flexible goals is a “must,” because in this day and age, writers have to be. No one will ever treat writers, as a group or as individuals, the same way. Instead, it is up to us to steer others’ perceptions of us (and our work) one way or the other. As frustrating as this is, only the “mutable” will survive, especially when there is so much controversy over “how” we should earn our qualifications, “what” we should get paid, and “when” we should be respected as professionals.
Although I’ve started off talking about the fundamental problem that writers often face, if you have kudos or accomplishments as an author, feel free to post them here in the comments or shoot me an email. I hope that I will never turn a blind eye to other writers; may all of your assignments be fulfilled, and may all of your endeavors be successful.
After all, if we don’t support one another, who will?