Why you should narrow your content's focus

What writers and marketers know dictates success

In my first book, I wanted to say everything about everything. I packed the story with characters of every color and sexual orientation, people with physical disabilities and trouble at home. I wrote scenes about hometown parades and every childhood memory I could conjure, monologues promoting home gardens and recycling. After my 14-year-old female lead's mother died and father disappeared, she moved schools, studied Jacques Cousteau, questioned her sexuality, stole a library book and heralded STEM. I forced her into every niche and made her so broad she wouldn't appeal to anyone in the end. In the revision process, I hacked up my poor girl until she was still a smart badass with big plans to be an adventurer but no longer tasked with filling every literary void.

Perfecting your content work's niche is vital to its success. In marketing, we talk about focused calls to action: What do you want your reader to do with what you've told them? Sometimes the situation calls for two CTAs, but let's put constraints on ourselves to see what happens: Pick one thing. Here's how.

It’s a good thing to have so many ideas, and we definitely don't want to change your creativity, yet perfecting your work's niche is vital to its success. In marketing, we talk about focused calls to action: What do you want your reader to do with what you've told them? You can pick one thing. Okay, sometimes the situation calls for two CTAs, but let's put constraints on ourselves to see what happens: Pick one thing.

"Perfecting your work's niche is vital to its success."

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Here's how:

Your passion + your knowledge for your specific audience

So if you're obsessed with organic skin products, studied chemistry in school and want to promote a vegan makeup line to teenage girls, your niche equation looks like this:

Organic products + chemistry skills for teenage girls

"But what if I also want to talk about how chemicals from makeup can cause environmental harm?"

You’ve already narrowed your focus to a specialty.

"But it's really important."

That's great, but you have to limit your work or it will be all over the place, distracting your audience.

"But ..."

Stop! There's plenty of time for you to write everything about everything, just not all in one piece. Think about how authoritative your piece will be when it speaks clearly about one topic. If I read your short story or book or marketing email and can't easily explain what it's about in one sentence, then let's revise until that's possible.

As an editor, I find great joy in chopping up a piece of writing. Mmm, it's delicious. Nom nom. There's no intended malice in removing words and reconstructing sentences; no, it's all in an effort to make the work most effective for its intended audience. As Strunk and White so seductively recommend in The Elements of Style: "It is always a good idea to reread your writing later and ruthlessly delete the excess."

"It is always a good idea to reread your writing later and ruthlessly delete the excess."

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And as a creative writer, don't think that giving yourself parameters means you're confining yourself for future work. Look at the multihyphenate James Franco. He's doing, well, just about everything, and not asking for permission first. You can write a story about a horseback riding camp today and one about the night janitorial crew at an accounting firm tomorrow. (Are you really writing one story a day? Yowza. Go you!)

If you'd like help narrowing your focus or have a 900-page debut novel that could stand to be more like, oh, say, 400 pages, let's talk. My years in news (slicing paragraphs to fit the available space), email marketing (trimming content to keep it aesthetically pleasing) and writing (sticking to word counts assigned by an editor or myself) have trained me to get the most bang out of each carefully chosen word. You can view my writing and editing services here, and feel free to drop me a line with any questions!

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