By Christina Katz
In January I wrote about why I think it’s a good idea for every writer to develop a non-fiction platform. Last month I wrote about how specializing can help your platform grow faster and higher before you branch out. This month, I am asking you to come out of the expertise closet.
The fact is, most writers don’t know what their expertise is or what kind of expertise they’d like to develop. It’s especially challenging for a writer who has the equivalent of a walk-in closet full of gold bars of expertise, all stacked up nicely and neatly, but wasting away because no one knows about them! A writer who isn’t willing to take the time to uncover a specific direction is definitely missing an opportunity to get nonfiction published on that topic.
A common misunderstanding about expertise is, “Yes, but don’t I have to have a degree or years of study in my field already?” But you don’t need to have anything already, except a desire to dive in deeply and learn and absorb what you need to know. This is how to get from wherever you are to wherever you’d like to be. That’s pretty much what writers have always done: reach for the next ring of knowledge.
Regardless of how much expertise you already have and how much more you need to learn, I recommend choosing a topic that has sustainable passion for you. By this I mean a topic you could stick with for a few years, at least, without getting burned out. Kelly James Enger is a fitness buff and therefore writes about health and fitness. Kelly Huffman puts her theater degree to use writing theater reviews. Many parents, world travelers, and foodies incorporate their familiarity with their subject into their writing. Discovering your sustainable passion can give you a fresh foothold to climb into a writing career you love and one you continue to love to develop. And what writer wouldn’t want that?
Author Sharon Cindrich is a good example of someone who wasn’t afraid to dive into semi-unfamiliar territory. Her experience could happen to any writer.
Sharon is a freelancing mom up in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. A couple of years ago, she had some gold in her closet and was regularly going in there and pulling out a bar or two at a time and using them to write an article about how to make great birthday cupcakes or how to make a smooth transition to middle school or how to navigate the technological jungle when you have kids. In the process of writing and submitting articles, she learned how to do the footwork and get her writing published. She had been working like that for a few years and eventually became a contributor to Family Fun magazine among others but, like many of us, she longed for the challenge of writing a book.
Along came mutual friend and mentor Kelly James Enger, who said, “Hey Sharon, my editor over at Random House says they need someone to write a book on how to parent kids in the technological age. Would you be interested in submitting an idea?”
Sharon submits a detailed outline, initially, on some of the gold in her closet (she’s the mom of two middle-school-age kids and deals with technology issues every day). Then she augments what she already knows with research, interviews, and publishing factoids. She submits it with Kelly’s recommendation and lands a book deal! Then she gets to spend the next year plus writing her brains out on her favorite topics: kids, technology and parenting. Do you think she had a lot to learn in addition to everything she already had in her closet? Heck yeah. But she’s up for it and the result is E-parenting, Keeping up with your Tech-Savvy Kids, a much-needed book destined to help parents everywhere, which will be published in June by Random House.
Sharon’s story leads me to a question for you: What is languishing in your expertise closet? It might be one little gold bar or it might be twenty. It might be a whole closet full of knowledge literally worth its weight in gold. But it isn’t going to do you or anyone else any good stashed away. So what do you say, we take a look in there and see what we can do. More on that topic, next month!
Christina Katz placed her book, Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, 2007) at the 2005 Willamette Writers Conference. To keep current with Christina, her upcoming classes, and her book tour, please subscribe to this online zine (jump to subscribe).