Confession: I used to be a dating blogger.
And I mean a full-blown Carrie Bradshaw wannabe who detailed every last minute of her adventures in New York City. I was young, and while I knew I wanted to be a writer, I wasn’t sure what topic was best suited for my interests. Fresh out of college, I moved to the Big Apple without a job and somehow ended up working a small business magazine that wasn’t quite my speed.
What I was really interested in was finding a partner in the city that never sleeps, so I let out my frustrations with my career and more importantly, with my single status via a public WordPress blog.
In an effort to keep myself accountable, I set out on a mission to publish something every single day for a year. In this time, I accumulated quite a following, and eventually, landed myself a digital editor job at NBC, reporting on the lifestyle topics I enjoyed: dating, love, sex, marriage, pregnancy and parenting.
Fast forward three years later… and I was burnt out.
It felt as if I had said everything there was left to say about my love life. And though I cared deeply about women having access to maternal care and resources — stalking expecting celebrities via Instagram and Twitter wasn’t exactly fulfilling.
In short, I outgrew the niche I embedded myself so deeply in, and I needed a change. With the advice and encouragement of friends — and the same courage that prompted me to move to Manhattan in the first place — I decided to switch my topic in a big, big way.
I sunsetted my blog. I moved into a content marketing role that allowed me to freelance on the side. And well? I pitched and networked like crazy. Eventually, one editor took a chance on me. Then another. Soon, a handful more. And within a couple of short years — that felt intolerably long — I managed to move into a travel and lifestyle niche that is much more suited to my genius.
My path is unique but it isn’t impossible to match. All it takes is a little gumption, a strong backbone for rejection and of course, patience.
Here, my advice — and the wisdom of another journalist — for switching your writing niche:
Step 1: Find your motivation
Staying in a world that makes you feel depleted, uninspired or anxious isn’t just bad news for your mental state from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it’s dangerous for your overall career. As a freelance journalist and podcaster Suchandrika Chakrabarti puts it, writing is so tied up with emotion that when you’re not enjoying what you’re writing about, your job will start to feel interminable.
This is true not only in a full-time gig but also for busy freelancers who have to hustle daily to build an income. “Consulting is so full of emotional ups and downs and jobs we have to do, rather than wanting to do, like our banking accounts. The reason you’ve gone freelance — the writing — should interest you. Being in the wrong niche will make you dread writing, and will negatively affect the quality of your work,” she continues.
It should be that frustration — and frankly, the boredom — that alerts you to the need to change. If you can’t muster up the courage to open a blank Word or Google doc without shuddering at the thought of yet another deadline, you could be fostering a death sentence for your creativity and talent. Use this anxiety to push you forward and, well, go for the leap of faith.
Step 2: Tap your current network
When I was ready to switch out of the dating writing sphere, I took stock of the network I built for myself. Some editors who enjoyed my personal column had invited me to write my Tinder fumbles for their publications, while others assigned topics within relationship journalism that fit the tone of their audience.
At the time, I probably had five steady clients who sent me regular assignments, and I felt close enough to explain my pickle. In my normal monthly pitch email, I threw in a few outlier topics that weren’t quite my usual speed. I made sure to call this out to them, and expressed my desire to write about different topics. Though it took a few misses, eventually, I was given the opportunity to write about health. Then wellness. Soon enough, a travel pitch was assigned.
As their confidence in my ability to pen about topics outside of love and dating grew, they soon introduced me to other section editors. It wasn’t an overnight process, but within a year, I had a library of clips that allowed me to cold-pitch new editors outside of my typical markets.
Chakrabarti’s experience was similar. She was on staff at The Daily Mirror when an editor selected her to go on a press trip with Google to Rome since she thought she’d be killer at tech-meets-travel writing. “She was so pleased with the result, she recommended me to the other travel editors for more press trips, and I ended up traveling to amazing places such as the Maldives, Cuba and Thailand,” she shared.
Step 3: Seek advice and network
If you were once-upon-a-time a sports journalist and now you’re fascinated by the start-up and entrepreneur world, making a big switch can feel impossible. Trust me, when I was penning yet another play-by-play of a terrible happy-hour date, I never thought I’d one day be writing about remarkable destinations or humane animal welfare tours for national travel publications.
But as with any industry, getting your foot in the door means making the extra effort to take a step. If most of your contacts are in one sector, put on your reporter hat and research the friend-of-a-friend connections you may have in your desired niche. You never know where one editor went once they left their post or what feelers your alumni network may offer.
One way to think about transitioning your areas of expertise is to think back to what actions you took to start your career many years ago. Though you have more experience now, when you’re hoping to dabble into a new niche, you’re actually starting from scratch again.
This means you may take writing assignments that are under your typical rate, and that you’ll need to ask for coffee meetings with new editors so you can make a solid, killer first impression. Your hustle should match the same grind you had when you were looking for your first entry-level job — and hopefully, the pay off will be even bigger this time ‘round.
Step 4: Rebrand yourself
One of the most time-consuming parts of switching my niche from Lindsay the dating blogger to Lindsay the travel journalist was cleaning up my own SEO. Because so much of my career was tied back to my blog and my experiences of being a hopeless romantic, I needed Google to tell a different story.
This meant investing deeply in a new website, a new Facebook writer page, a new Instagram and a new tagline for my LinkedIn. My goal was to get my blog to at least the second page of search results — and within six months, I managed to get it to the third.
Sort of like the advice of “faking it until you make it” or “dressing for the job you want, not the one you have,” rebranding is an important part of recreating your career’s identity. After all, when you’re cold-pitching a new editor, a new publication or a new area of expertise you’re just starting to understand, you need your public image to demonstrate your effort.
As any good writer knows, a smart leader will fact-check cold pitches. And if you’re labeling yourself a food critic when you want to write about fitness… It’s unlikely you’ll warrant a response.
Step 5: Be patient
There’s nothing worse than opening up your email only to find a void in your inbox. Maybe you sent out 10 pitches — perhaps even 20. It’s been a week and the crickets are weighing heavy on your spirit. Moving from one niche to another takes endurance and it certainly comes with setbacks.
The key is to keep at it, and when in doubt, write stories as you come across them or feel inspired, and keep trying to sell them until someone bites. As you learn more from each “no,” eventually you’ll stumble upon the “yes” that changes everything. For me, it was meeting an editor at a networking event who liked my style. For you, it could be a personal blog you publish that the right editor sees and admires.
Whatever the case, keep at it — and don’t give up.