Much like the favorite book you never want to end, a career in writing will hopefully feature many chapters.
And while some people know the exact topic that fulfills their passions and supercharges their creativity, it takes trial and error for others to finally land in the right niche. These talented wordsmiths are proof that moving from one expertise field to another is not only possible — but can lead to a successful, robust profession.
From those who started in education and moved to travel writing, to former magazine editors who decided to try their luck at marketing, let these stories inspire you to keep pitching and positioning.
From education to travel
For more than a decade, Fiona Tapp worked as an elementary school teacher. During her tenure, she involved herself in the mechanics of policy, which included writing curriculum and schemes of work.
This gave her the idea to use this experience to grow a side hustle. This gig grew to be bigger than her full-time employment so she made the leap to try out freelance journalism on her own. Without the restrictions of a boss to report to or certain metrics to meet, she realized her options weren’t limited to education.
“I could write about anything I wanted so long as I did it well and could find someone to publish the work. I moved into writing about travel because I am passionate about exploring new places,” she explained.
So how’d she do it? By following her interests.
After all, when you’re curious about a topic, you’re more likely to dive head-first in and give it your all. Most importantly though, she doesn’t allow her niche to box her in, even if she does spend most of her time researching travel these days.
“Developing a niche can showcase your expertise but never forget that the freedom to write about what you want to write about is probably one of the reasons you became a freelancer in the first place.”
From finances to social issues and politics
More than a decade ago, reporter and columnist Erica J. Sandberg released her first book, “Expecting Money: The Essential Plan For New and Growing Families.”
The moment it hit the shelves, she left her full-time job at a nonprofit and became a consumer finance expert. This meant she covered everything within the fundamental finance spectrum — credit cards, loans, bankruptcy, home purchases, fraud, you name it.
Though she loved it (and still does), she transitioned herself away from a purely money-matters niche to one that involves politic and social issues. This is partly due to her location — San Francisco — which she says is beautiful and wonderful, but also experiencing a serious street crisis. Since she’s more moderate than her deep-left neighbors, she’s become a vocal local with plenty to say:
“I adore my city so I began to write about what’s going on. It all started with a dilapidated, defunct flower stand that was in the middle of the shopping area and was attracting all kinds of trouble: a magnet for drug deals, it was an open-air toilet, people were always passed out around it. It was covered with graffiti and was falling apart, so I started bugging the hell out of city government until it was removed. My experience with being a pest and then finally getting a result was the turning point.”
As she became more enthralled to write about social issues and politics in her town, she pitched the San Francisco Chronicle, and then was invited to contribute to the paper’s online edition, the SFGate.
With new bylines amassing, she’s now cemented her spot as a social and political commentator, contributing to USA Today, National Review Online and others. The transition, she says, was natural since it came from her heart.
“Injustice pains me. I want to do better and I want others to do better — so that’s what I write about,” she continues. “There’s a similarity between money and politics, actually. You need to know your rights as well as your responsibilities.”
From magazine editing to marketing
The debate between east vs. west coast has always been a heated one, especially when you chat with New Yorkers or Los Angeles dwellers. It was a decision to stay in the Golden State that led former magazine editor Samantha Slaven-Bick to switch niches.
For seven years, she worked as a writer and editor for a consumer magazine but as her career grew, it became clear she’d need to move to the Big Apple to rub elbows with the top-tier editors. She didn’t want to head across the country, so she knew it was time to make a change.
She quit her job and pivoted to copywriting, working in-house for Gap and a Procter & Gamble-owned beauty start-up. The experience opened her eyes to the ‘other side’ of writing: marketing.
“A lightbulb went off one day when I realized I understood how to launch brands/products successfully, as well as pitch them to the media, and once again shifted my career and started pursuing work on the PR side of the business,” she shared. A few years later, she launched her public relations business — and she’s never looked back.
For Slaven-Bick, keeping an open mind and ears have been paramount to her ability to build her career:
“Talk to others doing the role you most covet and keep your eyes and ears wide open as you’ll most likely be learning on the job once you make the switch. Lean on your past experience and current passion to really sell yourself in the new niche, and get others to believe in you. While there’s still a steep learning curve that goes along with any career change, having a bird’s eye view of the industry gives you a clear advantage as you pivot to another niche.”
From arts and culture to travel and marketing
Robin Catalano began her career as an arts, culture and human interest journalist, primarily for magazines. But once the recession hit in 2008, many of the glossies she worked for closed or laid off staff, which meant the freelancers were now competing with former editors for assignments.
In an effort to pay her bills, she segued into corporate communications and marketing — and realized she had a unique skill set for it. “Having a background as a journalist meant I was able to tell stories in a more compelling and emotionally resonant way than copywriters traditionally could. I was a ‘brand storyteller’ even before that ridiculous term was a thing,” she shared.
Though she says at first she was probably underqualified on the marketing end, she knew her background would help her learn quickly and easily. Today, she works as a travel writer and a brand marketer and has let every byline and opportunity guide her tenure.
Because she previously worked at food and wine magazines, she had a bit of experience traveling and writing. She used that as her foot in the door and she’s now been able to take on many stories. She’s the travel editor at Greylock Glass and continues to be a voice for small businesses.
If you want to mimic her success, she suggests dipping a toe in the pond before doing a cannonball into the water:
“In the early going, you need to be willing to do it for a reduced rate — even free — if it’s an assignment you really want and that will give you credibility in the new niche. Get out from behind your computer… a lot. Many writers, including me, identify as introverts, and networking feels like work. But it’s absolutely essential to a long-term career. People like to work with others they know and trust, and they refer those they know and trust to their friends and colleagues. This personal connection doesn’t happen online, so go to meetings and events in your local area, and attend national or international conferences in your niche.”
From sex to women’s empowerment
Author, writer and speaker Jenny Block started her career penning about sex. And though it was fun and rewarding, she says it also can land a writer in what her crew likes to call ‘the sex ghetto.’
Not only are mainstream bookstores uncomfortable putting your books on the front table, but venues are nervous about booking you as a speaker and websites are fearful of X-rated content.
When she took a ‘pause’ to reflect on her career, she admitted in truth that she didn’t set out to be a sex writer. At first, she was scribbling about travel, lifestyle and food, but when her first book came out about open relationships, she was suddenly a sexpert.
“It was a fun ride, but I wanted to reach a larger audience and my greatest gift has always been making people feel good about themselves. So I figured it was time to put that skill to work on the grandest possible scale,” she explained.
Most of her sex writing focused on empowering women to know themselves and speak up for what they want. She used this skill set to focus more on women’s issues — in and out of the bedroom.
“It was a little fake till you make it. I asked for what I wanted and made a case for why the move made perfect sense. Consider how what you have been writing can inform what you are interested in writing. What skills and interests will translate and actually make you a better fit than one might think at first glance? There are so many parts of being a writer that can allow you to move between genres. Take a chance by pitching outside of your genre and, when you do, be prepared to explain what makes you the one to write the piece despite the fact that your experience lies elsewhere.”