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Monday, December 31, 2007

Create Your Own Niche

Happy New Year! I hope 2007 proved to be a good one for all of you, and I wish that everything will turn out really bright this 2008!

One of the things you can begin doing as you build yourself as a graphic novelist is to identify your niche. In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned how you can gain more mileage in promoting your book by zeroing in on a specific audience. When you create a romance graphic novel, you can direct your marketing efforts towards venues frequented by women. Same goes if your graphic novel is about a special interest, like gardening or the American Civil War.

As you go through your creative life, you'll notice that you focus on specific modes, aspects, hooks, styles, characters, or themes, and you'll discover the kinds of stories you're most comfortable creating. For instance, you might be the kind of creator who tends towards female leads who struggle against a patriarchal society. Or you feel more at home writing about teenage guys who deal with peer pressure and conformity. Or you often play with what-ifs involving "loss of innocence."

This doesn't mean that you aren't flexible. Your tendency towards certain characters or themes has largely to do with how much they have influenced your way of thinking and feeling, whether or not the experiences were your own. In my case, I find myself juggling thoughts on "relationships that could not be," and have noticed that my stories have plot elements that explore that idea. I can still be versatile with my stories despite this, since I can alter a lot of the other elements.

You can test this by looking through works of prose writers. The characters of Haruki Murakami have a similar vibe about them, mostly young sarariman trying to make sense of their mundane lives in bustling modern day Japan, with some weirdness or magical realism thrown in. Nicholas Sparks, on the other hand, seems to often explore the idea of love in absentia, the emptiness that it leaves, and the journey towards wholeness. Anne Rice has always been about eroticism, long before her vampire novels came out (let's not talk about her Jesus novel, though).

With movies directors, the same principle applies. You wouldn't tag Tim Burton with a dizzying CGI-laced action film any more that you'd tag Roland Emmerich with offbeat modernist fantasies.

And then there's you. What do you usually explore in your stories? What are the common elements? Specific personalities? Specific themes? A particular attack or style?

When you've isolated that, make it your "stamp." Let that help you grab your niche.

The advantage of having a niche market is that you become reliable to that market. When you hear the name Neil Gaiman, you know that "legal thriller" isn't the genre that comes to mind. If you're a fan of those stories, you'll most probably go to John Grisham's newest take on the subject. It's a marketing tool that helps solidify your position in the industry, for good or ill, and any new customers that fall under your niche will see you as the reliable source of material they're looking for. Granting, of course, that you've created and released enough material.

The disadvantage of a niche is that it seems very limiting. What if you want to try something else? Well, let's take a look again at John Grisham who, after a string of successful legal thrillers, took a risk with a baseball drama and even a Christmas comedy. The lesson here is: if you're good, you're good. You just need that niche as a stepping stone.

What you must consider, though, is that niches don't come in one size. Plus the fact that a very large niche will also have a lot of players competing for pieces of the pie. That's why it's recommended that when you discover your niche, do some research on works that may be similar to yours. Then determine where you're different, making sure that the difference is significant enough to be distinct.

For instance, the romance novel market is really huge. But there are authors who specialize in modern day cosmopolitan romances, gothic/horror romances, swords and sorcery romances, Civil War romances, and detective romances. This can get broken down further by age group--teenagers, young adult women, middle aged women, etc.

The bottom line is everyone has his or her place in the world. Focus on your place and be known for it, then see how far and wide you can go.

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