Should an editorial freelance choose a niche?

The Oxford Dictionary of English describes a niche, among other definitions, as “a specialized but profitable segment of the market”. By niche I mean

  • exercising a certain skill, such as proofreading alone, as opposed to proofreading teamed up with other skills such as copyediting, indexing, or copywriting (i.e. writing advertising or promotional copy)
  • working in certain subject areas, perhaps nutrition, cooking and food and drink as an example
  • concentrating on certain media, such as books or short stories of fiction.

Choosing a niche will allow a freelance to target a certain client or market sector, and position themselves as an editorial expert in that industry. Also, those choosing a niche may be able to command more money, depending on that sector or subject area, and their own skill and reputation. But there are dangers in “putting all your eggs in one basket”, as the saying goes.

What kinds of niche?

I am writing this blog from the perspective of my own niche – proofreading – but many of the factors apply to other areas of editorial freelancing. For my part, although I restrict myself on the publishing front to proofreading and proof collation, I handle rewriting and paraphrasing. I am also wide-ranging in subject areas: astronomy (a long-time hobby of mine); accounting, finance, economics, business, and real estate (all because of past work experience). Education, philosophy, history, and cultural and social studies are all subjects that have been offered to me with great frequency.

From a commercial angle, I have worked on many different media, such as books, educational study materials, travel guides, journals, reports, and marketing material. From a personal or private angle I have handled student theses, essays, and dissertations. There are other freelancers who have worked on games and puzzles, packaging, labels, CD covers, menus, and event programmes, to name but a few.

Choosing a niche

Which niche(s) you gravitate towards will often depend on:

  • personal skills, for instance spotting errors and inconsistencies, creative writing
  • hobbies or interests that have given you a special knowledge or interest, for example fishing or motorcycles
  • educational background, such as college, university, or vocational
  • past employment experience before or while freelancing, for instance transport, laboratory research, or manufacturing
  • past editorial experience, for example working in a publishing house or a marketing department.

The demand for niches

Some skill areas require freelances in a certain niche – more so copyediting, indexing or copywriting. Copyediting a romance novel would probably not be suitable for someone who specializes heavily in technical manuals. Proofreading usually requires less specialization and is more suited to someone with an enquiring mind and an eye for detail, whatever the subject. The author and copyeditor after all have prepared the material and the proofreader’s role is to check its presentational accuracy after typesetting.

My own specialisms are not all intentional, having progressed into these accidentally or perhaps turned my hand to some new subject areas at the request of existing clients. After all that is how we obtain experience and knowledge.

Conclusion

It does not always pay to specialize in too narrow a set of niches as demand for these could change with economic and technological circumstances, or changes in reader fashion. By all means a freelance should capitalize on past experience or an existing interest but have an eye on the future.

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