How I Went From Being the “Vibrator Queen” to Being the Senior Writer of a Sexual Health Organization

Thirteen years ago, I set out for an interview at the Boston Phoenix. I was up for an editorial internship in their new media department and, upon my arrival, I was ushered into the private office of the man who would eventually become my supervisor. He sat before me, rifling through my clips and pointing out [...]

How to Start from Scratch with a New Niche

This is a metaphorical lump of dough.

Like any good love affair, even a thriving writing career can get into a slump. And by “slump,” I’m not referring to the lean times in your typical feast-or-famine cycle. I’m referring to a successful business that — for some reason or another — you just feel bored with.

You know the feeling: Every targeted press release seems to say the same thing. Every forthcoming book you’re offered for review seems to have the same premise. And when your favorite sex toy purveyor offers you the latest and greatest vibrator with all the bells and whistles, you just feel meh.

While your niche may once have been a passion (and perhaps still is), it doesn’t seem to leave room for all the new interests in your life.

But is it worth it to switch gears? Will food editors be interested in a piece from a veteran health and wellness writer? Will tech editors care what the go-to sex columnist has to say?

I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago. Way back when, after stumbling upon an internship creating adult content for a personals site, I threw myself into the sex content niche for very personal reasons. I was interested in exploring sex positivity within the contexts of feminism, sexual dysfunction, and past abuse.

These days, I’m cool with the sex writing, but it’s not all I am. I also sing funeral masses. I love hoop dancing. I’m addicted to yoga. I’m a disaster in the kitchen, but I love cooking, too. I go wine tasting with my husband. And I’m a crazy cat lady.

Gee whiz. It sure would be fun to write about those things, too.

And I can but, in order to succeed, I need to take a lesson from those days when I was just starting out. Luckily, while I may — for the most part — be starting from scratch, I still have one of those pre-made crusts to work with. (Too much? Too corny? To hell with it.)

Step One — Research New Markets:

As has become pretty apparent here lately, I have a new hobby. It involves doing headstands and acquiring a hot ass. I’m also into dance-based workouts like belly dancing and hoop dancing, have been doing callanetics for 12 years, walk wherever I can, read books like French Women Don’t Get Fat and The Flex Diet, and enjoy cooking things from scratch. So why the hell does my writing only focus on sexual health?

Wanting to rectify that, I recently took a field trip to Barnes & Noble and picked up copies of Om Yoga & Lifestyle, Yoga Journal, Women’s Health, Fitness, and Whole Living. I flipped through the magazines, bookmarking the masthead, making note of the story layouts, and familiarizing myself with the various magazine sections. I asked myself: What story could I write to fit this publication?

If you’re considering a new market, you should do the same. Visit your local bookshop and browse the magazine racks. Check out mediabistro’s How To Pitch series, which allows you to search publications by category. Search sites like Alltop by subject matter, or scour the blog rolls on popular blogs. And of course, there’s always the good old Writer’s Market.

Step Two — Expand Your Network:

You have 1,981 followers on Twitter. The entire Internet knows about your experience with the Sexerciseball. At this point, all the “how to boost your libido” blog posts and mythology-based erotica essays are coming to you. But you know what’s not coming to you? Anything that’s not about your vagina. Obviously, you need to expand your circle in new directions.

Use sites like LinkedIn or Twitter to find contact info for the editors at your new dream magazines. (And while the mediabistro How To Pitch articles may not be up to date in terms of contact info, you can always use them to snag a magazine’s email format and then pop in the latest names on the magazine’s masthead.) Send these editors LOIs (letters of interest), or ask them if they’d be up for an informal chat about their experiences within a niche. Tell them you’d love to hear more about what they’re looking for. (I’ve landed many lunch invites this way.)

Or connect with other freelance writers who are active in a subject area you’d like to expand into. Having a strong freelance network is key for swapping tips, clips, stories, advice, and sometimes even important contacts. I never would have written about my cats for Petside, for example, without a tip from a fellow freelancer writer. The site just wasn’t on my radar.

Finally, attend networking or industry-specific events. As a sex writer, I’ve attended my share of dating blogger happy hours and dating site parties. Do your homework and see if the writers in your new niche are doing something similar. Or attend those professional conferences in order to make valuable industry contacts or gain inspiration for future stories. For example, if you’re looking to break into Psychology Today, check out Psychotherapy Networker to see what’s what in the world of the mind.

Step Three — Start Small:

Despite being a total sexpert, I once wrote the Ultimate New Jersey Wine Tour for a regional magazine based upon the strength of my pitch alone. And I’ve written a roundup on fitness classes that make you laugh for a newer, regional magazine. While it helped that my query letters were kick-ass (more on that in the next step), the fact that I was aiming for regional — rather than national — markets was probably also a factor. Oftentimes, the smaller publications are far more willing to take a chance on new writers.

So if you’re having a hard time getting in the door at the major glossies, pretend you’re building up your portfolio all over again and aim a bit lower.

Step Four — Wow Them With Your Letter:

I’ve raved about the importance of a strong letter in the past. And I’ll do it again. When you’re lacking clips in a certain niche, a strong query letter can showcase your writing ability, spotlight a brilliant idea, and act as proof that — despite the skimpy portfolio — you’re the best writer for the job, whether because of expert contacts, personal experience, or certified expertise.

Step Five — Don’t Discount Your Prior Experience:

This is where that pre-made crust comes in. (And I always cheat by using the pre-made crust though, in this case, I think you’ve earned it.)  Basically, even though you’re a newbie to the niche, you still have a leg up by being an established, professional writer. What does this mean? It means that you have a proven track record of producing  brilliant content under deadline. It means you know your way around an expert interview, and rock the house at research. It means you have an already-existing readership. It means that you’re worth those professional rates.

So please. For the love of god. Don’t shortchange yourself. Realize that if you did it before, you can do it again.

And p.s. Don’t be a wuss. Always negotiate for higher rates. You’re worth it.

Related: 10 Ways To Prove Experience… Without Any, Cornering the Market? Or Feeling Cornered?, Need New Material? Try Living Your Life