On the Creative Self-Publishing Podcast, ALLi Director Orna Ross and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy discuss using your creative passion to discover your genre, niche, and micro-niche. We all have something specific that inspires us. But we need to translate that inspiration into defining our specific categories so readers can find us. That, in turn, can fire up our creativity.
The Creative Self-Publishing podcast stream is sponsored by Orna Ross’s guidebook: Creative Self-Publishing. You can purchase the book at selfpublishingAdvice.org/creative. ALLI members receive the ebook edition, and all ALLi guidebooks, free.
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- Creative Planning for Profit: A Facebook Group for Authors
- Creative Self-Publishing Guidebook, by Orna Ross
- Orna Ross's Patreon page.
About the Hosts
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: Creative Passion
Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy, news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors, and you're listening to Creative Self-Publishing with Orna Ross, ALLi director, novelist, poet, and creative facilitator.
Every episode we discuss how to become a profitable self-publisher while also retaining your unique creative voice. There are many paths to self-publishing, and we help you discover yours. Joining me now is Orna Ross. Hello Orna, how are you?
Orna Ross: Hi Howard. Hello everyone. I'm very well, thank you.
Howard Lovy: Good. I'm excited to get into today's topic, which is creative passions, and how they feed into your genre niche and micro niche.
I think as writers, we all have something specific that gets us inspired and fired up, but we need to translate that into defining our category so that readers can find us.
Orna Ross: Exactly right. That's exactly what to today's show is all about.
Howard Lovy: So first, let's go into what exactly you mean by creative passion, and we'll go from there.
Orna Ross: Yeah, so a lot of people talk about passion and mission. These are business terms that are used, not just in creative industries like ours, creative businesses like being an independent book publisher, author publisher, but much more widely than that. And there is this kind of idea that you have one passion and one kind of mission, but whatever about mission and purpose as a writer, I think we all have a number of creative passions, and these find their way into our writing.
But we can often have a disconnect between the passions that turn up in the writing and our publishing. The value of knowing what your creative passions are is that you can, in a conscious way, bring it into your writing and you’re publishing in a way that speaks to your reader.
So, your passion is essentially anything you love, and a clue for those of us, some of us just know, we know what we're passionate about and we're very clear about it. It's front of mind and we operate from there consciously, knowing exactly what we're doing. For lots more of us it's an unconscious thing and bringing it into consciousness is the suggestion. The more that we can be conscious about it, the more we can focus in and let other things fall away so that we are really zoning in on what we're passionate about.
So, a clue to, if we don't know our passions in our own writing, a good clue to that is the things that we most love to read. It's very often what we want to write about, is also what we want to read about or perhaps have read a lot about in the past, and sometimes it happens that we're really passionate about something in our reading and that turns up in our writing later on.
So as usual, with writing and publishing, Howard, there is not any one answer or one thing; each author has to find their own way. But I suppose what I'm arguing is that it really is worth thinking about your creative passions, particularly those of you who are listening who are just starting out, homing in on this can really save you a lot of time later on, and it's not just naval gazing; it actually does have a lot of practical value.
Howard Lovy: Do you want to talk about yours and then I can go into some of mine as well?
Orna Ross: Yeah, so I think for me, because I write across three macro genres, which is unusual. I write fiction, I write poetry, and I also write non-fiction.
Howard Lovy: A triple threat.
Orna Ross: Yeah, around my neck. So, for me, getting to the heart of this, it took time, because I used to get everything all mixed up, but essentially, I've honed it down now. I know that with fiction, first of all, it's got to be the past. So, I have a major passion, and my imagination doesn't even work if it isn't set in the past. I can't do contemporary; I certainly can't do future thinking. So, that's one thing. But I am fascinated by family dynamics, and particularly gender dynamics within families and what all that gives rise to, and my mind tends to think in terms of questions and answers.
So, historical mystery, I came to realize, was my niche when it came to fiction. Then the micro niche brings in all those different elements, which is historical family murder mysteries. So, non-fiction then was very much about helping other people and particularly helping authors. So, I'm going to stick to one branch of non-fiction. I'd do too, but it would just get too confusing to go all over the place. So, the how-to non-fiction is the genre, and the niche is self-publishing, obviously, and the micro niche is profitable publishing for dedicated indie authors, because self-publishing can mean people who are publishing just one book for family or whatever. It's independent authors who want to actually make a living from their writing that is the kind of micro niche for the kind of self-publishing books that I write.
Howard Lovy: And we all appreciate it very much.
Orna Ross: Oh, very good. And then poetry, the genre is inspirational. So, I've always, they are the poets I read, Mary Oliver, Rumi Rilke, all those kind of poets, Yeats, they've always inspired me and I've turned to them, both to help me in my own life, but also as masters for my own work. Then the niche is probably feminist inspirational poetry. I'm very interested in the divine feminine, the feminal, all of that, and so the micro niche I think of as inspirational poetry, not religious, but spiritual inspirational poetry for male and female feminists because I firmly believe men can be feminist as well as women.
Howard Lovy: Absolutely.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and that is the micro niche I write for. So, I hope, by giving that example, that helps people who are listening to think about their own. Maybe you'd offer yours as well?
Howard Lovy: Sure, yeah. My creative passion, when it comes to writing, and my personal interests, and what I've read ever since I was a child is because of my family history and personal interests. A lot of my work centers around Jewish issues, but that doesn't mean it's only about that; it's more of a backdrop to everything I write, whether it's fiction or non-fiction.
For non-fiction, I wrote down, my genre is memoir, and my niche is Jewish-themed memoir, and I guess my micro niche would be personal and family experiences that highlight historical and contemporary Jewish issues, and I think within that there's a lot of room.
Did I get that right in terms of how I'm thinking about these categories?
Orna Ross: Yes, absolutely right. So key, what you said there at the end, while we're narrowing in and we're focusing, and that's what helps us to connect with our readers, and the idea here is that you are passionate about it, they're passionate about it, and that mutual passion is where you're going to connect on the page.
And you're absolutely right, this idea of leaving, while it is focusing in so we can do that, there also needs to be enough space for you to be able to breathe creatively within the niche, within the micro niche even. There has to be enough space for another book as well, because it's not never going to be just about one book. So, we've already seen you take your interest from memoir into fiction in the last number of months. So yeah, they're big enough to hold that.
Howard Lovy: I hope so, yeah. My influences, in terms of fiction, have been Philip Roth, Michael Chabon, Nathan Englander. They're Jewish writers who write, or wrote, about Jewish issues, but it's not solely about being Jewish, it's the backdrop to the larger stories.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and the historical dimension and the family, they all turn up in all of those writers you've just spoken about.
Howard Lovy: Right, and so what I came up with fiction is, literary Jewish-theme literature as the niche, and the micro niche is character driven stories that touch on a Jewish perspective on issues such as relationships, aging, music, and just navigating through the world.
Orna Ross: Yep, great. All of that works and plenty of room for more books in a series there, I think.
Those who might be listening I think, if you don't know, if you have only a rough idea and you haven't pinned this down as much as Howard has or I have because we've done the exercises, I think it is useful to actually approach it as an exercise and answer the following question, but answer it under four specific headings.
So, what do I most enjoy reading and writing about? But answer this under the headings of theme, character type, setting, and style.
So, you mentioned the literary approach. If it's going to be a literary novel with, as you were talking about, going deep into character motivation and all of that kind of stuff, then it's one kind book. So, style comes in, setting is important, character type, and theme. So, if you go into those four headings, you should come back out with a very clear idea of your creative passions.
Howard Lovy: I guess, people have to reach within themselves to find what they're passionate about, but it doesn't necessarily have to be autobiographical. With me it's so obviously autobiographical, but I don't think it necessarily has to be that, right?
Orna Ross: No, I don't think so, and I think it's very common that it is autobiographical at the beginning, and then you stay within the overall umbrella that you've carved out for yourself but it expands so that the books, generally speaking, and again there are no rules, but generally speaking, as you write on it moves further away. The more books you have, it moves further away from being so cantered on yourself.
So, I too began with my family history and my first novel was, not autobiographical, but I certainly drew on aspects of my family history for it, but as I've gone on it's moved out from there.
What you often find as well with authors is then they start a whole new series and a whole new set of, and it might even be a completely different passion then, and a whole series that looks completely different, is in a completely different genre and so on.
That hasn't happened for me, and I don't think it probably will is my feeling, but I don't know, and you never do know. So, you can see writers completely breaking out and doing something completely different, and contrary to received wisdom, that can work really well.
I really do believe very strongly in following your creative passion as a writer. I know there's a movement, there's quite a large movement in the self-publishing sphere about writing to market, and while I completely understand that, and I do think it is a way to success, though it's by no means a guarantee any more than writing to your passion is, I think for me, speaking personally, and as I observe the community over a long period of time now, the Alliance of Independent Authors has been around for over a decade at this stage, so I've seen lots of things happening and lots of things coming and going in my observation and in my own experience; there's no need to write to market anymore.
You write out of your passion, and we've got a global market so that no matter how niche your topic and your passions are, there are enough people out there. Particularly with new ways of publishing, like Crowdfunders, Kickstarter, publishing direct, creating premium products around your books. There is no need for you to be chasing the market and coming up with.
So, for those who don't know exactly what I mean, when I say writing to market, what I'm talking about is the idea that you maximize your chances of a success by writing what readers are actively seeking in a particular time.
So, you go out there, you research popular genre, or tropes, or themes in non-fiction, or whatever is trendy, basically. And then you write to that because that genre is currently trending and you're trying to capture that, or because you know there's a proven audience there, but the thing is that sometimes readers don't know what they want until they get it.
And as I said, because we now, it's digital publishing, there's a long tail, it sits there. That was much more necessary when, in the old way of publishing, when you only got your six to 12 weeks, to prove yourself, if you like, and succeed because you went onto a physical bookshelf and you only got X amount of time on that bookshelf, and if the book didn't succeed, then it was off the shelf and next.
It's not like that now with digital publishing. We've got a long tail, we've got a global readership, and no matter what niche interest you have, there are readers there who share that interest. So, the thing about connecting with your passion is that you're far more likely to create engaging and high-quality work because it resonates with you, it's more likely to resonate with readers.
And I think especially these days with AI bots everywhere, the more human and authentic and passionate you can be about your subject matter and approach, I think the better.
So, I'm not suggesting tath passion alone is enough, it's not. Obviously, developing your writing skills and your publishing skills are what leads to success ultimately, but you're far more engaged and far more excited and far more likely to have the creative energy, to get the high order of skill level that you need as a writer and need as a publisher, if you're doing something that you truly love. So, why wouldn't you, if you can, there's never been a better time to succeed in writing what you actually do love to write about. So, why wouldn't you actually give yourself that? Why would you go off chasing the market? It seems to me to be a very cold approach in comparison.
Howard Lovy: Right, and the market is out there. Part of it is you finding the readers, and you mentioned I think in your book, brainstorming categories and keywords using things like Google's keyword planner or Amazon's search bar suggestions.
Is that part of the process after you write your book? To find out, okay, what are my key words here?
Orna Ross: I think it's part of the process here. In the book, Creative Self-Publishing, where I talk about creative passion, it's right up there at the beginning, and I think when it comes to tools like Google's keyword planner, or using Amazon search bar, or any of those kinds of ways of looking at categories and keywords, they make so much more sense and the job becomes so much easier when you have actually done that work of the other exercise where you actually isolate what you are passionate about and you have worked out in your head, what is your genre, what is your niche, and what is your micro niche.
Then you're perfectly positioned, if you like, to go off and look at categories and keywords, and then you bring those, obviously, into your metadata when it comes to setting up your book, and so it's, as I said, it has real practical implications for your marketing, for your distribution, for everything that you do as a publisher.
But your niche, and your micro niche, and your genre, they might align with the categories. The categories further refine it, and the keywords refine it again.
So, the idea of understanding your genre, niche, and micro niche though isn't just about that practical application, that definitely comes in, and I think can come in very early, while you're writing, even when you're conceiving of yourself as a writer, quite early in the process you can begin to think about this because understanding your genre and your niche and your micro niche, it isn't just for doing that practical work, it's really for you as a writer and publisher.
It gives you that foundation. It's the foundation of your pyramid if you like, and this is where we're talking earlier about them being broad enough to allow room for your own creative expansion and development, but also being focused enough to give you ideas of what your book covers should look like and your aesthetics should be like, and the kind of language you use in your book descriptions and your marketing campaigns.
So, it's understanding that it's for you, first of all, as a publisher, and then narrowing down to bring it actually into your publishing; it's almost like there are two phases.
Howard Lovy: It's not the tail wagging the dog. It's not looking for a market and then writing to it. It's more, this is what I do, this is what I'm passionate about, now let's find the key words to help people find it.
Orna Ross: Exactly. So, it's almost like the pulse, I think of it as the pulse of creative self-publishing. First you focus inwards, connecting creatively with yourself, understanding your own motivations, your own passions, and then focusing outwards. So, it's like breathing in, breathing out, kind of thing.
I think it gives your publishing a very stable base and it organically integrates what you do as you go forward once you have that kind of awareness of your creative passion in place.
Howard Lovy: You've written a lot of books, does that sort of morph over time? Do you do this process every time you begin a new book?
Orna Ross: Tap back into it, maybe, but what happens is that you see you no longer need to do the exercise. You see it playing out as you're actually writing and coming up with new ideas, and you see how your own thoughts and feelings and ideas fit into that awareness that you've already developed.
So, at the beginning you can be reaching for it and trying to find it, and it's not just necessarily a feeling of, I love that, it can be an unusual interest or an unusual combination of interests together, or it can be a little kind of very quiet inner voice, or else it could be a huge ambition that you're very aware of.
Again, there are no rules, but as you go on and as you develop more as a writer and as a publisher, it's almost like the deeper we're diving into that passion and the more sustaining it's becoming, because it doesn't grow stale, it grows with you.
Howard Lovy: Right. Now, is that more difficult to do with your sort of how-to books involving self-publishing and profitable self-publishing? You're passionate about teaching, but you also have to stay up on what's current? Is there a give and take between what's happening externally and internally?
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think there definitely is that give and take, but again, the passion just completely sustains you. So, I am uber interested. Nothing happens without me really being, and I'm as engaged with what's happening in the self-publishing sector today as I was when I started writing these books. So, passion is every bit as real and as rich for that more practical kind of publishing as it is for the inspirational poetry and the fiction in between.
So, I find no difference. They are different passions, but they operate in very similar ways within those three. So, from the outside people might say, oh, the inspirational stuff is richer and deeper, and you're probably more passionate about that, or you're more passionate about your fiction writing.
People often say to me, if you could only do one, which would you do, and I can't answer that question. If I could only do one, I would only be doing one. I have to do them all, and that is because I'm passionate about them all.
Howard Lovy: Right. And that passion also carries into marketing and book design and everything, all the other stuff that comes along with it, not just the writing?
Orna Ross: Exactly. Once you have the awareness of it, then you begin to look at specifically other people who are doing that particular thing, and you let everything else fall away, and so you really just track that and nothing else. You stay there and you find that there is room in there for every aspect that you're interested in.
Howard Lovy: Right. Do you have any other advice for people listening who want to connect their passion with defining their niche?
Orna Ross: Only to say that you probably won't want to do this and be inclined to skip it. It's the kind of work that we, as indie authors, we're very often in a hurry and we just want to get on with things, and this is the kind of deeper work that we can skip that actually takes more time in the end. So, the only thing I would say here is that, like a lot of the things we talk about on this particular stream of our podcast, these deeper exercises don't take time, they actually make time.
So, you will save yourself a lot of time later on if you get this right from the start.
Howard Lovy: Thank you, Orna, again, for helping us turn our passions into something more definable and even marketable. I try to incorporate a lesson from these sessions in my own work, and I'll see you again in a couple of weeks.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. Look forward to it. Thank you, Howard.