As writers, we can write ourselves into boxes based on the subject matter we choose, the expertise we develop, the genre we write in, the themes we follow, and even the characters or milieus we love. Believe it or not, this can be a very good thing, because it helps us to become known, meaning that fans read our work, like it, look for something similar, and find us again. Careers are built on becoming known.
It can also be a bad thing. People aren’t stagnant and writers are people. The work we do at the beginning shapes our career, but we grow as people and as writers. Eventually, many of us will want to break out of the boxes we wrote ourselves into and write something rather different.
Some of us face that choice earlier than others, because we choose to work from multiple boxes. For example, though it’s not as apparent on this blog, I am becoming known as a particular kind of writer. I write nonfiction. Specifically, I write about topics that revolve around my role as the mother of three children with autism: I write about autism and neurodiversity, I write about special needs parenting and special education, I write about child development and disability advocacy.
This writing is all very important to me. But it’s not all of who I am or all of what I want to become known as. For example, as is more apparent on this blog, I am also becoming known as a marketer. I’ve worked as a freelance copywriter. I write about marketing to share my knowledge with my fellow business owners and my fellow writers. I offer services to help others with their own marketing efforts.
But that isn’t all of who I am either, nor is it all of what I want to become known as. My first writing love was storytelling, particularly fantasy and science fiction. While this area is less urgent, my dream will not be fulfilled until this portion of myself is realized.
So, I have three different boxes that I write from and each of these boxes can have some overlap, but each are also completely distinct. And this is just me now. Eventually, I may break out of these boxes and explore something new.
So, how do you go about breaking out of whatever box(es) you’ve written yourself into? The first step is to realize that 1) there is overlap and 2) there is distinction. Sounds overly simple, right? Well, it’s just the start.
You have to realize that your readership (whatever it is) is going to have overlap and yet is going to be distinct. For example, you wouldn’t think that autism and fantasy fiction has anything to do with each other, right? Yet, as someone immersed in autism, I see something that others might not notice—like how many fantasy characters are inspired by autistic traits. I’ve also noticed that quite a few of the people who are active in the greater autism community are also avid fantasy or science fiction readers. So, there’re two very different topics that also have some very real overlap. Still, the audiences for each are obviously distinct.
You need to figure out where the overlap is among your writing boxes. Then, you need to decide how you can use it. At the same time, you need to distinguish yourselves (you in each of your boxes). Then, you need to decide how you can distinguish your different selves from one another to your readers. There is no hard and fast strategy for this. Like most of the marketing we authors and writers do, everything has to be tailored to our subjects and our styles and our readers.
The thing, though, is that platform-building is hard work. We spend a lot of time and energy building the platforms we have. When we change, it’s wasteful to simply discard those old platforms. But it’s ineffective to expect the old platform to serve the needs of the new work.
So, we use our old platforms as a launching point into a new audience, carrying over some of our old readers to the new works. The good news is that if you’ve reached this point then you already have some idea of how to build a platform. The bad news is that building a new platform isn’t necessarily going to be easier than building that first platform was, because while our skills have improved, we will also face resistance. That’s the tradeoff. The best news is that a savvy marketer can take the good with the bad and make it into something even better.