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Thoughty Thursday: Call Me Chameleon

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It ain't easy being green...or purple or sparkly...

It’s writer conference season. In July I’ll be at International Thriller Writers “Thrillerfest” for nearly a week of speakers, panels, and “Agentfest” with more than 60 agents to pitch. In May, I’ll be at the OWFI Conference in Oklahoma City speaking about my kindle-ization journey, and media training for authors. And tomorrow I travel to Norman, Oklahoma for the Society of Professional Journalists conference , speaking on Saturday about “niche marketing,” how to become an expert, and making a living as a freelance writer.

Holy crappiocca. Do they want the feel-good answer, or the truth? *eg*

I know a bunch of savvy “furry” writers follow this blog (~~waving!). How many of us started out saying, “I want to be a niche writer. I want to be an expert in a teensy narrow topic. I want to make a living making sh#$%^&….(ahem) stuff up.

I've had fantastic bosses--but some hissed me off.

Okay, I’ll cop to that last one. But the hope of making $$ at writing, working for myself, staying at home with the fur-kids, evolved out of self defense—I’m not a very good employee. They say confession is good for the soul, so Yes, it’s true! I’ve been fired more than once. At least twice was for telling the truth and not sucking up.

The dream of getting out from under the boss’s thumb is the big carrot tempting lots of us into turtle-ing along the writer’s path.

I write for the "shell" of it.

Niche writing and making a living at it is a contradiction in terms. By definition, a “niche” focuses on such a specific topic that the audience for that topic is limited. Therefore, a niche expert limits the market before the first word ever gets typed on the screen. If the other successful niche experts out there are like me, they’re accidental experts.

#1. Become a niche writer by having a passion for a particular subject. I happen to adore pets. And I happened to fall into working for veterinarians. Being bored in a small town left either channeling my inner wise-ass (an even narrower niche) or that old saw, “write what you know.”

#2. Become an “expert” by knowing how much you stand to learn, asking endless questions and (most important of all) WRITE GOOD. Period.

#3. Make $$ at the gig by good planning and/or getting lucky. Hey, it can happen!

I quit my last “real job” in 1992 . . . nope, wasn’t fired that time, it was a good job, great people to work with, and my spur of the moment unplanned choice. Took four years to get a fantastic agent who sold a bunch of books, which led to a killer spokesperson gig. None of it was planned, but one step connected to the next like Legos until the career-of-my dreams was built. However, each time I came near understanding this writer’s biz, and got comfortable in my niche, I got bit on the butt. Publishing changes the rules more often than I swap sparkly socks. And it sucks. Even puppies target used up footgear.

I can chew it off--watch!

So now I’m tasked with being the expert on becoming an expert. Here’s #4 to becoming a success—BE A CHAMELEON. Learn to reinvent yourself.

I’m not the same writer, and it’s not the same biz of 25 years ago—and it’s changing on a daily basis. If I hadn’t changed, I’d be out of a job. Today I still have a boss. She makes me work harder and longer hours (and pays less!) than any previous employer I’ve had. She also knows anytime I goof off. My boss is a bitch.

But I love it. For the first time, I’m actually planning my career. I’m not taking one step and waiting on the whim of an agent or publisher to take the next. I get royalty income every month. And get to write what I know my audience wants to read and I want to produce. Including bloody-good fiction. I’m counting on y’all to tell me what you want to read—that’s what comments are for, right? *s*

I love the control. I know more than before, and accept that change will come and I’ll survive. I’ve got plenty of sparkly socks to mix and match. That’s why that whole Agentfest pitch thing has me torn—not sure I want to give up my newfound freedom and climb back on that hamster wheel.

Calling all chameleons…writers and readers, what would YOU do?

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About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant (dogs/cats), award winning author of 30+ pet care titles and thrillers, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

16 responses »

  1. Barbara Saunders

    Great post, Amy! Being a chameleon is becoming a requirement for everyone, not just writers.

    • Yep, I hear that Barbara. Took me a while to figure it out and I sat around beating my head against the wall singing “woe is me” for too long. No more! Watch my sparkly dust! *vbg*

  2. Lynette George

    You’re my HERO, Amy!!!! You’re a fantastic role model. Now, if I can get up the gumption, get out of my rut and just go for it myself! Oh, and on the fiction/thriller line, what about a personable, funny super sleuth and her faithful canine companion who goes everywhere with her and gets into just as much trouble (and danger) as she does? Of course, me being the “crazy cat lady,” there has to be an intelligent, aloof and highly-judgemental cat in the household to berate the two lesser entities for their mishaps (and to dial 911 when needed). I think it would be a best seller!

    Have fun!


  3. LOL Since I have never been static, I’ve been a chameleon of sorts. Health stuff has delayed a few projects and rendered me unable to do a book tour with the last traditionally published book.

    I anticipate re-emerging in June and am mapping a few things out. Like you, I’ve not fit and being independent works well for me. I also tend to be ahead of things before people are ready for them.

    Although I shoot from the hip, I also am very cognizant of trends and changes–participating in Beta.

    At the moment, I am pondering whether to get another agent (my last was on a per project basis) that crosses industries and is online savvy but then, why?


    • June is a good month for re-emergence. Maybe I am ahead of the curve. I wore sparkles (during the day–shock!) when sparkles weren’t cool. *s*

      Wish I had a crystal ball and could predict. But by the time you can recognize a “trend” in publishing, write the book and get it pub’d, the trend is old news.

      Authors taking control allows for lots more immediacy, which in nonfiction is vital.

      Thanks for the comments! Great to “see” you here.

  4. LOL Lynette, I think we’re channeling each other! The fiction WIP does have a sarcastic human behaviorist/trainer, faithful goofy canine, and know-it-all cat. It’s a thriller, though, not a sleuth/mystery.

    You should write yours, too. Certainly you’ve got more than enough furry inspiration–and you CAN do it!

  5. “Life is change.” If you don’t you die, even if you do you eventually die, but you have a lot more to show for it.

    I think someone with your experience could offer so much more if you could follow your intuition and write what you know your readers want without the intervention of an agent who, while very nice, has other goals in mind for your work.

    • Thanks Bernadette. I loved my agent–still adore her, though she’s no longer my agent. We were both frustrated when the old ways of doing things stopped working. Flying solo has worked just fine for me. *s* Other’s milage may vary.

  6. The only constant in life is change, #4 works. Great post.

  7. Great post, Amy! I can do chameleon. In fact I have several ideas (sans agent/editor, of course). They say write about what you know. From my job experience, (psych technician, corporate bank officer, R.E. Broker, cat writer,) I should be able to come up with a doozie of a thriller. Oh, and I managed a movie theatre popcorn/candy concession for hubby-to-be’s Dad. 😉

    • OOps! I forgot my most memorable job: police dispatcher for 15 years. (No, I’m not making all this up.)

      • Franny, heavens to murgatroid! you’ve had the same mixed-up-basket of jobs as I have! (well, almost…)

        Let’s see: theater actor, dinner theater reservationist, optometric assistant, legal assistant, bank compliance officer, vet tech, cat/dog writer.

        Exactly the same! only different! LOL!

        Absolutely you’ve got the credentials to write a killer thriller. Go for it!

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  9. Goodness, Amy, sometimes we seem to have lived parallel lives, to a point. (And like the Great Dame once said, “Goodness had nothing to do with it.”)

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’m going to take you up on it!

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