first thing I wrote that evoked a positive reader reaction was about a trip to
the Sunday morning pony rides that turned terrifying, when my favorite plodding
mount spooked and ran off. That was in first grade, and I was immediately
hooked on writing about horses. Since then, I've been a columnist, reporter,
and editor for equestrian magazines, and dozens of essays about what horses have
meant to me have run in journals, magazines, and anthologies.
the way, I've made many friends who also write about horses. Kim Ablon Whitney is one of them.
Her novels have earned praise from the American Library Association, Bank
Street College of Education, and Booklist Magazine. Kim, a Massachusetts resident, holds an MFA in creative
writing from Emerson College. She has been a top competitive rider, and is now a horse
show judge. Her latest book, Blue
Ribbons, is available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo.
Please welcome Kim
I remember a specific conversation with
my editor after my second book, The Perfect Distance (a novel set in the world
of horse shows), was published. We were discussing what I might write for my
third book. My first book had been about
a girl growing up in a family of con artists and I wanted to return to writing
about a world I didn’t know. “I don’t
want to write another horse book right away,” I told her. “I want to stretch. I mean I don’t want to
just be the horse book writer.”
My third book, The Other Half of Life, was historical fiction set on a refugee ship during World War II—as far
from horses and blue ribbons as you can imagine. When I started to think about my fourth book project,
I decided on my own to look at the sales figures for my first three books.
The best selling book of the three,
by far? The horse book. The horse book was also the book for which I
received the most online customer reviews, and the one that generated the most
emails from readers. They often asked me
whether I was writing another horse book.
I began to ask myself the same
question. Why not write another horse
I know horses and the horse world
inside out. I love horses and
riding. I have ridden since I was six,
shown on the A Circuit, and have been judging horse shows for over twenty
years. Why not use my insider knowledge
to create books that my past readers, and likely many more readers lurking out there in the horse world, were eager to
While I didn’t love the idea of being
pigeonholed, I did begin to realize if I wanted to establish a growing and
dedicated readership, it might not be bad to be “the horse book writer.” Along the way, while writing and publishing my
newest book, Blue Ribbons, I learned some valuable lessons about the business
of being an author.
Unless you’re lucky enough to write standout literary fiction
(think Ann Patchett), writing for a niche readership can be instrumental to
your success. A niche will help you interest
agents and editors, and in a finicky publishing market, it’s easier to sell a
book that's clearly quantifiable and describable—what industry lingo calls a
“market distinction.” Agents and editors
like projects with a unique appeal and a ready-made audience.
If your niche audience is big
enough (vampires, corporate thrillers, etc.), a big publisher may even be
interested in it, while a smaller niche may be better suited to an independent
press or self-publishing as an e-book (as I did via Amazon Kindle, Barnes &
Noble Nook, Apple’s iBooks and Kobo). People
are passionate about their interests, and often spend considerable money on the
activities they love. The more narrow
the interest, often the more passionate and the more excited they are to find a
book that targets their interests.
Publishers have passed on books they claim are “too niche,” only to have
that book sell tens of thousands of copies as an e-book.
Writing books about the world of horses, young riders,
training and equestrian competition, was an obvious niche for me, given my
background and work as a United States Equestrian Federation judge at major
events. Perhaps you have an obvious
niche yourself. Did you grow up playing,
or have you shepherded a child through, a sport? Do you know piano playing or spelling bees or
gardening? What kind of work do you
do? Do you know computers inside out, a
segment of the medical world, or the retail world? These are all possible settings for fiction,
memoir, or general nonfiction.
Or, perhaps there’s something
you’ve always wanted to learn more about.
Decide to make it your niche,
and finally take those cooking classes, train for that marathon, travel to
India. Use what you learn and write
Either way, you don’t need to be
the foremost expert on a topic. Yes, you
need to know enough to describe the world and get the logistics and lingo right.
But you can fill in details and double check facts with experts true experts,
who are also usually willing to be beta
readers and help you get it right.
A Niche is a Nice
Place to Land
I've learned how very gratifying it feels to write a book
that people are interested in. I love seeing
the reviews, emails, and Facebook posts about my horse books in which people relate
to the story, tell me how great it was to read a book that brought their world
to life, and want me to know they are eagerly anticipating my next horse book. I am so flattered and nearly giddy with the
Marketing your niche book is also
more straightforward than marketing a general fiction book. You probably already know all the blogs,
websites, Facebook groups, and magazines devoted to your niche. If not, they’ll be easy enough to find. You won’t be competing for visibility with
hundreds of other books, either. Instead
you’ll find there are probably only a handful of books in your chosen niche.
Some niches offer endless
opportunities and you’ll never run out of ideas and books waiting to be
written. Others might run dry
sooner. But once you’ve built an
audience, your readers might be willing to follow you if your next book falls
outside that category. Think of it like
a spin-off from a successful sitcom.
For now, I’m sticking to horse
books. And I’m having a lot of fun
writing about something I love and something that readers are passionate about.
I’m hoping to publish my next horse
book, Summer Circuit, in the fall and a sequel to Blue Ribbons after that. Maybe I’ll go back to writing other books
someday and hopefully the readers I’ve connected with through my horse books
might follow me. Or maybe I’ll just be
“the horse book writer.” That’s fine
Note from Lisa: Kim will stop by the blog over the next week
to answer any questions left for her in comments. All those who comment by midnight, Saturday, June
14 21 , will also be entered to
win a free download of Blue Ribbons, plus a physical copy of one of her three
previous books (must have a U.S. postal address).