What do you bring to the table?

One of my favorite bloggers, Cal Newport, writes about how to succeed at college.  And yes, I’ve been out of college for donkey’s years, so what am I doing reading his blog? 

I’m getting really good information on things like hard focus and how to excel.  A case in point: his recent blog post — which he says is about not quitting your boring job if you’re nervous, because there’s probably a good reason why you’re nervous, but which is really about developing the skills and abilities that separate you from the pack. 

Time and again, I’ve tried to help writers understand that they have to offer something not everyone else can offer in order to succeed.  Anyone can write “Ten Ways to Organize Your Garage,” but not everyone can tell us about the costs of complying with Sarbanes-Oxley for small businesses.  

On a writer’s forum, a writer recently posted about how an editor expressed concern that she wouldn’t be able to ghostwrite a book she wanted to ghostwrite because she’d never written a book before, and writing a book is a very different endeavor from other kinds of writing.  The poster was discouraged and wanted to know how she could overcome this objection.  I understand that this is frustrating: how can you get published if being published is a requirement for getting published?  But the fact of the matter is, there are ten gazillion writers who have written books, any of whom would be a better bet for this editor.  There’s nothing you can say that will change that.

But there are things you can do.  You can develop a proposal based on a book that only you can write, because you have expertise in x, fluency in y, or access to z.  Beyond that, as a writer, you need to recognize that “I can write about anything” isn’t the kind of calling card that gets you anywhere.


  1. I would be willing to pay someone to help me figure out whatever it is that I do/know that is special! I like a lot of things a little bit, which makes specialization hard.

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