07 Jan 2023

Start in a Niche

Speaking of Le Guin, I just came across her recounting of how she got her earliest work published, and her start as an author:

I had entered the field of science fiction two or three years before via publication in genre magazines. Academia and literary criticism snubbed it, but it had a lively, informed, and contentious critical literature of its own in magazines and fan-zines, and it was notable for the close connections among its writers and readers. Young writers in the genre were likely to get more intelligent attention and more sense of their audience than those who, having published a conventional realistic novel, were often left in a great silence wondering whether anybody but the proofreader had read it.

Hainish Novels & Stories, Volume One, Introduction, page xiii

It’s strikingly similar to the way successful startups often get their start: in some nascent niche — that’s ignored by incumbents, and small but growing — building what to outsiders looks like a toy, and where there’s a clear and concrete need from early users, whom the startup forms a deep understanding of. Le Guin found writer reader fit the same way good startups find product market fit.

It’s neat that this is shared across different fields. Most pursuits benefit from early and frequent feedback. Great stuff isn’t made in a vacuum. So just make stuff you love to make, share it with others, and use their feedback to iterate and improve. If you’re ever tempted to stop short from fear of failure, turn to the last bit of the quote. Better to share something with others and learn they don’t like it than to pour all your effort into something and wonder if anybody saw or cared. You can always try again.