Tuesday, February 19, 2013

You Can Only Write in One Genre. Period. End of Story.


You can stop reading now. The message in the headline is my whole post and what I’ll conclude at the end.

For those of you curious as to why it’s impossible—keep reading.

Yes, I know this topic has been covered ad nauseam, but apparently we need to cover it one more time because I continue to see writers and authors trying to write in more than one genre.

Writers tell me frequently things like, “I really am a romance type, but I don’t want to shut the door on cozy mysteries so I'm going to do them too. Is that okay?” Or, “My passion is non-fiction, but I really want to publish novels as well so I’m working on both. Do you think editors and agents will mind?


Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. They'll mind. Fiction or non-fiction. Not both. And if you choose fiction, you get to work in one genre. Only one. You must choose one direction or another.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been a marketing professional for more than 20 years. Let me assure you I’m not basing this statement on opinion only. But rather than get technical, let me give you a few illustrations to show you how this works.

A Few Changing Genres Examples 

Let’s say your favorite radio station is KMPS, the number one country station in your city. You’ve tuned in a least a few minutes every day for the past five years. Then one day you tune in and the format has changed. It’s now Classic Rock. You’re not pleased. Even if you are a Classic Rock fan, this isn’t working for you. When you tune in to 94.1 you expect country. But the station says, sorry, Charlie, no tuna for you—it’s flounder now. You say sorry as well and never listen to the new station.

Or imagine walking into your favorite sushi restaurant with a friend on Saturday night. They  bring you the menu and surprise, the only thing on it is steaks. Problem. You might like steak, but you weren't expecting it at this restaurant. If you wanted steak you would have gone to your favorite steak house.

See, once you brand yourself into a reader’s mind, it is EXTREMELY difficult if not impossible to remove the first brand and put another on top of it. You think tattoo removal is impossible? Try re-branding yourself in another genre.

One more example and then I’ll let you start telling me I’m wrong and about the exceptions to my statement. (You can’t use John Grisham since A Painted House sold dismal numbers compared to his legal thrillers and only serves to prove my point.)

Once upon a time there was a man named James. James was a talented musician. Very talented. He joined three other very talented musicians. They made music. But as many bands do, they broke up.

So James started another band that dominated the charts with a slew of number one songs and they sold out massive arenas all over the world. He wrote theme songs for hit movies. Then he became a painter and displayed his paintings in prestigious galleries as well as continued to make music as a solo artist.

But even though his first success (his first band) happened more than 40 years ago, people STILL reference him by who he was in the first band—not by who he’s been for the past 40 years. It’s just dang hard to get that genre out of the brain and replace it with a new one.

(Gold stars to those of you who know I’m referring to James Paul McCartney who is still an “ex-Beatle” after all these years.)



James L. Rubart is the best-selling, award winning author of four novels. Publishers Weekly says this about his latest: ““Readers with high blood pressure or heart conditions be warned: [Soul’s Gate] is a seriously heart-thumping and satisfying read that goes to the edge, jumps off, and “builds wings on the way down.” During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps authors make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and loves to dirt bike, hike, golf, take photos, and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com

51 comments:

Chihuahua Zero said...

I'm sorry, but I disagree with you.

I know plenty of authors (or artists) who have crossed genres and are yet to be struck down by divine lightning for doing so: Sean Platt and David Wright, Lauren Oliver, Elle Strauss, Kathy Reichs, Louis Sachar, James Patterson, Philip Pullman, Laurie Halse Anderson, JK Rowlings, etc.

I guess you can even put Shakespeare on this list. He wrote tragedies, comedies, historicals, sonnets, and more.

Some, like JK Rowlings, caught some flack for doing so, but she still got plenty of paychecks in the end, and she's far from an exception in this aspect.

Ron Estrada said...

This is timely. I had a phone conversation with a well respected author yesterday. She told me that a mystery I wrote four years ago has great potential with a few changes. I'm also.currently working on a thriller that I'm excited about. So I have to choose, understanding that whatever I go with, if published, will set my course for years to come. I'm a marketer, too, so I understand both the power and trap of a strong brand. In the end, we all have to choose a path we can live with.

Gina Holmes said...

As someone who was told because I was the Novel Journey lady I was already branded and shouldn't work on novels but write how to writing books and now am working on non-fiction on the side, I have to disagree with the black and whiteness of your post. Just because something hasn't been done, doesn't mean it can't be and besides, it has been. Liz Curtis Higgs does quite well with both novels and non-fiction. Francine Rivers does quite well with writing contemporary and historical. I agree it's a tougher road, but impossible... not so much. That being said, I still advise writers to pick a genre and stick with it for awhile before venturing off. And I agree that we all would do better to find what it is we really love and find our home there. But fiction and non is different enough that I think a writer can successfully do both. At least I'm hoping so. Blessings Jim.

Sally Bradley said...

I think the verdict is still out on Rowling. From what I heard a while back, The Vacancy was getting a lot of negative reviews because it was so different from the Harry Potter books. So it'll really show up when she writes the next book that veers from Potterdom.

James, I was just listening to one of your ACFW classes yesterday afternoon while working on our taxes. :) I thought the examples given regarding a musician switching music styles made it easily understood.

I think we writers have a hard time understanding this because we tend to be eclectic readers. I write women's fiction set in suburbs and urban areas, but I love Julie Klassen and Laura Frantz. I also love Mark Bertrand's Houston homicide series. And I'm a fan of Ally Condie's dystopian YA series.

So it's easy to think that our readers will jump genres with us, because we do it in our own reading. But I remember my favorite author a couple decades ago who wrote a very specific type of historical fiction. A dozen or more books. And then they stopped that era and drastically switched eras.

I tried to follow them. I was a fan, after all. But after the second book in that new era, I was done. And even though they've returned to that era that they did so well with, I haven't returned. In the years since then, I've discovered so many new authors I've enjoyed. Going back to them now equals risk in my mind, time invested that doesn't pan out. Why would I do that when I have others I know will be good reads?

I'll take my one genre, please. :)

Sally Bradley said...

I do think a writer can do fiction and non-fiction. But they're building two different brands, appealing to two completely different reader groups. I believe Liz Curtis Higgs said that overall her fiction readers don't read her non-fiction and vice versa.

Sally Bradley said...

By the way, Gina, we're all glad you didn't listen to the person who said you should only write fiction how-to books. :)

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks Sally. I agree with everything you said and most of what Jim said. I think you're absolutely right on about the two different brands on the fiction and non. It's most definitely an easier path to pick one or the other, but it's certainly possible to be successful in both. Would you be more successful (financially speaking) if you focused on one or the other? Probably.

Patrick J. Moore said...

It seems to me that it is very good for a Christian author to write both fiction and non-fiction. Their audience will never take it as bait & switch because the two are so distinct. Instead they take it as confirmation that you are an honest to goodness real person who lives in the real world, and if your non-fiction is faith related it gives them permission to accept your fiction whether there is any overt faith content in it or not. When a Christian writes both, you help the suspicious Christian community to trust you and accept your fiction.

With that said, I can see how writing in different fiction genres could prevent you from building a fan base for your fiction. People tend to like certain kinds of stories and the authors who write those stories. It is a good idea to build a brand and stick with it if your goal is to support a family with your writing. But if you don't have any delusions of becoming rich and famous, I think it will be safe to write whatever God places in your heart, and trust Him to take care of you.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I think, if your voice is strong and relatively consistent, you can jump genres. For instance, I read Stephenie Meyer's THE HOST first (sci-fi), and loved it. Then I read the TWILIGHT series (yes, admitting it) and enjoyed that, too. Not as MUCH, but the voice was still there. Harry Potter (a MG voice) jumping to a cursing adult voice is a huge leap, and possibly why Rowling is getting panned (don't know, I haven't read her new one). Some people will follow authors no matter what they write (Anne Rice jumps to mind--writing about vampires one minute and the life of Christ the next). For me, if the voice is strong enough, it works. But we also have to admit we all have strengths in certain genres, and once we latch upon that perfect venue for our voice, we might not WANT to leave it for a while.

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

I'll have to disagree. I published a contemporary called Season of Joy with Love Inspired. Then I self-pubbed a historical on Amazon called All the Blue of Heaven. Both popular, the historical is selling well. THEN I published a contemporary romance Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits under a different name. All selling nicely. I suppose they're all romance, but I've heard switching from historical to contemp and back CAN NOT be done. Huh. It can.

But since I'm not famous, let's use some 'real' writers like Scott Westerfeld who wrote YA dystopian series 'Pretties/Uglies/Specials' and then just put out a MG steampunk series called 'Leviathan'. Also, Franny Billingsley finaled for the National Book Award with YA book Chime, after writing MG book The Folk Keepers. Huge successes. Should we mention neil Gaiman who's put out MG The Graveyard Book, a picture book (several, but Blueberry Gril springs to mind)and YA Stardust.
This happened before he was rich and famous, he wrote everything and anything he wanted. In his own way.

I'd like to say voice rules. If the story is strong, and the voice is complementary, it works. You would never know Westerfeld's books are by the same author. But that's part of his genius, not a failing of a newbie writer.

Hap said...

You seem to be completely forgetting the utility of pen names.

Dusty said...

I'll disagree also. Writing isn't just work, but art. Art takes inspiration and inspiration sometimes comes unexpectedly. If your a fiction writer who is inspired to write nonfiction you shouldn't quell that urge in favor of staying with your brand. Actually, if you do your work will probably suffer for it.

I throw one more name into the mix. Margaret Atwell has crossed from Fiction to Non-fiction quite successfully.

Jim Rubart said...

Don't be sorry, Chihuahua. :) If we all agreed with each all the time we'd never learn anything.

A couple of thoughts:

First, can genres be crossed? Yes, of course they can. Just like a restaurant that used to sell only steak starts selling seafood as well. But that restaurant will always be known first for its steaks and the seafood will be an add on.

Second the majority of the readers of this blog are pre-published writers. They haven't earned the right to publish in different genres.

What I mean by that is an author like J.K. Rowling has the clout to write anything she wants at this point and make good money doing it. But I doubt The Casual Vacancy will sell as well as Potter.

Would a publisher print a romance from Stephen King? Probably. But a high percentage of his audience would say no to reading the book.

Jim Rubart said...

Ron,

Exactly right. It's not something that can never be undone. But to write in a different genre is largely starting over.

Jim

Jim Rubart said...

Gina,

You're right. Whoever said your branding as the Novel Journey lady meant you had to do writing books was wrong. But if your blog was all about non-fiction writers and then you decided to write novels it would have been much tougher.

Your blog and your writing were in the same world.

I agree with Sally. You can do fiction and non-fiction. But it's extremely rare to find an author who has the same kind of success with both, and the audiences don't cross over. You build one audience for fiction and another for non-fiction.

Jim Rubart said...

Well said, Sally.

Jim Rubart said...

Thanks for letting us know your thoughts, Patrick.

Jim Rubart said...

Heather,

I would say Meyer's was in the same genre with both books you mention. We can call both of them speculative.

With regards to Rowling, it sounds like you're a Potter fan. Why haven't you read The Casual Vacancy?

GREAT point about Anne Rice. She's done it. But ... were the readers of the vampire books the same as The Life of Christ? Maybe, maybe not. And don't both those books fall under a somewhat speculative genre? Not sure, but I think an argument might be made for that.

I appreciate your thoughts.

Jim Rubart said...

You're saying if you use a different name you can switch genres? Completely agree with you.

But now you're branding two different people.

Can the same owner open two totally different restaurants and succeed? Yes, of course. But it's the rare customer who knows the owner of both restaurants is the same person.

And even if they do know, they don't care. They just want to know they'll get the same menu every time they go to the restaurant.

Jim Rubart said...

Hi Dusty,

I'll mention one as well. My wife isn't a big fiction reader. More non-fiction. One of her favorite authors is Anne Lamott.

Now Anne has also published fiction, but it's never gotten the traction of her non-fiction and I don't think it ever will.

J.H.M. said...

Umm...

I don't think that you can be more wrong here from a creative perspective. From a marketing perspective, sure, it's more convenient to sell a writer as one kind of writer rather than someone that does a lot of different things. But does that mean that a person should regulate their creative content for the sake of convenient marketing? Of course not. That's absolutely ridiculous and utterly insulting to the craft.

I can rattle off an absolutely huge number of authors who, from the start have not only written more than one kind of fiction, but non-fiction and non-prose work as well. If I wanted to pick just one name, I'd say Harlan Ellison: While best known as a writer of science fiction, he has also written everything from westerns to crime fiction to television drama to low fantasy and back. Sure, you can cry, "The exception proves the rule!" but Ellison is merely one of many. Stephen King writes about baseball; James Patterson writes teen romance novels; John Connolly writes twisted children's books; Hemingway was a war correspondent; and the list goes on and on.

There is a valid retort to be made here about the segregation of the persona, be it through the use of pseudonyms or writing for wildly different audiences, but even then, the argument is still bogus because it implies that a writer must stick to one public image and play to their audience's (audiences'...?) assumptions 24/7 in order to be successful. That is simply not true.

There is also another retort to be made, if you wish to make it: "You're not talking about novels here, let alone ones put out by the same publisher." But neither were you.

In any case, what is truly repugnant to me is the idea that, as an author, I must kowtow to enforced expectations because I might ruffle some feathers. I think that this is an incredibly stupid concept, made more stupid by the fact that you do not strike me as an idiot.

Your resident ranter, over and out.

James Scott Bell said...

My pal Jim Rubart laid it out well here, with one unstated assumption: that we're talking about traditionally published books. Branding has been an essential element here, due to readership building, store ordering and shelf space. All that's been turned around in the digital age. I reflected on that a bit ago. Traditional publishers are starting to catch on, albeit slowly, to the idea that (to paraphrase the old Wonder Bread commercials) a writer can build strong readers 12 ways.

Paula said...

As an author and a marketer by full-time profession, I agree with you. As you stated, many writers who cross genres (i.e. JK Rowling) do so after their initial success. But let's not forget them crossing over is largely a marketing strategy in the first place. It's the publisher encouraging them to expand. And guess what, the pub is also hoping that any new readers will then go back and read her primary genre. Trust me, it's not done casually.

I write YA and my series was published when YA began experiencing great attention from the rest of the world. Perhaps in part to Ms. Rowling's Potter success and that of Twilight. What I noticed immediately was how many adult fiction authors suddenly were interested in YA. As annoying as that was for us who are YA authors, from a marketing standpoint it wasn't a bad idea. These established adult fiction authors could now appeal to the kids of their primary readers. However, I can tell you that I also talked to some of these authors and they were generally disappointed with their "cross over" experience. So it's a tricky strategy even for the best of them.

Paula said...

Reading the other comments, and despite the examples to the contrary, none really dispute Jim's original point which is that the new genre book rarely succeeds like the author's original genre. Which I took as the primary point. Not that an author CAN'T write in another genre. What makes this article timely is how important marketing is to pre-published authors, mid-listers and pretty much any author who isn't JK, Harlan, Stephen etc... Gotta hang your creative hat somewhere first if in fact you're trying to make a living from it. Venturing beyond original genre is a luxury in many cases.

Dina Sleiman said...

Jim, you know you're one of my favorite people in the world, but not so much today :( Especially when I was "encouraged" to start in a genre that isn't quite where I feel at home.

Hap said...

So, this is entirely from a marketing perspective, which I think is why so many people are outraged. I am not sure I agree even then, but yeah, as an unestablished author keeping one's fiction and nonfiction under two different names, or say if you're writing about two disparately different topics, like quantum physics and chakras, you might want to publish under different names.

Perhaps, as a child of the internet age, I just don't see too much of a big deal of having multiple personas. You are still writing two genres. You are just now two (or more) authors.

Two big exceptions to this would be 1) if you are a big enough name to get away with everything (JK Rowling, etc) or 2) your fiction or nonfiction writing sprung out of the other, in which case you would be taking readers from one to the other -- say, if you had garnered a following on your blog from readers of your fiction and decided to write a nonfiction book based on stuff from your blog. Or, if you write fiction about, say, human trafficking, or some other subject one is passionate about, and then wrote a nonfiction book on the same subject. In this case you would be taking your readers with you, despite writing two different genres.

Though I do wonder what you say to writers who are also in academia. Would you have advised, say, Tolkein to publish his fiction under a different name than say, his academic writings on Beowulf and other topics?

Maryann Miller said...

Now I know why I have so much trouble branding myself as a writer. LOL I have written and published in several genres. Now I just have to figure out if I want to ignore all those story ideas that pop into my head that are not related to my main genre, which is mystery.

rachelallord.com said...

Two words: Anne Lamott. I started with her fiction and the then realized she writes fabulous non fiction as well. (oh yes, you did mention her... I see now) And no, of course we're not all going to be Anne Lamott but she does give us hope. The bigger issue, for me, is feeling the prompt to write what God has laid on my heart. I know this is a whole different discussion... how do we know when it's God nudging us, prompting us, v. ourselves and our desires and egos. My first novel is set to release this May, a story that I truly believe God prompted me to write, a story I couldn't shake until it was done. Now,I feel prompted to write in a non-fiction voice, and am quite reluctant to do so because of the "don't switch genres" rule. And usually I am very good at following the advice of other, more experienced writers. BUT (and it's a big one) i can't ignore the Holy Spirit either. Actually, he trumps all other voices. Prayer prayer and more prayer. That's the best we can do.... Thanks for your thoughts, Jim, they're always thought provoking.

Jim Rubart said...

J.H.M., Resident Ranter,

Well, there are definitely times I've been an idiot during my time here on earth. :)

Thanks for taking the time to comment. My guess if you and I ever had a cup of coffee together we'd have a fascinating discussion.

Jim

Jim Rubart said...

Well said, J.S.B.

Jim Rubart said...

I think I like you, Paula. :)

Jim Rubart said...

Maybe tomorrow I'll get back to fav status? :)

Jim Rubart said...

So true ... so many story ideas!

Jim Rubart said...

The Spirit ALWAYS trumps!

Anonymous said...

Ah, thats an interesting point about genres coming under the speculative banner! So is it possible to genre hop as a writer as long as the leap isn't too huge or too sudden perhaps? So, for example, could a sci-fi writer have success with a urban fantasy novel because the leap for readers isn't too huge?

The author who comes to mind at this point for having successfully done this is Stephen King. Obviously best known for horror, he has also had success with epic fantasy (Dark Tower) and sci-fi (11.22.63). Does his brand stay intact because the genres of horror, fantasy and sci-fi are similar? Its not hard to beleive that if he penned a steamy romance his main body of fans might find it harder to make the leap!

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Kellerman, Stephen King, Anne Rice and Torey Hayden have all done the jump from fiction to non-fiction. Sadly though these examples leave me agreeing with Jim as their non-fiction tends to me very specialist in their feilds (Kellerman is a clinical psychologist, Stephen King's non-fiction is about being a writer) and aimed at a different market from their fiction.

The exception to this would be Torey Hayden who's success was based on her memoirs of her time as a child psychologist and special education teacher. Her fiction also seems to have been successful but perhaps because it keeps very close to similar subject matter so would appeal to the majority of her readership.

So as a writer I hate to have to agree with you here Jim, but I do!

Travis Thrasher said...

Absolutely stay in one genre. No question. Especially if you first start writing love stories. Do not start doing thrillers. And never--EVER--think of doing horror. Especially if you write "Christian" fiction.

Oh, and you'd have to be on drugs to attempt Christian teen paranormal romance.

Lori Stanley Roeleveld said...

I hate this post. I believe it's true and sound advice. I trust the experience and expertise of the post's author. I wrestle with this notion as I try to carve out my own place in the world of words and I try to conform.

And yet, I feel strangely compelled to challenge and defy this post. It makes me want to write so well that one day people will use me as a counter-example.

Thanks for being willing to take a strong stand and for making an excellent argument. Thank you, also, for inciting me to work harder and smarter at writing.

Kathleen Valentine said...

Well, since I've had Amazon Top Sellers in Horror, Romantic Suspense, Knitting, Cookbooks, Ghost Stories, and Folklore/Mythology. I sold over 50k books last year across those genres. Clearly I am doing something wrong....

Mark Carver said...

What I take away from this post is that the author's name is the primary draw, rather than the book. Readers are loyal to specific authors the same way shoe fans are loyal to specific shoe brands and will continue to buy their favorite brands regardless of quality, price, etc. Even if an author branches out into an unfamiliar genre and writes a high-quality story, it won't attract the attention of his/her loyal readers, and it will likely receive only passing interest from readers in that second genre because the author isn't an established name there.

This may be common knowledge to a lot of folks but I'm new to the writing industry and I'm still figuring out how things work. My previous books have been in one genre and my Internet/social media presence identifies me in as an author in that genre, but I'm working on a story now that is a drastic departure from my earlier stuff. I'm going to see it through because I'm writing it fairly quickly, so even if it doesn't make much of a splash, I still won't have spent too much time on it. As a rookie author, I'm trying to get my name on as many products as I can and build my library. Yet even as I experiment, I know in my heart that my imagination belongs to that first genre, since that was where I began.

Jessica Thomas said...

"Do you think editors and agents will mind?"

Doesn't matter if I'm publishing it myself. I can do whatever I want. Ahh, the freedom.

Jill said...

Books and other kinds of books go together. Music and painting do not. Think of all the genres the Beattles went through over the years. They didn't remain in one brand. Sorry, they just didn't. You use so many weirdly wrong analogies I don't know where to start with the protests. For example, why would a restaurant owner have to sell steaks at his sushi restaurant? Why wouldn't he just open another restaurant? But restauranteers aren't artists, in any case, so neither analogy really holds true. Artists will stagnate if they don't branch out (again, think of the Beattles and all the genres they tried).

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Thanks, James--just read your follow-up. I'm actually NOT a huge Harry P. fan--read the first couple books and bailed on the series. NOW, if LEMONY SNICKET wrote an adult book, I'd be reading that for sure. And I think in the ABA Meyer's books would be labeled "Sci-Fi" and "Paranoramal YA", respectively. THE HOST was for an adult audience and was in the future, with aliens...not QUITE the same as vampires, but I suppose that's negligible!

As I said, voice is the key thing, BUT some authors tend to have strengths in one genre. Thomas Hardy thought he was a poet first, but I prefer his novels, as do most readers. I don't think Emily Dickinson or e.e.cummings could've written longer novels with their bold styles. Are there any poet-authors who've been successful? Just my musings today.

Kristen Stieffel said...

The most telling statement in this post is, "I’ve been a marketing professional for more than 20 years." You almost lost me at that point. ;)

OK, from a purely marketing standpoint, it may damage a brand to break out into unfamiliar territory.

But from an artistic standpoint, I refuse to see anyone chained. To Hades with marketing. "Do what you love and the money will follow" and "If you build it they will come" may be equally erroneous, but if a story inside you is burning to be written, for the love of all that's beautiful, write it and forget the marketers.

Mentioning Sir Paul actually hurts your case. I don't think any sensible person would say he shouldn't have bothered writing the _Liverpool Oratorio_ just because people will only remember "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." The man did what was in his soul to do, regardless of whether it was a good "branding" decision. We should all follow that example.

Kathy Harris said...

What a great discussion... in the end I have to agree with Jim even though I don't want to :) It's a head vs. heart thing. While it may be possible to re-brand or cross-brand, do we really want to choose the more difficult path?

Dan Walsh said...

Jim, I agree with almost everything you said here, considering that you are trying to persuade mostly pre-published writers (since that's the majority of the audience for this blog); and that your points are offered from more of a marketing perspective, than a creative one (creative people HATE boundaries related to commerce); and considering you have made allowances for mega-best-selling authors to be able to break rules that pre-published authors dare not consider.

How's that for a long-winded, roundabout way of being supportive?

As you know, I've got 7 novels out now (the 8th due out in a month), all published since 2009 and they are doing pretty well. Some are historical, some are contemporary, one is stuck in the middle (set in 1980). It may seem that I'm writing in different genres and, therefore, proving you wrong. But that's not true.

My publisher has realized, early on, that I kept getting compared to Nicholas Sparks, so my brand remains consistent throughout all the books, which I'm perfectly okay with. I write "love stories and family-life dramas." That's what I write, and that's what my readers are coming to expect.

I wouldn't think it wise, at this point to switch from country to classic rock, or from sushi to steak. If I did, I would fully expect to lose most of my readers and be starting over.

So...those of you who are pre-published, especially those of you who hope to be published by traditional royalty-paying houses (as Jim Bell wisely pointed out), listen up to what Jim said. It is not extreme advice.

Nicole M. Miller said...

As a social media coordinator/marketing consultant/graphic designer, I cannot agree with you more, Jim.

There will always be exceptions to the rules, but most of the exceptions have certain circumstances that the majority of writers will not have.

Writers at least need to know what they're getting into if they try different genres under the same author "brand." It is confusing for readers to shift from one to another. And we need to put ourselves in the reader's seat.

Rebranding a business involves a lot more time, money and effort than most people realize. There is always a huge backlash, even if the change is minimal (I go through this every day in my day job.) For authors, this is the same.

Do what your heart calls you to do, by all means. It isn't that it can't be done. Just realize the pitfalls involved and the perseverance you'll need.

Jess Hanna said...

Hi Jim,

I just wanted to say I completely agree with you from a marketing and brand perspective. I also agree that writers can explore other genres creatively. In my case I plan to make a big departure, but plan to use a pen name to do so. Since I'm not too established it doesn't really matter, but I would rather be known for my first genre. If the second is successful under its own merit, so be it. Only then, may I consider portraying myself as a double genre author.

There is also nothing that says you cannot weave this second genre into a first genre story. Many supernatural thrillers, for example, have an element of romance between two characters.

Ted Dekker seems to have been able to keep his base in two genres, fantasy and thrillers. One could argue these are both speculative, though...

Betsy St. Amant said...

I think you're right, Jim.

Here's why.

I've got six published Love Inspired romance novels (targeting adults) released currently, with numbers seven and eight releasing in April and October this year. I also had a YA with Barbour Books release last January. (year ago) My sales for the Love Inspired novels are off the charts and grow considerably with each book compared to the way my YA has thus far performed. While ALL of my novels carry a significant romance thread, they're still different genres because of the targeted readership. Now, the YA was a book of my heart and God opened major doors for it to be written and released, so no regrets. It was His plan. And it's my favorite story to date :) But I agree from a marketing standpoint and "career growth" standpoint, you're dead on. I very clearly did not have the cross over I'd hoped. So, successfully in many ways, the YA lags. Yet it was productive in its own way. (in the spiritual realm)

There are exceptions to your theory, like some have mentioned already, but there are always exceptions. We can't go by that as authors, just like we can't jump into self publishing with the expectation of grasping the "The Shack"'s success.

Hmmm. "Exception" and "expectation" look a lot alike on paper. Equally dangerous ;)

One author that comes to mind in a potential rebuttal is Susie May Warren. She has crossed genres like a Mad Hatter in past years (contemporary, historical, romance, romantic suspense, etc.) BUT somehow, in all her Susie-esque magic, her brand carries across the enemy lines with her. I think that's because her books are still very SUSIE regardless of what they're labeled as. That's a rare gift. If I break it down, it's probably because of her strong romance themes that carry across as well regardless of time period or sub genre.

Dan G. said...

Hi Jim,

Thanks for a great article and thanks to the readers for surprisingly non-hatful internet commenting! (maybe I have been reading too many Youtube comments :P)

Any how Jim, I wanted to say that as an unpublished writer I appreciate the experience from the other side. Although, I have one question which I would like you opinion on.

Say I started out writing novels in the Crime-Thriller-Serial Killer genre. But after an intense interest in politics spurred in me I wanted to start writing a Political Thriller, or later on maybe even children's books.

Based on what you said about author branding and success in publishing, would it be prudent in all respects to create three or however many Penn Names, each with its own persona?

In your experience, do you think that that would be a good way to be equally successful on multiple fronts?

Thanks for you insights,

Dan

Laura Marcella said...

Hello, James! Interesting post. I disagree, though. How sad to think a writer–or any artist–should be confined to one thing only. I know of many writers who have published successfully in several genres and for different audiences: Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Ken Follett, Neil Gaiman, Lauren Oliver, James Patterson, just to name a few. They're famous and successful now, but at one point they weren't yet. Publishing in different genres and targeting different audiences only helped their careers. Why? Because they wrote a good story no matter the genre! The number one thing you have to remember is to write a good story. If your novel is good it will find readers, no matter how different it is from your previous novels.

I do think writers should establish themselves in one genre first before branching out to different genres. Writers should always stretch their creativity and challenge themselves, though!

Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines