Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Literary Polyamory: It's Okay To Write More Than One Genre

Authors have a tendency to define ourselves by our work. We also have a tendency to pick a single fictional neighborhood, and settle into it. Part of that is because we might be working on a series, or we really enjoy one genre, but it's also a marketing concern. After all, readers search for new books based on genre labels, so it's important to establish yourself in your district, and to raise your flag as high as you possibly can if you want to get noticed. Once your name is synonymous with a given genre, then you have reached the top of the mountain.

Can you see me yet? Buy my book!
It works, too. If you make a name for yourself doing one thing really well, then people who are interested in that thing are going to seek you out. But sometimes you may want a change from your usual. Maybe you want to stop telling stories about wizard schools, and pen a series of private detective stories. Perhaps you'd like to set aside your dark fantasy tales and do some grim, gritty dystopian novels. Or maybe you're known for writing modern fantasy stories about monster hunters, but you really want to try your hand at some hard sci-fi.

Well, there's nothing that says you have to stay married to a single genre.

Literary Polyamory: When You Have Multiple, Loving Genres

Nowhere is it written that just because you've written romance, horror, sci-fi, or fantasy stories in the past that you are no longer allowed to write other kinds of stories. All you have to do is have a sit-down with your primary genre, and talk things out. They're usually pretty understanding, as long as you make it clear what you want.

No, really, it's fine. Horror and I have an open relationship these days.
There are a couple ways you can go about this. The first, which is the method I use, is to just write whatever the hell you feel like at any given moment. Seriously, if you take a look at my Amazon Author Page, you'll find horror, sci-fi, fantasy, RPGs, and steampunk all sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on my shelf. It's pretty freeing, but it does present a bit of a marketing dilemma. Because while there are some readers who are more than happy to check out my various publications on the strength of my name alone, aside from those five or six people, readers tend to be picky. Some will read my horror stories, but not the fantasy. Some love the steampunk, but aren't interested in my other sci-fi. And my readers who enjoy my roleplaying game work aren't clamoring to buy my fiction. That's the risk you take when you decide to put one name on all your work.

The other strategy is to create a pen name dedicated to your work in other genres.

All the examples I mentioned earlier are authors who were already seeing success in one genre, but they wanted to do something different. So they decided to put a different name on the cover as a way to help readers separate their work more easily. Stephen King wrote harsh, gritty fiction under the name Richard Bachman, Seanan McGuire writes sci-fi under the name Mira Grant, and J.K. Rowling has written mysteries under the name Robert Galbraith. Sometimes authors try to distance themselves from their pen names, and sometimes they don't, but the result is that a pen name is one more search term that's easier to type in. If you want the author's main genre, search under their name. If you want to see their side project, you've got another term to use.

Never the twain shall meet.

The advantage of this approach is that it's easier on readers' brains. People, in general, like to put things into neat little boxes. They like to read certain genres, and they like it when an author has a certain style, and certain expectations. So by separating your body of work into more easily-digested portions, readers don't have to parse through the whole buffet to find the dishes that appeal to them. With that said, it can be quite hard putting out books under one name, much less under two, three, or more.

Write What You Want

A friend of mine once attended a panel at Wizard World in Chicago that had John Carpenter on it. When it came time to ask questions of the guests, my friend asked, "how do you decide what to work on next?" The answer, without varnish or careful thought was, "what gets your dick hard?"

So many things...
This is one of the most freeing pieces of advice I've ever heard, and I would recommend anyone planning on being a creative professional follow it. Because you can have all the talent, skill, and resources in the world, but if your heart isn't in a project then it's going to show. In fact, that lack of heart might be a book's downfall. So if you need a break from your established genre, take one. Cleanse your palate, and start a project that puts some spring back into your step.

Your readers will thank you for it.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully there are some folks who found it interesting, or at least helpful to consider. If you'd like to support me and my blog, stop on by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss some bread in my jar. All it takes is $1 a month to make a big difference, and to get some sweet swag as a thank you present. And, lastly, if you want to keep up to date on my latest posts, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. Great post - thanks for this. I keep things separate, as I find this causes me less "angst" about the possible consequences of my wayward writing modes. I find that crossing the genre divide has often helped me to free up my thinking - especially when I'm writing in more than one at the same time. Even switching between fiction and non-fiction is stimulating.