Writers are a creative lot. We often come up with more story ideas than we can write and have to decide between competing brainstorms. Sometimes that over-abundance means we choose which story to focus on by writing the idea that pesters us the most.
That “squeaky wheel” path is just one of the ways that we might hop genres without meaning to. Yet our brand is often tied to our genre. So what should we do? Ignore that idea? Or embrace our multi-genre muse? *smile*
Summerita Rhayne is here today to share some of the pros and cons we should keep in mind if we consider following our muse’s lead. She’ll also give us some tips on how to make choices on the best way to grow our career across multiple genres.
She’s struggled with this issue herself, so she has the inside scoop on what to look out for. Please welcome Summerita Rhayne!
Should Authors Hop Genres?
(And If So, How Should They Do It?)
Thank you for having me on your blog, Jami. I’m very excited to be here, being a keen follower of your blog. This place is always full of invaluable information related to the writing craft—not to mention having Jami’s helpful take on current news in the writing and publishing world.
Hopping genres or writing in different genres is something that is advocated as a total no-no for authors. But as authors we are often helpless against our Muses who may want to explore other areas once one work is complete. Or even before that!
J.K. Rowling, despite being horrendously successful in children fiction, has done it. Nora Roberts, celebrated romance author, has a crime writing identity as J.D.Robb. Just like Georgette Heyer, who wrote Regency as well as her detective Hannyside and other whodunits.
There may be a number of reasons why authors genre hop: to find a variety of readers and wider recognition, out of monetary consideration, or “not putting all eggs in one basket.” Most importantly, authors may veer off into a new field just because they are inspired!
The Advantages of Genre Hopping
Let’s take a look at the advantages of genre hopping:
- Inspired Writing: If you are in the mood to write a new genre and overpoweringly inspired to do it, obviously it’s a no brainer. One’s Muse has to be followed, and your most inspired work may well be your best writing.
- Wider Audience: You write to a wider audience, and hence engage more readers.
- Versatility to Publishers: Your versatility is known, so maybe you’re a better option for publishers, as you’re able to handle different lines they may be promoting.
- Better Earnings: You earn better as you write more books.
- Broader Knowledge: You research more and come to know about an assortment of subjects and become a walking encyclopedia. 🙂 New ideas may brew up, which your contemporary authors cannot keep up with, as they follow a straight and narrow path.
The Disadvantages of Genre Hopping
But it’s not something for the weak-hearted! Let’s see why:
- Requires More Juggling:
You risk annoying your publisher. If you’re putting feet in two boats at the same time, you’re bound to unbalance, if not topple. You have to meet deadlines, and often, returning your copyedits might be required yesterday. If you’re juggling multiple contracts, you have to organize better.
- Might Turn-Off Readers:
It may turn off your readers. This is the biggest disadvantage I notice in genre hopping. Speaking from my own experience as a romance writer who wanted to write a different line in the same genre, I found it a worrying possibility.
The first two books I wrote were “sweet” romance, and then I decided to opt for a higher sensuality level, and even though the genre was the same, I knew the readership would vary. Many readers don’t want their pet author to suddenly don a new avatar.
I circumvented this by assuming a new writing name. Sometimes this can be the only feasible option, like J.K.Rowling did for her crime fiction. If an author wants to reinvent themselves, assuming a new persona can be advantage. More on this later in this post.
- Demands More Work:
It involves tons of work. Yes, you may have an audience already out there, but are they loyal enough to follow you into this new territory? Most are probably not. So you’re still faced with fetching in new readers and building a market for your work.
- Might Need Multiple Brands:
You may have to start from scratch. This follows on from the previous point. If you have a new (pen) name, you have to build your brand all over again.
In today’s world of marketing, this is a huge task for a well-established writer. In fact, some would say it’s downright foolish to leave a loyal fan following and search for new fans when there are tons of books clamoring out there already for readers. This reason is why you shouldn’t take genre hopping lightly.
- Creates Story Confusion:
You can end up with a confused headspace. Writing is a demanding career. It is hard enough to devote yourself to writing page after page, and if you’re someone like me, with ideas streaming in every alternate minute, then it is even more difficult to concentrate.
Multitasking in writing is often necessary because when you have one book finished, you often start on a new one rather than twiddle your creative thumbs. According to Holly Lisle, the maximum writers should multitask is like this: have one work in writing, one in editing, and one in the plotting stage. I’m guilty of breaking those rules.
Recently I got inspired to work on a historical and contemporary at the same time. The characters were very drawing, and it was impossible not to write them. But it is a headache.
Believe me, it takes some orientation to remember the names of the characters when I open each file. So you can imagine how working on two completely different genres with different world building can leave you mired in confusion. You risk forgetting the rules or world building you set for Story1, as against the ones you did for Story2.
My advice is, if you’re hopping genres, do it one story at a time, especially if they are totally different genres. However, feel free to ignore. I myself do. Just write everything down so you can go back and check your notes.
Do You Need Multiple Brands?
We can build a different persona for each genre, but is that option a help or hindrance?
Niche writing and niche building is deemed necessary by many advisors on writing craft. In today’s competitive world, an author needs to devote all their time and energy in building their career. If you’re serious about making a go of writing, you need to put in every firearm in your arsenal, harness all your creative powers, not just into writing but into marketing as well.
Think about Genre and Target Audience:
Genre hopping can be done if it’s carefully thought out and not just an impulsive plunge. For authors who write for children as well as an adult audience, it might be worth their time to invest in new branding because their readers for each field are different.
If you write fantasy for children and suddenly switch to writing erotica, you are bound to catch heavy flak if you continue with the same name. Continuing with the same name/brand is desirable only when you write for subgenres or similar genres.
Think about How to Make the Differences Clear:
If you’re writing in parallel genres like fantasy and paranormal or the multiple subgenres in romance, you might opt to continue with the same identity, but you’d still have to make it clear to your readers what to expect from your next books. You don’t want grumpy readers complaining how they picked up what they thought was historical but found sci-fi instead! I know I would be turned off the author if this happened.
This problem is addressed efficiently by traditional publishers who usually devise a new look for different books by the same author. But if you are self-published, the onus is on you not to mislead your readers and risk their wrath!
Genre Hopping Can Work, but Keep Readers in Mind
To sum up, I take the view that one should think carefully what genre hopping can mean to your readers. If your target genres are widely different, or if your audience is of different age group or other specification, then opt to create a new brand rather than having an unwary reader get what they did not want.
This can happen quite easily nowadays while ordering books online, especially if you are ordering from a cell phone with smaller screen size! If you’re writing in subgenres (for example in romance: historical, contemporary, or paranormal), even then do make sure your books are categorized and showcased differently.
In case I have sounded too cautionary, let me list a few authors who have written in different genres with ease:
- Roald Dahl (wrote children’s fiction and adult fiction)
- H.G. Wells (called the father of the modern science fiction genre, he was also a popular historian)
- Georgette Heyer (wrote detective fiction and historical romances)
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (wrote detective fiction, horror, SF)
- Ken Follett (mostly known for his Cold War and suspense novels, he’s also written two historical dramas)
- Ian Fleming (wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for children, besides his James Bond novels)
Summerita Rhayne took up writing when she was in her late thirties and hasn’t looked back since. First published in 2013, she has won contests with Harlequin and Harper Collins India. She writes sensual romance with emotional conflict and has recently published her first self-published book.
Writing, she finds, is the only way to deal with the numerous story ideas bubbling in her brain that pop up more rapidly than her keyboard can do justice to, though it often takes a backseat while juggling a job and the demands of a family. However, a story and its characters have a life of their own and will find a way to make the writer pen them down. Connect with her at her website and on Twitter.
The efficient PA out of her depth…
Samara knows getting attracted to Tahir is like asking for trouble. Not only is he her boss but he’s got divorced recently and has sworn off any commitment. Short term is not on her list but temptation has never been stronger…
The man who doesn’t have faith in rainbows anymore
Tahir doesn’t believe in enforcing a code of conduct he cannot follow. But Samara might just make him make an exception! An affair at the office might seem a solution to his troubles but how can he avoid treading uncharted territory…?
Against All Rules
…when fire is set, it’s hard to avoid the blaze…
Thank you for those insights, Summerita! You’re right that sometimes we just have to follow our muse’s lead, and in fact, that’s what led me to my current genre. I was in the middle of revising an urban fantasy when a paranormal romance idea popped into my head and didn’t let go. Five paranormal romance stories later, I’m not complaining. *snicker*
Bonus Tip for Handling Multiple Pen Names
As far as multiple pen names and brands for our different genres, we also have the additional decision of how separated to keep those names:
- Secret: Some authors keep the connection between pen names secret and don’t link from one name to another. Going along with Summerita’s advice to keep the reader in mind, this option might be best for very different target audiences, when no overlap would occur or when one audience might be upset by the other side of our personality (children’s to erotica, for example).
- Connected: Other authors keep the connection between their pen names open and take advantage of potential overlap among their readers. This option can reduce the work of building multiple brands as well, as we could potentially use one social media account (such as on Twitter) and mention both names in our “about” section. These authors often have links from one web page to another and use multiple names simply to avoid reader confusion.
- A good example of this option is the open connection between Nora Roberts and J.D.Robb. Readers know what kind of story they’ll get based solely on the author name.
I also really liked Summerita’s point about the danger of story confusion. Even within one genre, I’ve tried to keep myself to that idea of one story in planning, one in drafting, and one in editing. Just that amount of juggling is sometimes enough to create struggles with capturing each character’s voice and attitude, so I can only imagine the difficulty in trying to keep everything straight in multiple genres and story worlds.
When I’ve gone beyond that recommendation, and tried to apply, say, a new revision tip to multiple in-editing stories at once, my brain nearly explodes and I get nothing done. In other words, there’s a real danger if we try to do to much at once. A result like that isn’t quite the effect we were going for with our attempt at “efficiency.” *smile*
As a reader, have you ever been misled or disappointed when an author switched genres? If you’ve genre hopped, what are the pros and cons you’ve encountered? Have you found success in genre hopping? What are your tips for a successful shift to a different genre? Do you have any advice about how to keep multiple stories, genres, or story worlds straight in your head, or tips on how to better organize the required juggling act?Pin It