Writers, by their stock and trade, write. Most gravitate to writing in the genres that they prefer to read, but can of course be quite capable of penning other kinds of books. But does writing in different genres work?
As a book editor, I’m posed this question at least weekly. The short answer? No.
Well, why would that be? Looks like an author could cash in on writing many different genres, with many different audiences. Right?
In theory, yes. But in practice, this sets you up for a ton of additional work, not only with the diverse specs of dissimilar genres, but specifically when it comes to the marketing side of things.
Because, even though you might have built up a big audience for your Time-Travel Romance books, now that you’ve written a Sci/Fi, you’re faced with marketing to an entirely different audience.
This also holds true for writing fiction and nonfiction books.
As Literary Agent Steve Laube recently said, writers need to decide “what they want to be when they grow up.” The point being that successful authors build their audiences and become known for books that fit into a particular genre.
And even though some of your Time-Travel audience might buy your Sci/Fi novel, in reality, not very many of them. I.e., readers are loyal to the genres they read because they like them. Rarely do they venture far afield
The thing is, very few Romance readers cross over into Sci/Fi (actually, I’d like to know someone who does!). They’re looking for the Romance formula, not warriors from other planets battling in some far-away galaxy.
Or, pick any divergent genres. Some crossover does exist. But less than you’d think.
Often, you’ll need two different literary agents as well. Most agents, while they represent a wide variety of genres, focus on a few, as that’s where their contacts are.
In other words, an agent who sells a lot of Western Fiction, might not handle nonfiction at all. So she may sell your Western novel, but for that nonfiction book on basket weaving in the Bahamas? Well, you’ll probably need another agent for that.
Not to mention, you’ll be working with entirely different editors, often at separate publishing houses.
This isn’t unique to Traditional publishing either. To effectively market self-published books in various genres, the same holds true. The devil winds its way through all the marketing details here as well, and to those disparate audiences.
And you already know all the marketing ins and outs of book publishing, no? Just think of that when writing in different genres.
An author works hard to build that audience. He maintains a website. Sends out newsletters. Engages with readers on social media and under every single rock he can turn over.
If you write in different genres, you need two different versions of all of the above. Because, again, you’re talking to two different audiences.
So when it comes to the question of does writing in different genres work, it is impossible. But it is very difficult to be successful.
Some novelists do this and use pseudonyms. And, they maintain different personas for them.
Plus, a lot of authors write both fiction and nonfiction, and do so successfully. Especially if there’s a common thread. One of my authors, Dr. Vernon Andrews, has a big nonfiction book coming out in November, Policing Black Athletes: Racial Disconnect in Sports, from Peter Lang Publishers. (I love this book. More on it when it comes out!) He’s now writing a novel, with some similar themes, which will appeal somewhat to the crossover.
My buddy, Chris Manno, writes beautiful award-winning Literary Fiction. A retired airline pilot, he’s also written the award-winning An Airline Pilot’s Life, and has just come out with Aircrew Confidential: The Unauthorized Airline Chronicles, which is a peek behind the curtain into the flight-crew world.
Randy Denmon, another of my authors, successfully writes both fiction and non. He won a Spur Award for his Western, Lords of an Empty Land, set in reconstruction-era Louisiana, but pens nonfiction as well. His The Forgotten Trail to Appomattox: Hidden Civil War Sites and Destinations Across America, also revolves around the Civil War.
The point about these is that they’re writing nonfiction about things they know very well—and have been huge parts of their lives. Both Manno and Denmon wrote fiction first. Andrews did the opposite. But I’d venture to say they’ll all be successful in disparate genres.
So, does writing in different genres work?
As with all things writing, it depends. And a lot of it depends upon how much time and effort you have to put into not only learning the specs for each genre, but also building different audiences for your work.
So, what’s your focus? Where do you want to fit? Or as Laube said, what do you want to be when you grow up?