There has been a persistent sentiment over the years among agents and publishers in the traditional publishing world: stick to one genre.
“You need to specialize, because a publisher can’t afford to try and reach a whole new audience with every single book. As an author, neither can you.”
– Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
But does that advice still apply in today’s publishing world?
And more to the point, does that advice apply if you’re choosing to self-publish?
Traditional vs. Self-Published Authors: Does it Make a Difference?
On the surface, self-publishing seems like a good solution for those authors prone to genre-hopping.
Without an agent or publisher, you’re free to write anything you want–and not be pigeon-holed into one specific genre.
Prior to the more mainstream self-publishing options currently available for authors, the direction your writing took was often dictated (at least in part) by the marketing departments of publishers.
And publishing in several genres via the traditional route, often meant publishing with more than one publisher.
So, is “Indie” the way to go if you want to write in multiple genres?
Well, yes and no.
Sure, you’re able to write whatever moves you, but self-publishing only guarantees you have the opportunity to write and publish your work–NOT that it gets noticed or read.
Regardless of whether you decide to self-publish or traditionally publish, you need a way to consistently and efficiently get your work in front of the right eyeballs (a.k.a. your writer platform), if you want your books to sell.
The question then is: how does writing in multiple genres affect your ability to build your author brand, engage your readers and grow your writing career?
Feature Download: Download a free worksheet to help you decide if writing in multiple genres is the right path for you (click here to download).
Multiple Genres and Your Author Brand
What makes perfect sense from a marketing “ease of sale” perspective, gets a little muddied when trying to apply it to more artistic endeavours.
Case in point:
Staying within genre boundaries is just smart marketing.
You don’t bring much of your readership with you when you cross from one genre to another, and most authors see lower sales figures when publishing outside of their best-know specialty.
The problem, however, is that “specialization” (or sticking to one genre or category) can really be a creative style-cramper.
If you balk at the idea of “branding” yourself or your work, writing specifically for a well-defined, well-targeted group of readers, or employing other strategies to reach, connect and engage with an audience, you’re not alone.
Many authors hold the mistaken belief that the selling experience must be an aggressive, mercantile and sordid affair that strips their writing of any real meaning and reduces it to a “product” rather than the imaginative, well-crafted work that it is.
And a brand is the fake front that you hide behind to do so.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Branding isn’t nearly as corporate or commercial as it’s believed to be.
It’s your style, your unique voice, and the combination of recurrent themes, character types, settings, and ideas that make up the familiar elements characteristic to your writing.
Branding is not simply:
- your website colours or logo design
- the genre or genres you write in
- the size of your social media following
- the magnetism of your sales copy
- your book cover design
- your pen name
- your pithy tagline
- or the message you share
It is also much less about genre, and much more about what readers come to expect in your books.
It’s everything you do, and the way that you do it–as well as how it’s perceived and interpreted by your audience.
“The key for me is that, when I seek a book by an author, I want that book to be a book nobody but that author could’ve written. That, for me, is what voice—and “branding”—is all about.”
– Chuck Wendig, Author
So don’t confuse brand with genre, selling out, or a professionally designed logo.
And be carefully not to snub your nose at being “typecast” as a particular genre author. This only happens when someone is so consistently good at (or so strongly identified with) one thing, that they typify the attributes of that specialty.
Is that really something you want to resist?
Ideally, the “wise” course of action is to specialize. To conquer your niche first.
Then branch out (if you wish) after you’ve gained some mastery in one area and have developed a sizeable following around that genre.
But ultimately, your goal is to link your name to an organic and dynamic brand that’s based on you and arouses a positive, emotional experience for your targeted readership–regardless of genre.
By doing so, you can tie a common thread between all genres you choose to explore.
Audience Expectations: What Do Your Readers Want?
Will readers follow the writing or will they follow the genre?
The irony here is that the loyal, rabid fan base that will follow an author down any creative path is most often developed through a deep understanding of their needs, wants and desires.
And that’s extremely difficult to get right with one audience, let alone across multiple.
Readers need to trust that you can provide the experience they’re seeking.
If you choose to experiment with different genres, be certain it is worth the risk of disappointing the readers you already have.
Not all will be flexible and forgiving.
Creative Expression vs. Building a Career
“The making of art and the selling of it are two entirely distinct enterprises.”
– Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers
Most authors struggle with the amount of weight they should (or want to) give to the two major aspects of their writing career: art vs. business.
Being a writer–or any artist–means that you experiment and stretch yourself beyond your previous works, creating something unexpected.
Writing in more than one genre:
- requires different strengths and allows you to push your limits and abilities–learn, test, experiment, polish.
- lets authors explore their wide interests without limitation.
- allows new writers to explore genres before determining the right “fit” for their style, voice and passions.
- is often not a conscious decision–many writers are compelled to follow the Muse.
The flip-side to this, is that although some people can write well in more than one genre, few can excel in one, let alone many.
“…an author has to know his natural limitations, and not allow his creative wanderlust (or his ego) to take him places he is ill-equipped to go.”
– Gar Anthony Haywood, Author
A writer also has a need (and a responsibility) to capture the attention of the people that deserve to experience their work.
If your writing isn’t all about you–if it’s about an awakening in the reader–you have to think about not only what you like to write, but how to market and sell those books in a way that best serves your audience.
Every author’s goals and objectives will be different. Each author must determine for themselves the emphasis they wish to place on the art of writing vs. the business of writing.
And make no mistake. There will be consequences to your choices.
Every decision you make from what to write and how often to release, to cover design and sales copy, all have an impact on potential sales.
Writing in multiple genres equals more work (and often) less income. It’s hard to build traction in one genre, let alone several.
Switching or jumping genres leads to building multiple smaller audiences instead of steadily building a larger, more engaged fan base.
Momentum is your friend, and like it or not, sticking to one genre and writing books in a series (and releasing them back-to-back) is more lucrative, and builds a readership faster, than diversifying.
Look at your goals and objectives for your writing career and determine the outcomes you hope to achieve.
Your contentment with the results of your choice to write (or not to write) in multiple genres will be contingent upon the weight you place on the two ends of the art/business spectrum.
The Bottom Line?
There is no general rule that will fit all authors, other than this:
“Be undeniably good.”
– Steven Martin, Actor and Comedian
If you choose to diversify early, follow your Muse and write primarily for yourself, you may have to accept that the road to fame and fortune (if that’s your desire) will likely be longer and steeper than your specialized counterparts.
If your focus is on serving your audience, defining a brand that makes you instantly recognizable, and cornering the market on a specific genre, just know that you may have to sacrifice some creative freedom to get there.
In every case, you’ll have to be undeniably good to cross the finish line.