An author recently posed a question to us through our question button (in the right column on the blog page). We like when authors do this, so please feel free to use the button!
While everyone’s situation is different, the elements of the question are relevant to many so I’m addressing those today.
I have a question about genre hopping. I have a non-fiction book geared for parents of teens that is going to be released by a traditional publishing house in the spring. I have written 100’s of articles , but this is my first book project. I also have worked on a historical fiction novel for middle school readers for about the last 7 years and am in the final edits, book cover design and all the other details that go with self publishing. It will also be released at the beginning of next year as well. I have a distinct marketing plan for both books that are separate from each other as to not cause genre confusion for readers.
What is the rule of thumb for staying within a single genre?
This author honed in on one question, but has asked many. If this author were a client, I would set aside a good block of time for a phone call to talk over the following:
1.) Your first allegiance is to your traditional publisher. Because you are usually under a contractual obligation to your traditional publisher. The terms of that agreement likely will include a non-compete clause that should be honored. Why? Because this is the publisher investing thousands of dollars in you in hopes of making your book a success. Even if the publisher didn’t pay an advance to you, professional editing, artwork, printing, marketing, etc. are not free to the publisher. In return, your obligation is to work with the publisher to ensure that book’s success. This means promoting that title over others you have in the works.
2.) Your books seem to be releasing too closely together. While keeping readers from becoming confused is commendable and desirable, the fact is, no author can commit 100% to marketing two books at once. See #1.
3.) Do you have the time, energy, and finances to be effective in marketing two disparate books, regardless of their planned release dates? For example, will you purchase and maintain two web sites? Two domains? Two blogs? Will you use different publicity pictures and materials for each book? How will you handle book signings? What about a speaking ministry?
4.) Your career appears to lack focus. Why is it a good idea to release a book you’ve been working on for seven years at this point in time, right on the heels on a book you have sold to a traditional publisher, one that you hope will make money and an impact on your readers?
5.) Self-publishing can be beneficial to authors, but timing needs to be strategic. The desire to get your name out there on as many titles as possible, with hopes of increasing income, is understandable. But since these two audiences have very little overlap, the titles won’t help each other sell. The question should also be raised as to whether the middle grade has even been marketed to traditional publishers. If not, why not?
6.) You appear to need a career plan. Are you hoping one of the books finds an audience and will plan to write and market your next book accordingly? Or is the seven-year project the fruition of a dream and more or less a lark? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on writing your followup book for the traditional publisher and build your brand that way, thereby maximizing your potential to gain an audience thanks to your connection with a traditional publisher? Or, if the self-published project is the book of your heart, why not take the path of a fiction author? See #4.
7.) And finally, the answer as to whether or not an author can or should hop genres is as varied as the number of authors. The answer needs to be customized to your career path. Factors such as how established an author is, where her audience lies, how her audience finds her, and her contract with her traditional publisher, are only a few aspects to consider. Yes, you have addressed the idea of separating genres and should keep from confusing your readers. However, the real question, is this idea workable?
1.) Which authors do you enjoy who hop genres?
2.) Do you feel it’s difficult as an author to divide your loyalties in genres, or seamless? Why?
3.) As a writer, do you want to hop genres? Why or why not?
Susan May Warren and Tricia Goyer seem to be good at hopping genres. I enjoy all of their books, and as a reader I like to hop genres, too. It’s nice to know that my favorite authors are available in multiple locations.
Speaking as a newer author who recently did this, I can say with confidence–DON’T DO IT!!
I ended up having to stop my middle grade historical fiction after the first in the series because SOMETHING had to give. I ended up having to choose between my genres and it wasn’t fun. Now, I can’t help but feeling that twinge of guilt over starting something I couldn’t finish. My readers are disappointed and so am I.
IMO, it takes an established and well-seasoned author to pull off genre-hopping.
April said what I was thinking. From what I’ve heard, it’s much easier (on many levels) for a well established authors to genre hop successfully. I have story ideas in a couple different genres, but if/when I get an offer for publication, I will write in that genre for awhile to establish myself and become familiar with the market and my audience. And yes, I’m speaking optimistically as a yet unagented, unpublished writer. 🙂
I’ve enjoyed Susan May Warren’s various “genre” books as well.
Jeanne, I’m in the same boat as you. Unpublished, yet hopeful and working hard with multiple story ideas. I’d also decided to zero in on a specific genre (historical fiction) and also a specific location (Pacific Northwest where I was originally from) so as to develop my style and readership.
I’ve had the chance to be in a Susan May Warren workshop at a conference and I also agree she genre hops well. I’d be curious to look at her first published books and see if they were the same genre.
Brandilyn Collins is another author who has switched gears. I’m always excited to read whatever she writes.
I debated what I wanted to write and have switched back and forth between romance and romantic suspense.
At conference you (Tamela) asked me what genre I enjoyed writing most. That really freed me up to focus on romantic suspense.
Thanks so much!
Tamela Hancock Murray
Jackie: So glad I could help. Sometimes all it takes is asking one good question. 🙂
Thank you for this wisdom. Curbing writerly enthusiasm and holding the focus makes great sense. Valuable help!
I enjoy authors who write fiction well for both adults and middle-grade, like Beverly Lewis, Lauraine Snelling, Wanda Brunstetter, Jerry Jenkins. I have confidence giving their books to my children, and then my children and I have a mutual interest.
Grisham seemed to pull it off. Brandilynn Collins did it well, too. But we still know them best for their primary brand. I struggle myself. I move between mystery, suspense, and am now working on mysteries using “after the crash” America as my setting. That seems to satisfy my genre hopping. Part of me worries about getting locked into a brand, but then I guess if that’s where God opens a door, that’s where I need to be.
Kaye Dacus has done a great job of switching genres. She wrote a three book contemporary series with two of those books releasing in one year. After she completed that series she wrote a three book historical series and kept up that pattern. I think it works very well.
Denise Hunter wrote four historical Heartsong Presents novels, but entirely switched to contemporaries after that. I loved her historicals (as well as her contemporaries) and would love to read more historicals by her.
One author I am thinking of has written both historicals and contemporaries and I have read some of both, but prefer her contemporaries. When I read a historical I want lots of detail from the time period, not just character driven. She has sooo many characters that the historical detail seems to get lost. In a contemporary one can skip some of that because one lives in this age and automatically knows of what the author is speaking without them having to explain.
I would love the freedom to write in whatever genre like Melody Carlson, Tricia Goyer, and Susan May Warren. As a reader I hope genres – I don’t read only historicals, only contemporary, only suspense, or only Amish.
But when God opens the doors, however He does, I’ll go through them.
I have to agree with both sides…I think an author who violates the principles that their readers have come to appreciate about them should consider writing under a different name. Judy Blume is one who I feel crossed some lines in the area of reader trust. However I picked up a wonderfully illustrated book on the solar system and the constellations. When I looked at the name again it was by H.A Rey, the same person who created and illustrated Curious George, Obviously authors interests can overlap but the violation of trust is something that should always be considered.
Liz Curtis Higgs is also one that has written in both genres and has also combined the genres in a way that is powerful and true to her calling.
I love the four letter word Tamela used. LARK. Sometimes writers find themselves in a spot that they could have never orchestrated and the only thing we can do is stay true to our calling as a writer, walk through the doors that the Lord opens and wait with anticipation for what will happen in the next chapter.
I’ve been following Kris Rusch’s “Business Rusch” posts on this topic of late. She points out a couple of things: For one, the difference in time, energy and stamina between a working writer, like many of the multi-genre authors mentioned, and the majority of us, who have other day jobs and life commitments.
She also explains the ins and outs of managing your sales records across genres in traditional publishing, and how going multi-genre too soon or under the same brand (pen name) can mess things up.
I don’t think it’s a “don’t,” but it is a “needs management expertise and long-term planning.” I haven’t had a problem discussing multi-genre career planning with agents and editors. It’s “let’s do this all right now” that gets a writer into various kinds of trouble.
…I should say, not that working writers don’t have other life commitments, but I’m referring to things that take up the same amount of time and energy as a full-time job although they may not pay an income. I see a lot of volunteerism burnout among Christian women, and it can affect the long-term course of writing.
Thank you, Tamela, for opening this subject. The above advice and experience of other writers are valuable. I never intended to write a WWII historical, but used a history tour of Germany as a research trip. While composing the novel, I studied intensely and went deeply into life in Germany during the war. So now I have that novel completed, and also the “book of my heart” which is contemporary and involves the Brazilian Amazon. At ACFW, you and others advised that I choose eras. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not really killing my baby; I’m putting it on the shelf for a while. The facts won’t change in the historical, but they will in the contemporary. Some day I’d like to dust it off again. Maybe under a different pen name?
I love Tony Hillerman. I recently discovered that he had written a book that genre jumped. Because I love his writing, I gave it a try. It was okay, but I didn’t like it as well as his well-known brand. I hope he goes back to what he does best.
It did make me think about why genre-jumping is frowned upon, generally speaking.
I find myself in the same boat as the author who posed this question. For years I’ve been working on a middle-grade novel that is ready for publication. However, during that process my family and I adopted Ruth, a precious little girl from Uganda who was both deaf and disabled. The members of my writing group were so inspired by Ruth’s story, they encouraged me to write about her. So I ended up leapfrogging between the two books, which are both finished. My primary goal has always been to write for children, but my heart is to tell stories that matter, stories that will open people’s eyes to the needs of others with Christ’s compassion. I’m currently seeking representation, but I hope to market my career under the banner of telling these stories–whether for the MG or adult market. Still, I recognize I’ll have to focus on one book at a time. Our daughter Ruth died in Feb. 2011. So for me, that is the most important book, and the one I’ll focus on first.