Multigenre Writing: Good or Bad Idea?

One of this blog’s readers recently directed the following question to me: You’ve been a successful writer in several genres. Is that possible for someone starting out today?

I could debate the accuracy of the adjective “successful,” but I’ll let that slip for now. It’s true that I have written and published books in a variety of genres (I was a writer long before becoming an agent and continue to write and publish, thanks to my agent, He-Whose-Name-Must-Be-Whispered). Among my 50+ books are fiction and nonfiction; for children, teens, and adults; devotionals, Christian living, and more. So, my publishing experience has been varied, yes.

But is it possible for someone starting out today?

The short answer is, “Sure.”

The more accurate answer is a bit more complicated.

Let me ask you two quick questions: Who’s your favorite writer? What does he or she write?

See what just happened? Chances are, whoever came to mind, you were able to answer both questions pretty quickly. And pretty narrowly. In other words, your favorite author probably has a brand.

If your first answer was “Stephen King,” your second answer was probably “horror fiction.” If you answered “Max Lucado,” your second answer was something like “inspirational nonfiction.” If “Sarah Young,” then “devotionals.” And so on.

Readers return to the works of those writers over and over again because they deliver quality, over and over again, and mostly in the same kind of books.

That’s the kind of author publishers generally prefer: Someone who is building a brand; who won’t make editors think, I thought she wrote Amish fiction; who won’t surprise, confuse, or disappoint readers by changing horses in the middle of the literary stream.

That’s not to say you can’t write and publish both fiction and nonfiction; I’ve done so, and I have clients who do so. That’s not to say your success in one genre will pigeonhole you forever and prevent you from branching out into another genre. But it does suggest that you might give careful thought to the trajectory of your writing progress and do your best to avoid the impression that you can’t make up your mind or stick to a genre long enough to build a loyal readership. And once you’ve developed a loyal—or, better yet, rabid—readership, then many of them may follow you when you start writing in a different genre.

To return to the original question about “someone starting out today,” I would emphasize that the above comments apply primarily to the writing of books. Writing articles and other shorter forms allow a writer to flex muscles and spread wings on all sorts of topics, scratching the creative itch while staying focused on building a brand as an author. When it comes to strategizing a debut as an author, I recommend careful consideration of where your strengths and passions point and the genre most likely to capitalize on those things (and, importantly, make the long road ahead that much more enjoyable). Focus on getting better and better in that general area, and be alert for any door that may open. Don’t try to do “everything.” Think ahead to the moment in the future when someone will answer the questions “Who’s your favorite writer?” and “What does he or she write?” with your name and your book titles.


5 Responses to Multigenre Writing: Good or Bad Idea?

  1. Avatar
    Diana Derringer June 10, 2020 at 6:28 am #

    Thank you for the clarification.

  2. Avatar
    Sarah Hamaker June 10, 2020 at 7:26 am #

    As someone who started out in the nonfiction world, but has since been traditionally published in the fiction world, the hardest part is that you can’t marry your lists/readers. Sure, some of my nonfiction readers will read my romantic suspense novels, but I have to keep two separate lists and two separate websites, and that means feeding two separate blogs. I have two separate FB business/author pages, and I really should have two separate Twitter accounts, except at this point, my followers are such a hodgepodge of both audiences, I’ve given up changing that.

    So sure, like Bob said, you can do it, but keep in mind you’ll be doubling your marketing workload.

  3. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver June 10, 2020 at 8:26 am #

    Thanks Bob, and thanks, Sarah (see above comment) for clarifying this.

  4. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan June 10, 2020 at 1:07 pm #

    Great info as usual.

    I believe my thoughts have run along the same lines. My first answer was Stephen King, however, that being said, I hate the genre. I like his writing for his writing style and knowledge of the use of the English language, and of course, all that wordsmithing! Think “Misery.”

    Perhaps my favorite genre is Rom/Com/Suspense, meaning, Christy Barritt and Melissa Ferguson come to mind. Laugh-until-I-cry writing. Also, mystery (Agatha Christie, shows like Midsommer Murder, etc.).

    Chandler! Noir.

    In the past? My favorite was global intrigue. Still love it. So, romantic/suspense; Rom/Suspense with 1. noir 2. intrigue 3. comedy 4. cozy mystery.

    My favorite is awaiting edit. A romantic comedy, over-the-top noir. Can’t wait to finish the tome I am working on (intrigue) to giggle over my noir.

  5. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks June 12, 2020 at 11:58 am #

    Strange? I did your exercise and the first two names that floated to the top of my mind (Cornelia Funke and Brandon Sanderson) actually write widely in a variety of genres. Funke, sticks with children’s books (picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and YA) but Sanderson writes wildly divergent stories from thousand page epic fantasy tomes that one could use as a weapon, to short and funny middle grade making fun of his own 1,000 page tomes, to thrilling futuristic YA, superhero stories, even gear punk where geometry and chalk make up the magic system, and a romantic fantasy where everyone is pretty sure that the hero is a zombie. You are right, in that usually I don’t jump genres with my favorite authors. But my absolute favorites … I will read anything they put out. Their storytelling is that good. Every story is fabulous … but that is hard to do!

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