Writing in Multiple Genres, Okay? Not Okay?

The “Your Questions Answered” Series

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In a recent Q & A, Steve Laube talked about how writers will pitch different projects to him in the same meeting:  a novel, a nonfiction, a devotional, etc.  He said that writers need to decide “what they want to be when they grow up.”  I’d like some clarity on why writing in different genres is discouraged. 

As ideas come to me, some seem a good fit for a devotion, others for a worship drama, others for a longer work.  It seems that by focusing on only one area of writing, some potentially good ideas could be lost if they don’t fit in that area; or, by forcing an idea into something that isn’t a good fit, the result is a poorly developed piece of writing.

Steve Laube means that you want to build a consistent career based on becoming known for a particular type of writing. For example, a romantic-suspense author may be perfectly capable of writing other kinds of books. However, any author will work hard to develop an audience for romantic-suspense novels. For the author to branch out into, say, The Christian’s Guide to Budgeting, they’d have to interest a nonfiction editor in the project and show that they can bring a broad audience to their budgeting books. Some romantic-suspense readers might buy the author’s budgeting books, but probably not as many as you think. Those readers are looking for romantic-suspense novels, not necessarily budgeting books.

Let’s say the author manages to be successful with both types of books. They’d need to form two separate brands or identities even though they are the same person. The first author identity will be for romantic-suspense. The second will be as a money expert. Doing so could require extensive work to maintain different websites, to write and to publish different newsletters, to create varying social media interactions, and to cater to dissimilar audiences.  Not to mention, writing entirely different books and working with two sets of editors and two divergent marketing teams. I’m tired just thinking about all this extra work!

As for writing devotionals versus worship dramas, etc., my guess is that though these are dissimilar forms of writing, they fit within a unique scope; and there is audience overlap. Plus the author is not necessarily writing for publication. Going back to the money-expert example, I see the same money expert on television, writing books, and writing advice columns in magazines on the topic of–you guessed it–money. So you can take the same subject and write in different formats. So nothing is lost.

An author who’s determined to write across several genres for different audiences would do well to find an agent, so they can form a strategy together. And even then, the market and audience the author attracts will help determine the author’s ultimate path to success.

Your turn:

Do you write in more than one genre? Have you been successful in both?

What authors do you see as being successful in multiple genres?

For the entire series, click here: “Your Questions Answered.”

31 Responses to Writing in Multiple Genres, Okay? Not Okay?

  1. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. September 17, 2020 at 5:27 am #

    Tamela, the one author I remember as being successful in two genres was Larry Burkett, the money guy who also wrote an awesome novel, The Illuminati. That’s the only two genre writer I know about.

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    Robyn Renée Monroe September 17, 2020 at 6:08 am #

    Thank you! I am working so hard to create a brand that I cannot imagine trying to create two simultaneously Today, it seems everything must be heavily branded. My daughter wears heavily branded socks! Who knew? Thanks again.

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    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 17, 2020 at 6:14 am #

    I shall write of zombie futures
    and the trials of Amish wives,
    and of surgeons tying sutues
    under fire, saving lives.
    I shall write of ancient Greece
    when at last they found the Son,
    and of cooking whirled peas,
    and of How the West as Won.
    I shall tell Victorian stories,
    thrilling to millennials,
    and then write of Papist glories;
    oh, my world is never dull!
    Not scatterbrained, but thanks for asking;
    I’m just good at multitasking.

  4. Avatar
    L.G. McCary September 17, 2020 at 6:22 am #

    I wonder if we’ll ever see another author like C.S. Lewis. The man wrote apologetics, theology, literary criticism, memoir/autobiography, radio programming, fantasy, science fantasy, supernatural, and a fairy-tale retelling. And all of it is brilliant.

  5. Avatar
    frankcaudle76@gmail.com September 17, 2020 at 7:06 am #

    On your seesaw, just for fun put an apple and a prune.

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    Gloria Polanosky September 17, 2020 at 7:24 am #

    Thank you so much for this article! I’m writing a fantasy trilogy, but have ideas for a sweet, contemporary romance series. So, I’ve been wrestling with this very concept.
    I talk to a dear friend yesterday that told me the very same thing you have said. I guess I have some praying and discerning to do.

  7. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson September 17, 2020 at 7:45 am #

    I write in different genres. I write stories for children and also, inspirational fiction. My writing includes devotions, articles and blog posts, too. I have been praying about seeking an agent. Thank you for these great tips.

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    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU September 17, 2020 at 9:26 am #

    Wow! I think I get a bit disappointed if a writer I have associated with a particular genre switches to something else. I am happy though if such a writer is able to maintain the reader’s interest and love with their writing.
    As for me, I will say I have dabbled in to different genres and surprised myself recently, dabbling with YA! I found this genre easier and flowed easier with it.
    I think authors should try their hands on different genres and find their niche or comfort writing. I have tried short stories, novellas, romantic fiction, biblical fiction and now YA. My prayer is that God should keep all my readers happy with whatever genre I flow with and that they love it!
    Thanks Tamela and God bless you.

  9. Avatar
    Jeannie Delahunt September 17, 2020 at 9:30 am #

    A timely answer to a question mulling around in my brain the past few weeks. Did Shakespeare write in one genre? I thinkest not! Did C.S. Lewis?

    Of course, I don’t compare myself to either of these literary masters. However, if God is leading someone to write in more than one genre, seems to me, where the Holy Spirit leads – that path or paths need to be followed. And if God is doing the leading, then, those who will complete the mission(s) will be provided. Yes?

    I write in more than one genre. Not traditionally published yet, but hope to be.

  10. Avatar
    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU September 17, 2020 at 10:48 am #

    Well said, Jeannie ! I totally agree with you. Where the spirit leads, we follow.
    Like you, I am hoping to be traditionally published some day by God’s grace. Amen to your prayer that your hope to be traditionally published. Pray the same prayer for me too!

  11. Avatar
    Jeff Reynolds September 17, 2020 at 10:54 am #

    Good blog, Tamela. Thanks for writing it.

    I’m an author seeking publication, and I’m concentrating on that WIP and its sequels (cozy mysteries). I do have an idea for a YA fantasy story, but I probably won’t do anything with it unless I feel strongly I need to give up on my WIP and start a whole different series.

    I do know a pair of authors who have successfully crossed genre. Nancy Mehl has written a couple of series of cozy mysteries, a few romantic suspense series and two straight suspense trilogies. Her mysteries and her suspense stories are among my favorites in their respective genres. But I could tell from her reviews that not all fans enjoy both types of tales.

    Another is Marissa Shrock. I’ve read the first of a dystopian series she’s written. She now has a five novel cozy mystery series out as well (and possibly expanding). She’s good in both genres, but I have no idea if I’ll ever get to the second dystopian drama. I can’t get enough of her mysteries.

    • Avatar
      Jeff Reynolds September 17, 2020 at 12:57 pm #

      Two more thoughts.

      I know a novel that seems to cross over into multiple genres – Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz. A mixture of sci-fi, horror, and Amish. Or is it? Actually, having read it, I would say no. It’s a science fiction story. Yes, it has vampires and Amish, but those enter into the sci fi setting.

      Also, I have thought of writing non-fiction as well. But believe it or not, my NF interests in writing deals with themes in the novel. There would be more overlap between those interested in the non-fiction book and my work in progress than there would be between the two novels.

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    Lee Carver September 17, 2020 at 11:21 am #

    I’d love to hear more about writing both contemporary and recent history. Not totally different genres, but different times. I’m doing it, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. At least I have the current advantage with recent history of not dealing with Corona virus and the lock-down.

    • Avatar
      Jeff Reynolds September 18, 2020 at 9:54 am #

      Lee, let me give you my thoughts, for what they’re worth. It depends how closely related the topics are. For example, if you wanted to write about impeachment and you did books looking at the impeachments of Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and President Trump, you would have an audience that would be interested in that series that covers both historical and current situations.

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    Patrick E. Craig September 17, 2020 at 12:06 pm #

    I write in multiple Genres, and am building my base in each one every day. I’m telling the stories that God has put on my heart and I’m not concerned about “making” it. I’m not doing this for money. I’m doing it for love, and if the Lord blesses me then that’s His business, not mine. I say tell the stories that are in your notebook, the ones you love.

  14. Avatar
    Angela Enos September 17, 2020 at 12:34 pm #

    No, I do not write in more than one genre. I only read Christian non-fiction and I only write Christian non-fiction. The reason for this recently became very evident to me when I read my girlfriend’s Christian fiction book. As stated above, I don’t normally read fiction, but after all, she is my friend. I began to read her expertly written fiction book and I thought, I could never write this stuff. I don’t read fiction and therefore don’t have the background or expertise necessary to write good fiction. Her book was great, but vastly different than any of my writings. I’m could never throw adjectives around like she does.

    My point being, you have to read in your genre to write well in your genre. I can’t imagine trying to accomplish all that reading in two different genres.

    • Avatar
      Jeff Reynolds September 18, 2020 at 10:00 am #

      Angela, just my thoughts for what they’re worth. Let me share them:
      1. There are different genres in non-fiction as well – devotional writing, biography, poetry.
      2. An eclectic reader can read several genres. My fiction reading is pretty balanced between suspense, mystery, and speculative (sci-fi/fanstasy). And while each genre has its requirements, they also share the basics of story-telling with all other genres – characterization, plot, setting.

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    Linda Riggs Mayfield September 17, 2020 at 1:07 pm #

    Tamela,
    My answers to your first two questions are yes, I write in multiple genres, and no, I have not been successful at that. I’ve published numerous articles in the popular and academic press, but have no books published. Multi-genre writing really makes it challenging to build a social media platform, and most agents I’ve queried require a “substantial” platform. I have 10 completed books, some novels even beta read, revised, and final-edited: children’s picture books, YA, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction. Beta reader and agent responses have been very strong, but in building a platform, I’ve been paralyzed because I, as Steve put it, “don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

    I think I can pretty much rule out Steve ;-D, but how does one find an agent who is willing to help a multi-genre writer strategize, as you suggested in your last paragraph? I’m not “determined to write in several genres,” but I’d like to keep writing in two: Christian women’s fiction and Christian historical fiction. (I tried Romance, but that’s not my gift.) Should I ask an agent about that specific point separately before I query a book, clearly state it in book queries, or just wait for it to come up in pre-contract discussions? Thanks!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 18, 2020 at 11:23 am #

      Linda, always be upfront with any prospective agent about your dreams. I would even go so as to say that it’s okay to send more than one proposal at a time — with the agent’s permission first — and let the agent help you strategize and land. For example, if you write romantic suspense and prayer books, the agent who looks at both can help determine your direction.

  16. Avatar
    Martha Rogers September 17, 2020 at 3:27 pm #

    In my own writing, I use Romance as a genre to include both contemporary and historical along with Romantic suspense. It must fit because I have over 55 novels and novellas published in those. My brand is in the theme of reconciliation and reunion that runs through every story I write. When people read my books, they expect to see characters who have real problems or situations they must face and resolve as their hearts are touched by God and their lives changed.

    I have written non-fiction for collections by other authors and articles for magazines, but my love is in my novels and novellas. I may love to read mystery, suspense and thriller, but I could never write books like that. I know some authors who have been successful in multiple genres but use a pen name for each.

    AIl that to say, write what you believe the Lord is guiding and leading you to write.

  17. Avatar
    Claudia September 17, 2020 at 5:14 pm #

    I understand, now, why it is important to focus on writing in one genre. However, when passionate writers start out, they start out with an idea. It may be a story of a child or dog; something for children to enjoy or perhaps it’s a novelty book for adults. All good ideas. This is writer’s beginnings. Then one day the writer decidea to write an adult novel and begins to pursue that genre, but their beginnings were a mixed bag of stories. The publishers see that and think that writer isn’t focused on one genre, and that novel is axed. Everyone starts somewhere and I think it’s unfair to be judged in that manner. It breaks the writer’s spirit and confidence.
    Your marketing reason is valid and I don’t dispute that. But, then where and how does a writer break through that mixed genre judgement?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 18, 2020 at 11:24 am #

      Claudia, this is where tailored advice from a great agent is needed! I don’t know of a good answer I could provide on a blog for varied writers, as this blog is.

  18. Avatar
    Darlene Bocek September 17, 2020 at 6:13 pm #

    I recognize that agents know the market. But readers don’t only read in one genre. Myself, I read suspense, contemp, Mystery, Sci fi, fantasy, romance. My readers have said the same. If the book is well done, I keep going. The thing I look for in my reading is craft+concept+real faith issues. My readers have said that’s what they like about my stories. An author platform can be MANNER as opposed to genre. The way an author spins faith. Ie: Lewis, Rivers.

    As someone said earlier, authors good in one genre who start a different one may need a bit of brain stretching before mastering that new one.

    As a reader, when my favorite authors present a different genre I’m perfectly willing to read it. Take Francine Rivers. HF, Contemp, Biblical… If she were to write a fantasy, I would grab it up. Or SciFi. It’s her MANNER of storyweaving and faith spinning that I’m looking for. Not just the genre.

    I read NF. If an author I like, like Elizabeth Maddrey, were to write a devotional, I’d l love it. She has shown me her take on the life of faith. Genre is secondary to message. At least for me.

    But… I’m an idealist I guess. The sales aspect of promoting a book and a new author requires wise agents who are grounded in reality. Probably the idealism makes for interesting stories but not so effective business decisions. Thanks for the advice. Much to think about.

  19. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks September 18, 2020 at 6:44 am #

    Yeah, I write RomComs, YA, middle grade, picture books, poems, and blogs. As a reader, I read RomComs, romance, fantasy, fairytale retellings, Sci-fi, steampunk, humor, adventures, cozy mysteries, YA, middle grade, and I used to read a lot of picture books to my kids.

  20. Avatar
    Megan Schaulis September 18, 2020 at 10:17 am #

    What about age hopping? I’ve seen a lot of authors, CBA and general, who dabble in both YA and adult. Is that more acceptable?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 18, 2020 at 11:25 am #

      In my experience, those authors in traditional publishing are working with a publisher with whom they have a relationship.

  21. Avatar
    Cole Powell September 18, 2020 at 11:31 am #

    Hi, Tamela! I’ve been reading The Steve Laube Blog for a while now, and you guys truly are a spectacular team. (Suggestion: Re-name it “The Laube Bloggy”! Am I right? Right? No? Okay, forget I mentioned it.)

    I don’t think everyone can pull-off writing in multiple genres, but I believe a good example of a successful genre-branching author is one of Steve’s own, Ronie Kendig. She started out with military thrillers, before branching out with speculative on Enclave, and as far as I know, she’s enjoyed success in both realms. I’m not sure how many, if any, of her original fanbase followed to her sci-fi/fantasy ventures, but I, for one, would probably have never heard of her if she hadn’t made the jump to spec!

  22. Avatar
    Donna K. Stearns October 3, 2020 at 6:20 pm #

    Yes, I am writing in different genres, fiction and nonfiction. The books are relatable. I was glad to see this is workable. Thank you for the help.

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