Ask the Agent: Writing in Multiple Genres
One of the most common questions I receive is: Can I write books in more than one genre?
Well, sure, write whatever you want!
Can I write books in multiple genres and expect to build a successful publishing career?
A lot of people have asked me this question, and they don’t understand my answer. Hey, they can write historicals, suspense, and fantasy. Why wouldn’t I be ecstatic about a multi-talented author who can do it all??
This is a marketing issue, first and foremost. If you want to publish books, attract a loyal readership, and have long-term success as an author, then you’ll need to pick a genre, do it well, and keep doing it over and over. Simple as that. All the arguing in the world and all the talent in the world is not going to change this reality.
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. If your first book is a historical romance and 25,000 people buy it and love it, you now have 25,000 historical romance readers eager for another book from you. If your second book is a contemporary suspense, you completely give up the audience you’ve already built (leaving them hanging, by the way) and you have to build a new audience from the ground up. How much sense does that make?
It’s simply not feasible, especially in today’s competitive market, to try and be a jack of all trades. You can’t reinvent the wheel every time out. Choose the one thing you enjoy most and do it the best you can.
I know, it’s frustrating to be “pigeonholed” into one genre. You feel like the marketplace wants to limit you. They’re holding you down, keeping you in a box. The world wants to put artificial constraints on the heights to which you can soar.
I recommend you avoid thinking of it as pigeonholing. I doubt Tiger Woods feels pigeonholed into “just golf.” I don’t hear Stephen King bemoaning that no one wants to read an Amish romance from him. They’re not pigeonholed, they’re specialists.
Even if you’re thinking about variations of a genre (romantic suspense, romantic comedy, etc.) it’s best to keep your main goal in mind: sell books. What’s your best chance of selling the most books? How do you build yourself a loyal readership? Specialize. Create an expectation in the reader, then fulfill that expectation. If your first book is romantic suspense, plan on doing that for awhile. Once you’ve proven yourself a success with your publisher, you may be given leeway to branch out. (Then again, you may not.)
It’s a little different if you’re talking about writing both fiction and non-fiction. If you want to do this, understand that you’ll be working to build two different audiences simultaneously. Sure, there may be some crossover, but you can’t count on it.
How much time, energy, and money do you have to devote to marketing yourself? Most authors find it daunting to promote themselves in one category, let alone two. Make your decision with the full knowledge that you’ll be doing twice the promotional work if you’re publishing in two categories.
Writing in more than one genre or category means you’re also diluting your ability to focus. Are you able to study and improve the craft of fiction at the same time as learning the particulars of writing a great memoir? Few people are. So trying to do two things at once dilutes not only your ability to market the best you can, but also to write the best you can.
So specialize. Pick a genre (of fiction) or a category (of non-fiction) and stick with it.
Of course, I expect you to bombard me in the comments with all the “exceptions” to this rule. Fire away, I’m ready.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent who uses the words “Christian literary agent” on her blog for practical reasons of website optimization.