Should writers stick to one genre?

I never realised it was possible to write in different genres.  I always thought you had to choose one genre, and that was it. You were in it for LIFE. There would be no returns, no reruns, no back-tracking of any kind. If you happened to choose Vampire Romance as your brand, well… you better remain in that box or else.

I think this system of ‘author branding’ was created thanks to the publishing market. It makes sense to stick to a certain genre if that’s what your readers come to love and expect from you. Branching off into a different genre usually requires a pen name, and that means you pretty much have to start at square one.

But what if you really, really want to write both crime and romance novels? What if you also enjoy dabbling in YA fantasy?

I love that J.K. Rowling decided to submit her manuscripts for ‘Robert Galbraith’ anonymously. I had a bit of a laugh reading J.K Rowling’s tweet about the rejection letters she received:

Those editors would have been cursing themselves for their tragic mistake.

J.K. said she felt compelled to share the rejections letters to give inspiration to other writers. It doesn’t matter if your novel is brilliant, the publishing industry will most likely ignore it unless you’re a) famous or b) lucky.

If J.K. had submitted her novel using her own name, it’s most likely she would have been picked up by the first editor she tried.

Luckily, you don’t have to be J.K. Rowling to write in multiple genres these days. Thanks to self-publishing, the rules are changing. And thank God for that. But no realy, so a prayer.

The reason I’m blogging about this topic is because I love writing in multiple genres, including magical realism, speculative, sci fi & fantasy, chook lit, women’s fiction, paranormal, historical romance, (actually, romance in any genre) and psychological thrillers.

WOW.

Okay.

I didn’t realise I wrote in that many genres…

While querying my novels (paranormal romance & psychological thriller), I quickly realised the number of agents looking for writers like me were pretty rare. But they are out there. Think of Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger Inc. She has an eclectic wish list and she specialises in representing multi-genre writers.

In an interview with Writer’s Digest, she explained that:

My list is diverse because I love the variety. Each project comes with its own unique challenges and joys. I also believe it’s beneficial for my clients because (a) my authors’ books do not cannibalize each other (so to speak!), and, (b) if a client wishes to explore another genre—(e.g., a young adult author wants to write fiction, or a how-to author wants to explore memoir), I am in a position to help guide them. However, this isn’t the best course for every agent. I was extremely lucky early on in my career in that the agencies I worked at—Don Maass Agency and Vigliano Associates—specialized in very diverse genres. As a result, I gained a lot of experience working with different types of projects, and I made contacts with editors from every subset of the industry.

So we can see they do exist, but they may as well be unicorns.

Which is where self-publishing comes into play.

Indie authors can publish what they want when they want. They can create a series of paranormal romance novels and a series of psychological thrillers if they wish (yep, referring to myself here hahah). There really is nothing to stop them.

Many of these writers don’t even use a pen name to distinguish between their different genres, which is pretty brave in my opinion. It is sometimes a little jarring to see a romance novel listed underneath a thriller on an author’s page – but you know what? I think it’s a great idea.

Do what you love, so they say.

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107 thoughts

  1. The horror writer Stephen King has read all different novels from a wide category of genres which has helped him create new ideas. While writing new novels. The point I’m making is that even if your interested in writing about one genre you can get a lot of ideas from reading a wide range of books about different topics.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great topic for a blog. A lot of people ask themselves whether it’s okay to step out from their usual genre, I am guilty of that but I would usually air on the side of going with the flow. Don’t stifle yourself, you may shock yourself in the “new genre”.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is something I have thought about in the past. I am currently writing a contemporary fantasy but I also have a story planned in teen fiction and paranormal. I did worry about writing in different genres because as an author you’re supposed to establish yourself in one genre. You make a good point though! Good read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful post!
    I personally wouldn’t deliberately choose a genre and only write that. I think it depends on the kinds of story ideas you come up with. If those ideas happen to be in romance/crime or whichever genre, that sort of becomes your thing and you tend to gravitate towards that.

    And J.K Rolling getting rejected (under a pen name) just proves that you should just do what you love. You could be the juiciest peach and there will still be someone who hates peaches, they say.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with you wholeheartedly! I think that writers will produce their best work if they are allowed to write about what excites them, whether the subject matter is familiar them or not. I thought thst this was a great post, thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Such an intriguing post. I really liked the views you put forth.
    Personally, I like to challenge myself on different genres as well haha.
    Gives more of a challenge.
    Although I guess some genres come more naturally to a person and they tend to excel at that more than the others, don’t you think? 😄

    Liked by 3 people

  7. We are all passionate about different things; some of those passions stay, others leave or change slightly. I think, when it comes to something as creative as writing, you should let the wind blow where it will. The Spirit breathes where He pleases.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I started off writing fantasy. I have 4 novels publishe and one nearly ready to send to my publisher. Then I decided to write a recipe book comprising all the recipes I’ve acquired through the years from family and friends. These include recipes from a little book of my grandmother dating back to 1909.
    Soon, I decided to work on an idea I’d had for many years. A series of historical novels. Incidentally, I found this much harder than writing fantasy. After all, although my chatacters aren’t real, the historical background is. I needed to find out a lot about Roman Britain and the Celts, followed by the Danish invasion and Danish life for the second book, not yet finished.
    I decided at first to publish the historical novels under a pen name, but am republishing the first one under my own name. Trying to run 2 lots of marketing, including a website, facebook page and Twitter sites became too much. I was getting no writing done.
    Yes I believe a writer can write in many different genres. Readers aren’t stupid. They can recognize one genre from another. If one of my fantasy readers picks up my historical novel and reads the blurb, it’ll be obvious what it is.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sounds like a lot of work! I can’t even imagine! I think that’s one thing stopping me from writing historical romance novels: the amount of work required to understand the time period! I really admire some of my writing friends who write historical, they are amazing. I suppose after a few novels you’d get the hang of the language and details, but I don’t think I love writing historical that much to stick it out. Ironically, I love reading historical romance novels!

      Like

  9. My publisher’s only advice is that I don’t change audiences completely. I can, of course, but I just have to put that much more work into rebuilding a fan base. But, you’re so right. James Patterson said, “My brand is ‘the pages turn themselves.'” He writes whatever genre he wants, even children’s lit.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. James Patterson is full of so much wisdom! I suppose genres like YA dystopian, Urban fantasy and paranormal romance all fall under very similar umbrellas (at least, not too shocking), but going from say… crime fiction to high fantasy to historical romance could get a bit jarring!

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          1. Haha what are you talking about? You already have one! Look at all your followers. I have a book and like 50 fans lol You publish a book and you’ll definitely be a success. The hard part is marketing in my opinion.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. hahah thanks, that makes me feel a bit better 🙂 I keep thinking that once I finally publish my first book, my blog friends will be like… ‘what the hell is this shit!?’ Hahaha. I’m not looking forward to the marketing side!

            Liked by 1 person

  10. I try to break out of the mold I made for myself, a bicyclist blog, most days, even if it’s an aside into a book I’m reading, a movie I saw, politics or diet, etc. Which may explain why I only haver 120 followers (which don’t get me wrong, is great). It’s hard for people to know what to expect, but I also have a ton of people who don’t have anything to do with bicycles! As for actually writing fiction, that would probably require another blog and name, but we’ll see. Thanks for this post Milly. I’m in awe of your multi-faceted talents! PS What do you think of Darren Rowse, problogger.com?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never actually heard of Darren Rowse! Checking him out now 🙂 Oh and now that I think about it, I mostly keep to ‘writing related’ posts on my blog… I don’t really branch out to other topics like travel, food or health. I’ve heard it’s best to keep to one area or topic on your blog to attract/keep followers, yet here I am, saying what a great I idea it is to write in whatever genre you please!! LOL.

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  11. Great post! I think if you’re a talented writer and have a lot to give more than just one genre than you should share your gift with the world! Loved what you shared about JKR, very interesting. I like that she submitted her work anonymously so no one would know her and so she could see if other people liked her work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! Yes I love what JK did too, such a wonderful idea and I reckon she must have had a lot of fun applying anonymously. Though I often wonder if she felt the sting of rejection from those letters? Very brave of her regardless 🙂

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  12. Thanks for this post Milly. It’s good timing as this year one of my aims is to step out of my comfort zone and experiment in a different genre. I think it’s good for writers to experiment and find out what works and what doesn’t. I never thought I could write a romance, but for some reason I keep coming back to this genre. As I mainly write paranormal/suspense, at least romance can always been included. I’m currently working on what may be classified as a paranormal romance and even though it’s a mess, I’m having lots of fun with it. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I think experimenting with genres is a great idea! I think that must be the stage I’m up to now – trying to find my ‘writing legs’. I wrote a paranormal romance but I’m STILL not sure what ‘genre’ it really is. It could be as much YA urban fantasy as paranormal romance hahaha. Hope you continue to have heaps of fun with your novel 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Hey Milly,

    Writing is like cooking. A professional chef can make everything on a menu, but he will always have a particular dish or 2 that he is exceptional at. It’s similar to writing…an exceptional writer has the ability to be multifaceted, but there will be a particular genre that is outstanding. There is nothing wrong with writing outside of ones genre, but one shouldn’t be disheartened if the critics aren’t particularly partial to it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Very true 🙂 🙂 I have no clue what genre I fit well with yet. I suppose I’ll keep writing in multiple genres and see how I go. I still can’t choose from crime fiction and paranormal romance! I also LOVE writing contemporary romance with a hint of magic. Oh well, one day I’ll figure it all out! For the time being I’ll write where the wind blows 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I LOVE writing in different genres! One of the best things about it is that if you find yourself getting tired working on one WIP (e.g. contemporary YA), you can take a break and work on another in a different genre (e.g. epic fantasy). It keeps you feeling fresh and motivated while still enabling a good work output. Plus, I feel like it’s an affront to the creative spirit of writing to limit yourself to one type of story if you’re bursting with other ideas 😛

    I do see why established authors take on a new pen name when branching out into another genre (I think you’re right–it’s mainly to do with branding). Not sure how I feel about doing that for myself though. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 4 people

  15. I’m opposed to the entire concept of genre. I write stories. In some of the stories impossible things happen. Some of my stories are set in places that don’t really exist. I tell the stories that I want to tell, using whatever tool seems proper to any particular story. If other people want to define them as this genre or that, that’s their business. It makes no difference to me.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s a really cool way to look at it 🙂 The one thing I really hated about querying to agents & publishers, was tying to figure out what the heck my novel’s genre was! Sill clueless hahah

      Like

  16. Hey Milly, I’m an avid follower of Kristen Lamb’s blog, and I find a lot of helpful advice there. Her recent guest blogger, Cait Reynolds, recommends avoiding being a rigid, one-genre author; but she also recommends avoiding being a willy-nilly multi-genre author. One quote: “The truth is that we authors need to position ourselves flexibly but firmly between these two extremes.” She backs her advice with good research, and it’s worth checking out. I have published a work of dystopian fiction, and am working on the sequel, but in between I am getting ready to publish a historical fiction novella. We will see how it goes!

    Liked by 4 people

  17. As a writer, I tend to not just jump around in genre, but to blend genres. I have also been told, and for a long time, believed that this was a Very Bad Thing.

    It’s like, #2 in the Writer’s Sins, I think. I dunno. I was never good at paying attention to which sin I was committing today.

    While normally, I write fantasy fiction, I’ve also written absurdist comedy, zombie apocalypse/sci fi, urban horror/fantasy, speculative sci fi, psychological horror, and my favorite, sci fi fantasy.

    The bigger issue than even jumping around in genres is when you blend multiple genres in ways that leave editors and agents uncertain what niche your work fits in. As I said, science fiction fantasy, or fantasy with science fiction elements or underpinning, is a favorite thing of mine to do. I also believe romance is an integral part of life, so it should be the same with the lives of characters, so I end up with romance in there, too. Everyone gets afraid, so I often blend in some horror, both of the psychological, and the fantastical variety.

    I have a file cabinet full of rejection letters from editors and agents who praise my writing, but have no idea what to make of what I actually wrote.

    Once self publishing really became a viable option, I pursued it, as well as continuing to chase after traditional publishing, and have now ended up with both. Still not a well respected writer, so that’s probably not ever gonna happen now, but that’s okay. Personally, I’ll always take telling the story I need to tell, over being rich and famous.

    Don’t get me wrong. Both would be nice, but yeah, probably not gonna happen.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I’m primarily a fantasy, sci-fi or horror writer, but sometimes I’ve thought about writing drama or thrillers. To do so I’d probably write under another name, just because it seems more appropriate and comfortable to separate the two. Then again, it would be necessary to create separate platforms too, which seems like an overwhelming amount of work – so I don’t think I’d enter another type of genre(s) for a while! I’d like to have mastered my comfort zone first! Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you pointed out one reason why I’m not sure about a pen name – the thought of building/creating a social media presence around that pen name sounds exhausting!! At least, I assume that’s what pen name authors do?

      And thanks 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Just on the title of this post – NO! But, then after thinking about and reading the post, my answer is that writer should write what inspires them. Turns out, a lot of the stories that I’ve come up with are similar. They’re all in the Fantasy genre, although Devil’s Blood is more in the “urban” category, whereas “Caroline Eversole” is in the steampunk category, which according to the Illinois Library System, belongs in the Science Fiction category. But, at the end of the day, I write stories that I love, which is what all writers should be doing, regardless of genre, length, or market options.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve heard so many times that it’s better from a marketing position to stick to one genre (or at least, very similar genres). Maybe one day I’ll find my niche, but at the moment I’m happy writing what I love – like you! I’ve never written steampunk before. I have a writing friend who does, and after I read her novel (which was AMAZING), I was like ‘yep, I could never write something like that!’

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Bjarne Reuter, probably my all-time favourite authors is incredibly prolific. He’s Danish so odds are unless you can read our speak-with-potato-in-your-mouth language you won’t know him. But he’s written children’s books, YA, adult thrillers, comedy … the list goes on. So when I get hung up on genre I think of him.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s so awesome to hear there are professional authors out there who dabble in very different genres! Gives me hope 🙂
      p.s had a laugh at the ‘speak-with potato-in-your-mouth’. I just looked up some Danish speakers – omg!! Hahaha

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I think you should write in as many genres as you want! I don’t think anyone SHOULD write in more than one, just as much as I don’t think they SHOULDN’T. They should go where their imagination and inspiration leads them – that’s what leads to good writing in the first place. And writing in different genres means you can easily take the strengths of one and put them into another, making it that much better!

    I’m really interested in what you mean by magical realism – can you give me an example of a premise for a story in that genre?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I swear that everyone commenting on this post is doing a better job than me at conveying my point! hahaha. I love going where my imagination leads – even if it makes the story blend across genres.

      Magical realism is a tricky one. I think you’d have to read one to understand the genre. It’s so hard to explain. The best way I can describe this kind of fiction is ‘a normal world with magical, fantastical or mythical elements’ – with a literary vibe. Some can confuse it with speculative, but while it may appear similar, magical realism encompasses a blending of magic and normality in which normality is magic and magic is normality. If that makes sense at all? Pretty much if you read a book and go “what the hell is happening right now??” then it’s probably magical realism. hahah.

      So for example, I’m writing this story called ‘The Fear’ about a being who feeds off the fear of others, only to fall in love with one of his fearful tormentees. I think it’s more so the way I’m writing the story that makes it magical realism (rather than the premise). However, I think it’s sliding into speculative/sci fi/fantasy territory now – despite my best intentions! I’m just not ‘literary’ enough to get it over the line. I much prefer to have an explanation for magical things, then have it ‘just be’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the explanation! I think I understand – it sounds like it might also cross into a couple of other genres sometimes as well. I do like the sound of those books though – imagining a different world that is exactly like our own but where some magical aspect is completely normal an unremarkable to its inhabitants.

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  22. I write in multiple genres, using my own name. I don’t write to market, so I don’t expect it hurts me too much. I do have a pen name I share with my husband, which is reserved for specific genres. But it is mostly because of his desire.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I think it really does depend on each writer. And I think this interconnected world we live in gives us a lot of opportunities to test waters without committing to full novels in other genres.

    As a for-instance, if you’re a well-known high-fantasy writer, but you want to write hard sci-fi. Maybe start with short stories and post them online to see how readers react and get advice on what might work better in that genre. On top of that, writing those short stories helps you explore if you even like writing in that genre or not.

    I totally agree, though, write what you are passionate about 🙂 I think if you write what you’re passionate about, that passion will soak into every word you write, and your readers will feel it and appreciate it.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. You know, the writer Lemony Snicket (a pen name) used this pen name to write some lighter books. He usually writes about pretty dark subjects, and he wanted to write a teen fiction book series. And he did! But his pen name came to light, and they still loved him anyway!

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Hi Milly
    I have read a wide variety of novels in which some authors have stuck to the same genre and others haven’t. I think it just depends on the author and if they are able to write something different which they would not normally do.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. I think about this a lot! I really don’t want to stick to one genre at all and it haunts me that it’s a bad “career” decision on my part and my career in writing hasn’t even started yet!

    Will you use a pen name or do you?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So do I! I waste so much time worrying about what genres I should be writing in and how it’s considered a bad decision to branch out! I think I might stick with my name, although I’m not sure. How about you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, everyone always says that the rules are made to be broken, so might as well start there!
        At one point I tried to figure out a pen name, but I don’t think I ever truly liked the idea because nothing came to fruition and then I just forgot about it. If anything, I’d use my middle name (like my blog) instead of my last because Anderson is super common and simple. I guess I’m really not going to know until it happens!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I was going to use my middle name too as it’s actually a ‘surname’ type of name, but as I’ve been using my name ‘Milly Schmidt’ for everything, I don’t think I have much choice lol. Everyone knows me by this name, so it might be best if I stick with it, even if I do branch out in different genres. Like you said, we’ll see what happens!

          Liked by 1 person

  27. Write whatever you want to write about!
    Branding and repetition can be advantageous from a business perspective. If you particular like, and own (e.g.), a Mercedes Car, you might be suspicious about a Mercedes camera and only consider known camera names such as Canon or Nikon!
    I have a book published in non-fiction; one in poetry and verse, and a work of total fiction currently in process, but then … I write for personal pleasure and satisfaction. Any financial benefits derived from writing are appreciated, but I am not prepared to compromise my writings simply to support an efficient and lucrative business model.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow, poetry, non-fiction and fiction? The are all VERY different. I’m impressed. I suppose if I want to make money or create a business model, I should stick to the one genre. Perhaps I’ll do that one day, for now I’m happy to write diversely!

      Liked by 1 person

  28. As a writer I write in different genres all the time. Some genres are more my cup of tea than others, but in general I think a writer should not limit him or herself to a single genre per se. Of course, it might happen one has only interest in a certain genre…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes I agree 🙂 I’ve found I love writing as long as their is a magical and romantic aspect to the story… although, now that I think about it, I love writing crime fiction too, and they tend not to have magic in them LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. I love if a writer is so talented to do the multi-genre insanity.

    On point 2 :: Yes, yes, all hail for self-publishing, but that raises another concern: exposure, a big enough splash for the author, on time. After all, you want sales of your books too. I think that would be, besides enjoying what you do, an important factor.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Yeah I think people should be free to write the story they want regardless of genre… genre equality !
    But honestly I’ve contemplated writing a horror fantasy as a short story for one of the characters in my main book. Sure it’s still fantasy, but it has more gloom and doom to it .

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Hi Milly, great post! And very important. I think the whole “author branding” thing is seeping into author “work” and putting a world of hurt on it. I mean, writing a book and marketing it are two different games… It’s nice if you can give a thought to marketing while you’re still exploring the world of your first draft, but I guess for most of us (me included!) it’s paralysing. While we’re writing, we should give zero thought to the marketplace.

    That said, though, it can be difficult to keep the two worlds separate. Do you happen to have any advice on how to ease off the marketplace pressure while still working on actual writing? Any experiences to share?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly what you said!! “While we’re writing, we should give zero thought to the marketplace.”

      In regards to your question, I think Chuck Wendig makes a great point on his blog: “I write the first draft for me, and the second for others.”

      This works for me too. I wrote the first draft of my novel, Mesmerise, completely and absolutely for myself. Then I decided I wanted to publish it, so I got a few tips from an editor, which resulted in me drastically revising my novel to fit ‘market expectations.’ I deleted characters, changed names etc… To be honest, it wasn’t a fun process, and my novel is probably still not what the market wants, but I actually prefer my new version over my old one 🙂

      My parting words, ‘write like no one’s watching, then revise like the world is reading’ – if you want to get published that is, otherwise, ditch the revisions and write another novel instead!

      Liked by 1 person

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