Someone in a Facebook group asked if they were stuck with one genre. They didn’t want to be; they wanted to write a little bit of everything. I could relate.
I remember moaning about that a few years back. My first release was a rodeo romance, the next a contemporary women’s fiction, and the one after, a conspiracy theory. Then I went back to the ranch and wrote another women’s fiction. The two rodeo/ranching/cowboy books do better than all the others combined. So, when someone asks me whether it’s best to remain in one genre, my answer is yes. It’s a business decision, not an artistic one.
But if you really want to branch out and write in other genres, here are some tips.
Go ahead and write what you want
This provides the most freedom and the least amount of return, especially if your genres are wildly different. We authors hang out together so much that we forget there are people out there who just want to read and aren’t particularly interested in the writing process. They have their preferred genres and some of them never read beyond those genres. If you start with a gritty mystery, then shift to sacchriny romance, they aren’t likely to follow you. Each book is on its own to grab a following. Oh, you’ll have your core of people who read everything you write because they know you and love you, but you’ll be slow to expand.
This is something all of us should do a certain extent: become so well known as a person that we don’t need to worry about the products we put out. There are people, aside from outright celebrities, who have done this successfully. K.M. Weiland and Joanna Penn come to mind. They work tirelessly to provide information to other writers and have built up a reputation and following based on their work outside their publications.
If you have something you can capitalize on, some information, hobby, whatever, that others would find interesting, center on that. Edie Melson reaches out to military families. Because she has sent a loved one off to war, she knows what it’s like, and she knows how to encourage others facing the same experience. Periodically, she can toss out “Hey, I have a book releasing soon. You interested?” to tons of people who have grown to love her through her because of the service/encouragement she provides to them.
Develop a pseudonym
And I used “develop” on purpose. Unless you intend to let everyone know you and your pseudonym are the same person, you have to develop your alter-ego and gain a following for both of your selves. If you’re a type A personality, you can do this.
How far do you want to carry this idea? Do you want separate websites? Separate social media pages? Writers and friends and die-hard fans who investigate their faves like groupie subscribers to People Magazine will know the two names belong to you, but do you want to develop an illusion for the rest of your readers? Can you put out enough books per year to keep followers of each of your personas happy?
Have a common theme through similar genres
Give the Lady a Ride and The Final Ride are the only examples I can provide of my own work, and I’m not sure they count since they’re part of the Circle Bar Ranch series, but I’ll use them for now. One’s romance and the other is women’s fiction. They have in common ranch, rodeo, cowboys, and Texas. Readers who love these elements don’t care if the two books are different genres. The next one, Ride to the Altar will be a mystery of sorts. Since it’s in the same series, it should keep at least the readers the series has gathered so far.
Kathleen Y’Barbo writes romance, but some of it is historical and some is contemporary. Francine Rivers writes historical, contemporary, and contemporary women’s fiction. Her common thread is her actual genre: Christian fiction. Her faith is steeped and obvious in everything she writes. Pull out the thread of Christianity, and her story unravels.
Perhaps you’re a nut about airplanes and intend to use them in every novel. Why not? As long as they’re a commanding part of your setting, like the ranch is in mine, you can write historical, contemporary, mystery, romance—all of which could be centered on flying.
Keep your novels in one genre, but play in other avenues
Novels are only one way to get your stories out there. Magazines, contests, collections, all these can fulfill your need to write something other than your norm. My short story, Slider, is a pre-WWII historical pertaining to a baseball star who became a railroad tramp. It is published in Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Fiction 2016 anthology, but it started out as a contest entry. Skydiving to Love is a plain ol’ contemporary romance, as are all the stories in The Bucket List Dare collection. My next release, Kayla’s Challenge (which comes out later this spring in the Coming Home collection) is a contemporary woman’s fiction, serving as the prequel to my next ranch/rodeo/cowboy romance series, Southern Challenge.
If you stay in one genre, are you locked forever?
Not necessarily, though some shifts are easier than others. For instance, someday I’d like to become a mystery writer. Mystery is my favorite genre, and I’ve tried to write it before but failed miserably. Still, I intend to try again.
So, here we go: right now, I write romance. I can toss a little mystery into the next romance novel I write making it a mystery-romance mashup; then the following novel could be a cozy mystery with no romance involved; then I’d follow with a regular mystery. Once I’ve done that, I could follow with suspense or thriller if I’d like.
I’d also like to try my hand at historical. Shifting from contemporary women’s fiction to historical women’s fiction is a matter of researching the era. Once I land in the genre I can write any historical piece I want.
I wouldn’t be locked in my new genre since I’ve already developed a readership in my old one. Some of those readers will follow me to mystery, but I can still write romance. In fact, I can write romance, mystery-romance, cozy mystery, and mystery, and be known in all of them, if I continue to produce a novel in each category, because I’ve developed a readership in each over time.
What do you write? What do you want to write? Can you find a natural progression from where you are to where you want to go? You can choose the slower route—progression—or you can follow any of the other avenues to becoming a multi-genre writer.
However, true wisdom is making the business decision to stay in one genre for a while. If you want to go the traditional route, it helps you get published. But if you’re going indie, then—believe me—it’s fun to watch those numbers climb when you stick to one genre and grow your reputation as a writer.
Whatever you decide, keep writing!