This observation might go against the word on the market.
The advice of the traditional publishing market is to choose a genre and stick to it for the sake of that market …
And also, they say, for the sake of the readers … but mainly, I believe, it is for the sake of the market.
You think of Stephen King and you think of a particular genre. Same with Dean Koontz or Michael Grisham or Terri Blackstock or Melody Carlson.
In attending several writers conferences, one of the main points I heard reiterated time and again was this:
Choose your genre and stick to it.
This is for two main reasons:
- So that marketers will know where to place your book on that Barnes & Noble bookshelf
- So readers will come to know what to expect of you and your books
While I understand this reasoning, I don’t exactly agree with it.
It feels too confining.
It works, I suppose, for those who are genre authors and not creative writers. And I understand some other reasons it might be necessary.
We are encouraged as writers to write what we know.
Additionally, an author can become very skilled if they stick to a single genre; perhaps it simply wouldn’t work for them to step outside of that genre.
In other words, I understand the arguments for choosing to write only Amish fiction, for instance.
But I tried and it didn’t work. (No, I didn’t try writing Amish fiction. Okay, so I did once … but it was a novella and it was a ghostwriting project and I never did anything like that again.)
But what I tried that didn’t quite work was sticking to a single type of fiction.
To be honest, I can’t even stick to just fiction.
I write fiction, nonfiction, poetry, creative essays, blog posts, and somewhat creative shopping lists.
And if you are the same, you are a Wordweaver.
You work with words …
… and when that is your calling, your passion, your joy, your skill, then you’re not going to allow yourself to be bogged down or limited to a single genre and committed to writing only that for the rest of your life.
Cons of Writing in Multiple Genres
The thing is, we all are unique and have different skills and different interests.
For some talented writers out there, choosing a single genre or a single topic (such as how to sell millions of copies of your book), might be what works for them.
But it’s not what works for me.
And if you’re reading this, it might very well not be what works for you.
But let’s look more closely at the two main drawbacks of writing in more than one genre.
1. Bad for Marketing Effectiveness
The primary reason given for writing in a single genre is this:
Writing in more than one genre is bad for marketing.
In other words, it’s not the best for your marketing prospects and you might never build as large a platform because you don’t have a singular focus.
For instance, a guest writer for Novel Publicity said that although “rules of the publishing game have all changed in recent years,” the one rule that did not change was this one, which she called the “industry’s Golden Rule and big fat secret.”
The rule is this:
Trying to get published, even getting published in more than one genre will greatly reduce your effectiveness at marketing and shrink your overall sales. (Source)Martha Carr
The statement itself is likely true.
We’ll ignore the marketing/publicity rule being equated to the true Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Really, if your bottom-line goal is marketing and making money, genre publishing is probably the way to go.
But if you’re a Wordweaver and a world-builder, you’ll find that sometimes those worlds are fiction and sometimes they are borne of memory.
Sometimes the words you weave will be poetry and sometimes they will be prose.
But they will be written from the heart …
And although it would be lovely to get paid for those words that have been wrung from your very soul, you wouldn’t trade your writing for all the Amish-vampires-in-space genre novels in the whole world.
2. It’s Confusing to Potential Readers
The other main argument against writing in more than one genre as opposed to writing in a single genre is this:
Potential (or current) readers might get a little confused when they ask what you write and you respond, “I write a little bit of everything.”
Let’s say you have a budding readership in fantasy novels for children, but then you switch to sci-fi geared more for adult readers.
Then you start writing nonfiction and essays, and dabble in publishing the occasional poetry collection as well.
If this is the case, yes, you might lose readers.
But you might also be following in the steps of C. S. Lewis, who wrote in various genres, publishing both fiction and nonfiction.
Perhaps he is most well-known for his Chronicles of Narnia, but he also wrote a sci-fi trilogy about space, an allegory titled The Pilgrim’s Regress, and what some people call his best piece of fiction, Till We Have Faces, a retelling of an ancient myth.
And that’s not even getting into his nonfiction.
Okay, I understand that few writers, if any, will even get close to the authorial renown of C. S. Lewis.
But here are a few other writers who have written in various fictional genres, as well as fiction, nonfiction, and poetry/songwriting, etc.:
Madeleine L’Engle, most well known for her Time Quintet (book one is A Wrinkle in Time), but also author of a vast range of fiction, nonfiction (such as Walking on Water and the Crosswicks Journals), and poetry.
Andrew Peterson, singer and songwriter, as well as author of my family’s all-time favorite fiction series, The Wingfeather Saga, and an amazing nonfiction book on community and creativity: Adorning the Dark.
J. R. R. Tolkien, whose most well-known works I don’t even need to mention (cough, cough, The Lord of the Rings, cough), but who also wrote many essays and other nonfiction works, poetry, and a variety of fiction, including a great short story titled Leaf by Niggle.
Walter Wangerin Jr. – whose first book I read was a children’s picture book titled Potter.
Then I read his Book of the Dun Cow series while also reading several of his nonfiction essay collections, some of which are Wounds are Where Light Enters and Ragman and Other Stories of Faith.
I understand that these are famous authors.
Most of them have books that have been made into movies (or are in the process of being made into an animated TV series).
But I would also venture to say that part of the reason they have done so well at large in the world of literature is that they were true to their writing.
In other words, they were true to the call of writing on their hearts.
They didn’t write because they knew it would sell; Madeleine L’Engle writes of the struggles she had getting her works published, and of going a decade without a single thing getting accepted.
That’s tough on a writer!
But she didn’t give up and just write in a single genre or just write something just because that genre was selling in the publishing world at that moment.
She wrote what she had a passion to write.
They all did.
And I would venture to say that these author’s respective “canon” of literature would not be nearly as powerful or drawing if they had opted to write in a single genre.
Imagine not having C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity or Screwtape Letters because he decided to stick to fiction.
Or not having Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion because he chose to only write essays.
I don’t think readers are confused if their favorite authors write in more than one genre.
It gives them more to love.
And with the options for self-publishing growing more popular in recent years, you have the opportunity to connect with readers directly rather than needing to go through the process of traditional publishing …
But we’ll discuss the pros and cons of self-publishing vs traditional publishing in another post.
Back to your readers …
Maybe a reader will prefer one of your writing styles or focuses more than another.
I enjoy Anne Lamott’s writing. I read her fiction. But I love her nonfiction …
Yet I am grateful to have the opportunity to read both.
So, is it better to write in just one genre?
It can be, if your primary goals are efficient marketing and money-making.
(And if those are your goals, there’s nothing wrong with that.)
Let’s face it …
The world doesn’t make it easy for creatives to survive. As I mentioned in a recent post on Medium.com, few writers survive on writing alone.
Many need to supplement their income through having a daytime job and “moonlighting” as writers.
But if you are still writing in spite of the challenges, it makes sense for you to write what is in your heart to write.
And maybe that’s writing in a single genre.
And maybe it’s writing a fantasy novel, and a coming-of-age story, and a memoir, and a poetry book, and a variety of blog posts, and …
You get the idea.
Write from the soul …
… And your writing will succeed in the ways that truly matter toward creating a more beautiful and meaningful world.