Over the past six months, I have done a lot of writing and publishing research. One of my go-to resources is The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, hosted by Simon Whistler. Simon’s podcast and its independently-published authors have taught me countless valuable lessons. I’ve learned that the best way to market your book is a second book, that your social media following is a huge consideration for traditional publishers, and that books truly are judged by their covers. However, there’s one piece of advice that keeps coming up, and it troubles me every time:
You should only write in one genre, because readers only read one genre.
The first time I heard this, I thought it was ridiculous. As a reader, I don’t only read one genre. My bookshelves are full of literary fiction, contemporary romance, fantasy, supernatural, poetry, young adult, nonfiction, etc. On my Goodreads account, I don’t even list favorite genres, because I can’t possibly narrow down my creative interests so sparsely. Am I alone in this?
Moreover, out of every single friend I have who I would classify as an avid reader, I cannot think of one person who is genre-exclusive in his or her reading. My husband’s favorite genre is crime fiction, but he also loves nonfiction and comic books of every kind. Another friend of mine reads a lot of historical romance, but she also adores new adult and paranormal fiction. Are we anomalies? Are all the other bookworms out there really so monogamous?
Of course, I cannot only view this advice through the mind-frame of a reader. I must also consider its implications for me as a writer. And the more it pops up in the podcasts and blogs I frequent, the more I begin to question myself.
Most writers I’ve encountered seem to hold the same, general opinion. For instance, several guest authors on The RSP Podcast, most recently Mimi Strong, have discussed how to handle writing in multiple genres (or even whether to do it at all). The most common advice seems to be to write only in one genre — especially a genre that sells. And if you must write in multiple genres, use a different pen name for each genre.
Now, look, I’m all about treating writing as a business. I agree that writing in genres that sell (ie: contemporary romance) is a great way to put yourself on the map and boost your funds. However, I also believe that you should write what you want, and if you market it well, you will find a niche in which it will sell. And maybe, just maybe, if you write in multiple genres, you will pick up a wider range of readers, as opposed to some genre-exclusive club.
I mean, why pigeonhole yourself into one genre? Yes, your first novel will set a genre-tone for your writing catalog. If you burst onto the scene with a science-fiction novel, your readers will probably expect your second novel to be sci-fi, too. But is this expectation created by the readers, because they only read one genre? Or, is it created by publishers and traditional writers, who force writers into one genre-box so they are easy to market and make profit?
Think about it. Especially think about traditionally-published authors. My favorite example is Nicholas Sparks. Now, while I own every single one of his books, I don’t know much about Mr. Sparks, personally. For all I know, the only genre he wants to write is romance. However, let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Sparks wrote a thriller. And let’s say, for argument’s sake, that his publisher actually allowed it to go to market. Would you be shocked? Obviously. Would you read it? And more importantly, why or why not?
Would you refuse to read this novel, because you know Nicholas Sparks is a romance author, and you don’t trust him to leave his box? If so, you’re feeding into this advice that I so dislike.
Would you read this novel purely out of the morbid fascination of seeing if Sparks could pull off a thriller? If so, you should really think about what I’m saying here.
Would you read this book simply because you are a loyal fan of Sparks? Or simply because you like thrillers (whether in addition to or independently of romance)? If so, you make my point.
When we force writers into a single genre, we limit their creativity and create undeserved mockeries of work they do outside of their genres. True fans will read an author’s work, no matter the genre, because they like the author’s style and themes. Casual readers will read whatever they like.
And you know what? I bet they like more than one genre.
Do you only read or write in one genre? Or are you a promiscuous genre-hopper like me? Has writing in multiple genres helped or hindered your career? Let me know!