Does Crossing Genres Kill Your Career?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Whenever I see the latest book by any best-selling author, I am always struck by how similar the cover is to the last book, or the last half a dozen books by this person.  It would appear that publishers like series. If a first book about a particular character does well, another book featuring the same character is much more likely to be published (and, more significantly, promoted).

For this reason, large publishing houses seem rather nervous when their best-selling authors decide they want to branch out and try something a little different. They seem convinced the fans won’t go for this new idea. After all, readers want more of the same.

Or do they? What I’m not clear on is whether this is actually true, or if it’s a myth perpetuated by the publishing industry. Do readers go for a writer’s books because they are hoping for the same thing again, or because they like this person’s writing style? Michael Marshall Smith had several excellent science fiction novels published. Then he wrote a series of crime thrillers which appear under the name Michael Marshall, presumably to avoid ONLY FORWARD being picked up by people expecting another gritty crime thriller. Though if they did, they might well enjoy it anyway – it’s a fabulous book.

My second novel DEATH SCENE is a mystery novel, with no supernatural elements at all. But because my first novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN was horror, I have noticed that a lot of the e-book websites that are selling DEATH SCENE have categorised it as horror. I do worry about this sometimes. Am I killing my career by writing in two separate genres? Are people going to pick up DEATH SCENE expecting supernatural beasties and be disappointed? Or are they going to pick up the second book because they enjoyed the first one, and want to see what else I’ve written?

Sonya Clark had a marvellous post on her blog recently about this topic. And after reading it I feel a lot better.

There are some people out there who only read crime, and some who will only read horror. The majority of people who read, however, read because they enjoy the stories. And they can be trusted to make their own judgement on what they read. If they find an author they like, they will likely explore all the genres that author writes in.

I may never be a best-selling writer. But if I find a handful of people who look forward to my next book, no matter what genre it is, then I feel I will have achieved something.

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2 comments so far

  1. Alana on

    I’ve worried a lot about writing in different genres too. It’s unfortunate that we so often get but into genre boxes as writers, and the industry certainly encourages it. MFA programs do it too. I don’t think you should have to change your name to write in multiple genres, or feel limited to only promoting yourself as a certain type of author. Great post!

  2. Mike Short on

    Many, many writer do cross genres successfully both with pseudonyms (Stephen King, Mary Gentle) and without (Isaac Asimov, Iain Banks). While there is often a some early confusion (usually driven by a poor or deliberately clouded marketing strategy), it seems to me that this is quickly over-shadowed by the relative merits of the writing.

    What does seem to be unusual is to discover that a writer has equal facility with multiple genres for more than one-off works. And the proof of that pudding can only ever be in its eating.

    For my own part, I would far rather see material which stretches both writer and reader, possibly taking both out of their comfort zone. That, surely, is where the wonders will be found…


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