Relatively recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference (virtually, thanks to COVID-19). In one of the panels, another writer asked a relatively innocent question:
Is it okay to write in more than one genre as an author?
The host of the panel had a clear answer. If you are a new author just starting out and you want to pursue traditional publishing, stick to one genre. Doing so helps your publisher to market you well until you have a real following. After that, you can write whatever you like.
It’s not horrible advice. It makes logical sense, and people do choose books with an understanding of the expectations that an author has set. The trust you build with readers counts.
But I think it also is a little too simplistic. Some authors, such as J.K. Rowling, have used pen names quite successfully to write in more than one genre. You have to be willing to build separate (potentially smaller) followings and distinct brands if you take this route, but it is a viable way to explore and avoid feeling stagnant or too pigeonholed as a writer.
Secondly, readers like all kinds of stories. And if they don’t already know who you are, then it’s the story that is going to compel them to pick up the book, not your reputation. When you are first starting out, there aren’t any preconceived ideas about what your writing should be like. That makes it a great time to dabble and convince multiple audiences you are worth a shot.
The third point is, what if what you have been writing and selling is doing well but really isn’t what you really prefer (hey, if it pays the bills…). Gaining a following or selling x copies is not the only reason to write something. If it fills a need you have and grows you, nothing says you cannot put it to the page, even if no one else ever reads a word. In fact, some of the most well-known writers have done this–John Steinbeck, for example, who wrote the masterpiece Of Mice and Men, wrote a werewolf novel that only came to light a few months ago.
So in my mind, you don’t necessarily have to stick to one thing, even for a little while at the beginning. You just have to be careful how you market, if you choose to show the writing to anyone at all. That said, be honest with yourself. Know where you shine, what you want, and the purpose the writing is going to serve. Then just make a plan and go after it.