Should You Write in Multiple Genres?
A while back, 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 multiple genres as an author?
When sticking to one genre makes sense
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.
Why multiple genres can be genius
But I think it also is a little too simplistic. Readers like all kinds of stories. And if they don’t already know who you are, then it’s the story that will compel them to pick up your book, not your reputation. There’s something to be said for knowing that your book is interesting on its own merit. J. K. Rowling indicated in an article for the Evening Standard that she opted for a pen name because she thought a male moniker would help distance her new books from her famous Harry Potter series. She wanted to be able to “release new books to a neutral audience, without any pressure, expectation or hype.” 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.
The second point is, what if what you have been writing is doing well but isn’t what you 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, who wrote the masterpiece Of Mice and Men, wrote a werewolf novel that only came to light relatively recently.
Lastly, writing in multiple genres can help you stretch your skills. Every genre has its own style, expectations, and flavor. So trying a new genre can give you more flexibility and control over your drafts. Even if you never really become an “expert” in the new genres you explore, you can give yourself a creative break. Those moments of pause can fuel your preferred writing and heighten your appreciation for other writers who work outside your comfort zone.
Whether you choose one or multiple genres, marketing is everything
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 make a plan and go after it.