The usual writing advice tells you that once you find your genre as an author, you should stick with it. Readers might not follow you to the new genre, they say. Readers want to know what to expect, they say.
And writers say: But what if I have a really great idea in a different genre? What if I lose my taste for what I was writing before? What if my agent tells me the market is overcrowded in the genre I’ve been writing and gently suggests I try something different?
Like much writing advice, the advice to stick with a single genre is totally correct except when it isn’t.
There are writers who successfully publish across genres using the same name; there are plenty more who use pseudonyms, openly or secretly, to separate one genre from another. I’m the pseudonymous kind, and over the past year I’ve been working on a book that (I hope) will be my first foray into a very different genre. It’s hard to find the words to express how terrifying and exciting and frustrating and right it feels all at once.
No one can stop you from writing in a new genre but you. If it’s something you want to do, I highly advocate pursuing it. But I’ve also got a few suggestions that can help maximize your chances of success.
Read, read, read in your new genre. Number one, first, absolute. If you want to write in a genre you don’t read, you’re setting yourself up for problems down the road. Don’t write romance if you’ve never read a romance; don’t write sci-fi if you haven’t read any SF since Stranger in a Strange Land. Look at current releases and classics, winners from any industry awards, books that follow the trends and books that buck them. Ask friends who read in the genre for their favorites. Read some bestsellers. Find what the critics love. Invest some serious time in this endeavor. What this will help you do is…
Know the rules. Notice I didn’t say follow the rules; you can probably tell by now I’m not much for always/never advice. But you need to have a sense of what’s typical and what’s not in your new genre so that you can intelligently discuss why you’ve made the choices you have. A few rules are unbreakable — if you write a romance and intend to sell it as a romance but you kill off one of the two leads on the last page, you’re unlikely to have much luck. Most genres have more unofficial rules, more like guidelines, that successful books in the genre tend to follow. Follow what works for you and ignore what doesn’t, but make sure you’re deliberate about both.
Look for expert help. It’s not a shortcut, and it’s not a substitute for reading in the genre yourself, but once you have a draft, finding an outside editor or beta reader who works extensively in your new genre can be incredibly helpful. They’ll know the tropes and the trends. Is it possible to publish a Western without running it by someone who writes and reads Westerns? Sure. Is someone with more expertise likely to catch the fact that you’ve accidentally given your protagonist the name of a main character from True Grit and replicated a key plot point from Lonesome Dove? You bet.
Consider a pseudonym. When it comes time to pursue publication, either self- or traditional, this is the biggest choice you’ll need to make. Are you going to switch genres without changing names, like Taylor Jenkins Reid? Make a minor tweak that matters to booksellers and Bookscan but readers might not even notice, like Therese Fowler/Therese Anne Fowler? Adopt a new name for the new genre but make clear on your website the connection between the two identities, like Marie Benedict? There are reasons for each, and if you have an agent, you’ll absolutely want to consult with them to make the decision.
Q: What other advice would you give an established author who wants to expand into a new genre?