Writers need to genre-hop. We need to explore what we like to write and how we want to write it.
I genre-hopped. I stayed within romance, but I explored romantic fantasy and erotica. I explored enough that I knew I didn’t want to write them anymore–and that is the whole point of genre-hopping. I settled into contemporary romance, and that’s where I’ll stay.
But say you want to build your writing career, actually make some money selling your books. It’s important to your customers they know what they are getting when they think of your name. Like what Stephen King is to horror, or what Danielle Steele is to romance, you want to build your brand on your name and be consistent with what you’re selling.
I remember clicking on a romance author on Amazon. I can’t remember her name, and I wouldn’t call her out anyway, but she had several books published. When I went through them, though, some were written in first-person, some in third. Some in present tense, some in past. Maybe you like her third person past books, but when she releases a new book or if you try to read through her backlist, you may not always like what you buy. Maybe then you don’t read it, or you slog through it because you spent money on it and you don’t want it to go to waste.
Is this how you want your readers to feel about your work?
I started thinking about this because I wondered how the big names do it. How did Stephenie Meyer go from the Twilight series to The Host to The Chemist? Was it seamless for her because adults read Twilight, so her adult fiction wasn’t a departure from her original work? Or did she lose millions of readers because the teenagers enamored by Edward and Bella had no use for her adult fiction?
I think about Nora Roberts, too. She writes under a pen name as well, but under Nora Roberts, she writes contemporary romance with maybe a bit of paranormal or magic thrown in. She’s well known for her trilogies, and she has many contemporary standalones to her credit. But her newest release under her name is a post-apocalyptic called Year One. Does Nora have a big enough audience that they will read whatever she writes, or will she lose readers who are not interested in a new genre? Would she have been better off releasing this new book, which is the first in a trilogy, under a new pen name? I guess until reviews and sales numbers come in (there are a few 1-star reviews that indicate that some readers aren’t happy she took a detour), we won’t know. I admire her for spreading her writing wings and trying something new, and by now, maybe she doesn’t care if her career takes a ding because she took a chance.
No matter how much I preach you have to write with your reader in mind, you still have to like what you’re writing.
There are other reasons for genre-hopping, but you have to decide if it’s right for your brand:
1. Maybe the genre you write in is dead or not selling. Trends come and go, and if you can quickly write a book and publish it, perhaps you can ride the high of the next new thing.
2. You’ve depleted your ideas. Maybe you have no choice because if you didn’t genre-hop, you wouldn’t be able to write anymore.
3. Maybe a complete plot fell into your head, and you don’t want to waste the idea.
4. You have an opportunity to collaborate with an up-and-coming author in a different genre, and you are excited by the chance of exposure.
One of the problems I see indies having is they aren’t thinking about their books as a business. Joanna Penn, on a podcast I listened to a while back, said her Business for Authors book is her poorest selling book and she can’t understand why. I know why–because indies don’t like to think of their books as a business (yet they are quick to pout when their books don’t sell).
Think of this analogy: Say you have a favorite chocolate store; you go there all the time. You know the owner, you love the chocolate. But one day you take the time to drive there, and they don’t sell chocolate anymore. The store is full of baseball cards. You get disgusted, not to mention confused AF, and leave.
Do you go back? Maybe once to see if they started selling chocolate again, but when you find out that they haven’t, you won’t go back.
Or maybe you want your books to be like a flea market. Something for everyone. Or will you end up with nothing for no one? You never know what you’ll find at a flea market.
I used to be super against genre-hopping, and for my brand, I still am. I want to be known for contemporary romance written in the third person. When I use the pre-order feature, I want my readers to get excited that I have a new book being released because they’ll know exactly what kind of book it will be.
I don’t want my readers to look at my pre-order like it’s a white elephant sale.
If you decide to genre-hop and publish under your name, you’ll have to market it differently, and you’ll have to be prepared for readers to be unhappy if they inadvertently read something they didn’t mean to. Take this comment from this blog post:
Her reluctance to use a pen name is costing her reviews. Well, one, but maybe more in the future. Where do you cross the line between knowing you need a pen name, or not to genre hop, and when to keep going? You would think that readers would be able to tell between racy and sweet by looking at the covers, reading the blurbs. But on the same token, don’t you want everyone who likes you to read everything you ever write?
Unfortunately, I paid for the ISBN numbers for the genre-hopping books I published. Maybe one day I’ll yank them because as my backlist grows, they will not fit into my library. It’s the price I’ll have to pay for not thinking ahead, or for experimenting and actually publishing them.
Maybe you won’t care, and that’s okay. We all do what we need to do to achieve our goals.
So think where you want to be in five years, in ten. How will your genre-hopping fit into your plans?
It’s never too early to plan–or do damage control.
Do you have thoughts on genre-hopping and pen names? Let me know!
Other articles about genre-hopping: