Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Daring to change genre ~ could it become the new black?


I read an author interview on Shelley Wilson's blog the other day, in which children's fantasy writer Lynette Creswell talked about writing adult fantasy, too (by 'adult' I mean 'for grown ups', not thrusting groins and heavy breathing), and also veering off to the left with a book that is best placed under the heading 'women's fiction'.  

The other day I was talking online to author of the fantasy Storm Trilogy, Anthony Lavisher, who says he's going to write a thriller next, possibly followed by something historical.

Is this a bad idea?  Some might say yes, but I applaud them.

Since I've started this self-pub thing, one piece of advice I've read over and over again (and, indeed, have given myself) is to stay roughly in the same genre.  This is why: if Angela Author has built up a fanbase for her historical fiction over the last 5 books, those readers are going to be a tad mystified/disappointed/sceptical if her 6th book is about space ships and aliens.  "It's not what I expect from an Angela Author book," they will say, and may give up on her, not bothering to find out if she abandoned the little green men in favour of a return to Plantagenet lords for her 7th.

But I've been thinking about this.  All creative minds grow and change, don't they?  Unless you're under contract to a digital publisher who insists you bring out a book every four months about romance amongst the cupcake bake-offs in an idyllic rural/coastal/tropical setting (in which case you're probably raking it in and happy to carry on just as you are, and who can blame you?!), it's likely that your key tapping fingers might yearn to move sideways at some point.  Mine certainly do.

I photographed various piles of books around my living room!

The books I write are all character driven, from multiple POVs and with plot twists aplenty (I don't think I can match the 'awesome gobsmacking WTF' one in The House of York, so perhaps a change is the right move!).  They're centred around relationships, usually family.  The characters range from single mums on council estates to millionaire businessmen, from guys in rock bands to rebellious teenagers to the odd psychopath, but when you open a book by me you know more or less what you're getting.

However, after The House of York, I suddenly realised I was kind of over the family drama thing.  I even had the whole plot for the sequel semi-worked out, but not the necessary enthusiasm.  Then the story for The Devil You Know popped into my head.  I wanted to write something more suspenseful, darker, and include the odd character with some seriously evil sh*t going on in their heads.  I'd begun to go down this route with THO York (which contains an abduction, murderous intent, and a couple of people with heads filled with the aforementioned evil sh*t).  So I've slid diagonally, I suppose, rather than changing genre....


.... but what I'm coming to is this.  Most of us read several different genres, so if you love the SciFi of Joe Bloggs and the financial thrillers of Bob Smith, might you not like to read Bob Smith in SciFi mode, too?  Should we be as fearful as we are that we'll put off our readers if we produce something that isn't along exactly the same lines as what's gone before?

Nb: May 2017: I've just read a 14th C historical novel, Blood Rose Angel by Liza Perrat ; the other book of hers I've read was a contemporary drama.  Both were great ~ it's the standard of the writing that matters, I think....
 
Bit of a GRR Martin bias on this shelf!

The cheapness and easy availability of Kindle books means that most avid readers have tried new genres over the past few years, and discovered new writers.  The facility for self publication means that writers are more free to write what, how and when they want than ever before.  Six-ish years ago, I was told by a reputable literary agent that she couldn't sell You Wish to a publisher because it was written from multiple 1st person POVs.  I had no desire to rewrite as she suggested, so I self-published it as it was.  This format suits my style and authorial skill set (now there's a phrase I have not used beforeI promise I never will again).  Several years down the line, multiple 1st person POVs has become so popular that I rarely open a book that features the same narrator all the way through (I read about ten a month).  Many readers didn't seem to care for it at the time, either (I read a lot of reviews, too), but now accept it as a popular style, like the variation and comment about the author's skill in changing 'voice'.

....so, my point is this.  If a certain style/format used to be thought of as unsaleable, but is now not only accepted but the happening way to go, maybe authors writing in multiple genres might become more accepted, too.  The norm, even.  I know some have got round it by writing the alternative genre under a pen name, but unless you have a traditional publisher behind you it can mean starting off a whole new promotional platform for that pen name.  And while Angela Author is writing her SciFi book under the name Wendy Writer, she isn't adding another title to her own list on Amazon Author Central.

Okay.  *Deep breath* My next book will be part one of a post apocalyptic series.  No, not zombies, much though I love to read about them, but a pandemic.  Essentially, though, it will still be a Terry Tyler novel.  It centres around one family and their friends, their hopes, fears, love lives, joys and disappointments, but in an end-of-the-world setting rather than comfortable middle class life in East Anglia.  I think that if you like the way I write, then you'll like Tipping Point (working title) as well.  


I'm fascinated by survival after disaster, by the psychology of how people cope, by the manipulation of the population by the media (Tipping Point deals with this, too) ~ isn't it, therefore, logical that I would want to write about it?  I read a lot of non-fiction history books because I have an endless thirst for knowledge about life in the 14th century, in particular; one day, when I feel confident enough, I want to write that histfic novel, too.  If you like the way someone writes, then you like the way they write, full stop ~ surely?  Unless they're moving from romcoms to air conditioning installation manuals, it's likely that you'll still have time for whatever they bring out.  And with any author you like, even if it's action thriller after action thriller or vampire after vampire, you always have your favourites and not-so-favourites.

I hope I'm right and am not just trying to convince myself.  I daresay there will be some readers who say, "I like her family dramas but I don't really want to read about a global disaster."  I am still planning another history-inspired family saga (based on Henry II and his sons).  But if more of us dare to branch out into other genres, it might give others the confidence to give it a go, too.  It might also encourage readers to try genres they always thought they wouldn't like.  I only discovered that I love zombie apocalypse books by accident.  A lady who reads my books asked if I'd be so kind as to read her zombie apoc short story.  I did so out of politeness, and bloody loved it, so much that I've bought three of her books since, and it's now my most-read genre after histfic

Maybe it depends how orientated you are towards marketing.  I'm not so much; I always have about 4 stories on the 'to be written' list, and when I've finished one novel I just pick which one I want to do next and crack on.  I'm sure those savvy book marketing people would pour much scorn on this!

I don't know where else I'm going with this really, but if you've dared to publish in more than one genre, are thinking about it but are wary, feel hemmed in by your publisher, or have any other thoughts on the subject, I'd love to hear about it! 

(ps:  the other night when I couldn't sleep, I got up at 5.30 am and wrote 5 pages of the zombie book I want to write but think I shouldn't.  I loved writing it, and I think it might even be quite good, too.  Hmm....!!   We'll see how the pandemic goes down, first....)


33 comments:

  1. Go for it!

    But I would say that - given that I'm hoping all those who have said kind things about my travel writing will give the novel a go when it comes out in a week or few.

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    1. Well, I'll certainly buy it - don't forget to let me know when it's out! I love Val P's travel books, then I read her Skippers Child and liked it just as much - so I hope I am right in my theories! :)

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  2. I asked Joanne Harris this very question at a literary festival and she said that her readers have grown with her. I really admire her, because she could have churned out lots more books like Chocolat, but it's clear she's not in this for the fame/money. You've got to follow your creativity and IMO you're probably broadening your fan base by changing genres. We're not machines, so what's the point in doing it if you can't grow and change?! Best of luck Terry, sounds like you're doing the right thing ;)

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    1. Thanks, Evie - I am sure writers will all understand, apart from those who are very marketing orientated. Just hoping readers will too - but they all seemed to have embraced my murder/suspense/thriller as generously as they have my more love-and-stuff books... so I am crossing fingers! Thanks for reading, commenting and good wishes :)

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  3. Very well said, Terry. Creative minds do grow and change. Sticking to one genre can leave a creative writer feeling trapped or stuck in a rut, which sucks the joy out of the creative process.
    I appreciate the common wisdom that once you've built your readership, you don't want to disappoint them, but I've followed many of my favorite authors as they explored different genres. Sometimes I've loved the new genre; sometimes I haven't. But if I like the author's style, I'm likely to enjoy their work irrespective of the genre they're writing in. It's always worth giving it a shot!

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    1. That's very encouraging to hear, EJ, thank you for reading and letting us know! :)

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  4. Well as you know, I have gone for it, so I support you all the way! I love trying new genres, and new styles of writing too. I think it's what keeps me sane after teaching academic writing all day. It's my liberation. So thanks for that mention, TT! You're a star!

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    1. I think us writers all feel the same way about it - let's hope the readers do, too!

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  5. I love this post, Terry, and a HUGE thank you for the mention. As you know, I write for two genres - YA fantasy and adult self-help. They couldn't be further apart ha ha. I also read a wide variety of genres (horror, fantasy, crime, personal development, apocalyptic, historical fiction, etc). I'll have a go at reading most things (apart from fluffy romance!!). I'm not sure how I would feel if my favourite YA author suddenly wrote a crime novel - I'd probably still give it a thumbs up because as a writer I now understand how ideas can arrive, fully formed, but not necessarily along the same lines as your previous work. I love your books and yet when we first 'connected' I didn't think you wrote 'my kind of books', how wrong I was. I'm so glad I gave them a try because you've become one of my favourites (I really did enjoy The Devil You Know - 5*). So, I agree with everything you've written - write what you want, publish what you want, and read as many genres as you can - variety is, after all, the spice of life xx

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    1. Thank you. And life is too short to feel hemmed in.

      I remember, though, before I ever wrote, I was a huge fan of Susan Howatch, who wrote long historical sagas. Then she 'got religion', and started to write long theology based sagas instead. Because, presumably, her interests had changed. I read half of the first one, and never read any more, because they were too different. I wonder if the key is to try and keep the same elements. Also, her books included a lot of long theological discussion, which didn't interest me at all. That's been a lesson I've remembered - don't get on hobby horse. Don't use your novel as an excuse to go on and on about a pet subject; it has to become a convincing part of the story.

      I wonder why you thought I didn't write 'your kind of books' - interesting!!!

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    2. Forgive me for saying this (gulp) but when I first saw your books and the category family drama, I automatically - and wrongly - assumed you wrote romance! I know, I know! Forgive me. Back then I was stuck in my fantasy rut and wasn't reading much of anything else so didn't realise there was such a thing as riveting family sagas without fluff, sequins, and cream cakes!! My eyes have been opened and I now wear my big girl reading pants ;)

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    3. Not forgiveness necessary, it's interesting to know! If I had a quid for all the men who've presumed that I write romance...

      ....other problem is that romance readers find them too 'edgy', and not romantic enough, with main characters that don't fit the girly heroine mould (and do coke and stuff!) Problem with not ascribing to a genre in the first place, I guess.

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  6. Totally agree. I think its about trusting the writer to tell a great story. And readers like to be taken to new places, that's the point of reading! Looking forward to the next one, whatever genre (or none) it is.

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    1. Thank you, Deborah - and you know I'll always read whatever you write too. I don't do YA... but I do if you write it!

      When I went round my room photographing various piles of books just as they were (no, I didn't give in to the temptations to put all the 'cool' ones in prime position!), I was pleased to see various paperbacks by my author friends!

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  7. I don't think you have anything to lose by branching out, this is the beauty of being your own boss, you can try new things.

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    1. Thank you for that vote of confidence! I'm afraid I'll never write any hot romance or fantasy, but I do appreciate you always being up for trying my books x

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  8. I write in 2 genres, as you know: Teenage/YA and Adult Historical. Actually, that's not just 2 genres but two completely different markets. So, yes, it is not only do-able, but also great fun. What I find I cannot do is have 2 books running alongside in the 2 genres ..it has to be one or the other. I shall be fascinated to see how you get on ...oh, and I was 63 when I started writing adult fiction...so there you go!

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    1. No, I can't do that, either. Have to be totally immersed in one, or one of them suffers.

      I do really want to write my next big family drama based on history, and I expect it would go down very well if the reception of the other three are anything to go by, better than the post apocalyptic - but I didn't want to spend any longer thinking, 'I really want to write this book but what if no one likes it?'. It's already been on the to-write shelf for 2 years - long enough!

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  9. Also I'm quite fond of books that don't fit a particular genre. My own writing is going that way.

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    1. Gill, mine always has been! More than one reader has said that I have my own genre :)

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  10. Great post! We left Val & Kit for a bit to write DRESSING MYSELF, feeling it was a bit of a gamble. But it paid off! Some of our readers admitted to being reluctant to try it, but many now say it is their favorite book by us. We say go for it, for all the reasons you mention!

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    1. Thanks, R & P! As you say, some will be reluctant, but you can pick up new readers, too. And you have to write what YOU want to write, don't you? Glad to hear it went well for you!

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  11. Brilliant post, Terry. I agree with everything you say. Having said that, I don't have a readership anyway so I'm liberated to fail in any chosen genre.

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    1. A readership is a readership, however small, Pedro!

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  12. So far as I'm concerned, the best thing about self-publishing is the ability to write whatever I like! I fall between genres anyway - I found it very hard to interest publishers in the story of a Christian lesbian at university, with bonus student politics, and I suspect that a sports romance where the hero has no money and an admitted doping record would be equally difficult to place. But I don't want to write the same thing as everything else. I don't even want to write the same thing as myself!

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    1. Kathleen you said it all - I like the sound of the second one (I don't do romance, but the subject matter wounds interesting). Thanks for reading/commenting!

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  13. Can't seem to get your site to recognise my Wordpress account, so I am anonymous (J.D.Hughes)

    Looking forward to your post-apocalyptic work, Terry. As always I am sure it will be very well written and no doubt hammered by your sis!

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    1. Hope so.... I hope it works. There are elements I find very hard to write, however much research I do to ensure feasibility, simply because I am not used to writing this stuff. Not publishing until I have written the second book in the series too. Partly because that's good marketing sense (ie, you can publish the next book a month later instead of having to make any readers wait so long they've forgotten the first one), and partly so that if it's not very well received, I won't chuck it all in the bin!

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  14. As we discussed on Twitter, I both self-publish and publish with traditional major publishing houses. I write contemporary thrillers as Jane Holland, historicals as Victoria Lamb, Regency and Tudor romance as Elizabeth Moss, contemporary romcoms as Beth Good, feel-good doggy fiction for everyone as Hannah Coates, and there are many other names too, not all of which I openly admit to! Some of these came out of publishers wanting a book in a different genre and not wanting to confuse readers who knew me as someone else, other names were required to avoid contractual clashes but keep publishing, others - like my romcoms as Beth Good - come out of a desire to self-publish in a brand-new genre (new to me, that is).

    Re sales, I'm not sure what I can usefully add. The territory of both publishing and self-publishing is changing daily, too rapidly even to be pinpointed for a brief period. Nobody really knows what will sell or why. Some books catch light and sell tons, while others under the same pen-name that look and sound very similar, barely shift a few copies. Does publishing under another name help or hinder sales? Again, I wouldn't want to make a prediction either way. Every writer is different, every book unique. However, I have found that diluting my 'brand' means that where other writers of my generation who have written fewer books than me are 'known' more widely than I am - through having kept the same name (and usually genre) and may well sell more copies simply down to that fact. But increasingly, even well-known writers are starting to write in differing genres, and maybe that's because the book market is becoming increasingly fragmented and over-saturated, with more products chasing fewer sales in a time of global recession. Look at JK Rowling now writing as Robert Galbraith. Look at the number of romance writers also writing psychological thrillers - and doing very well at it. Of course, romance shifts very nicely into domestic noir. But I can see it happening in other areas too. Across the board, the market is loosening and opening up to new ideas and new ways of doing things, and I suspect much of that is down to the way we find books these days - i.e. online, on social media, where we are open to more shifts in ideas and genres than we would be in a bookshop situation, where books are herded together and controlled by buyer-gatekeepers and limited by physical size considerations.

    Not sure how helpful any of that is. But as I say, publishing is very fluid at the moment, and the future is both wide-open and uncertain. So jumping from genre to genre may be possible in the future WITHOUT changing names, as 'author branding' becomes, perhaps, less of an accepted thing. But it could go the other way and become even harder to jump ship once launched in one genre. I don't know. Good luck, everyone.

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  15. Jane, thanks so much for this, it's VERY helpful, and kind of confirms what I think - that anything goes now, and will go even more in the future! I truly believe that self-pub is the way of the future for books, not just because that's the path I've chosen (I chose this path because it's what I believe, not the other way round!), as was indie music in the late 70s and 80s. Self-pub means freedom and diversity; yes, of course it means a load of rubbish getting shoved up on Amazon, too, but that has always happened and always will.

    I really appreciate your time in giving your opinion on this, I am sure it will be of interest to many. Thank you!

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  16. Hi Terry,
    I would love to write humour and have been told I'm quick witted and funny (probably a bit daft) I have much to learn but am enjoying trying other genres out. If C. Hedges and JK Rowling can do it then surely if we do our homework work at it it should be possible to many. But nothing comes cheap there are lessons tp learn and crafts to hone. But the one thing I think ( just my feeble opinion) you can't teach is imagination, if you have that then anything is possible. Very interesting post thank you. X

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    1. Thank YOU for reading and commenting, Ellen - and I think life's too short not to write what you want! x

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