Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.
When teen writers ask me about being published, one of the most common questions I get is about the idea of needing to pick one genre. They'll say something like, "Is it true that editors only want you to publish in one genre? I like to write lots of different things—what should I do?"
I've also had writers tell me that they've chosen to self-publish because they don't want to have to pick a genre, and this way they can write whatever they want. I always internally cringe a bit at this one. Not because I don't understand this position; as an artist, I can totally relate to wanting to write whatever I want, whenever I feel like it.
The reason I cringe is that this outlook—I'm going to self-publish because I want to write whatever I want—ignores the "Why?" behind the advice of picking one genre, which is to satisfy readers.
Think about your favorite writer. Let's say it's Maggie Stiefvater, who mostly writes paranormal YA. What if you've just finished the Raven Cycle series, and you've spent months obsessing about the wonderfully strange world of Henrietta, and you're waiting for Maggie to announce her next book.
And what if her next book is a contemporary romance novel about a single mom who learns she's dying of cancer on the same day that she meets Mr. Right.
Now, that's not a bad story idea. Maybe you like contemporary romances. Maybe if it was another author, you would see that description and think, "That could be good." But after being immersed in a series where trees speak Latin and a boy can bring objects back from his dreams ... you'd be disappointed, right? Because you have certain expectations about what reading a Maggie Stiefvater book will be like.
When industry professionals give you the advice of picking a genre, that is why. Because they know the value of protecting the reader's experience and expectations. Yeah, it matters financially (people tend to only keep buying books from authors they continue to like) but if you care about your readers, like most authors do, it matters in that sense too.
So whether you're seeking traditional or indie publishing, this is an issue worth examining.
But I like to write lots of different types of books! What do I do?
The more you write, the more you're going to learn about what kinds of stories you like to tell. You'll start to notice patterns and themes, and even if you still like to write eclectic stories, you'll start to figure out what links them all.
And even if you do all this, and you mostly write one genre, you might still find you have a wild hair of an idea that you're just dying to write. You still can. Not everything you write has to be published. But if you do decide you want to publish that book...
How can I break this rule?
Be "close enough": Roseanna White writes Biblical fiction and also historical romance. Even though they're different genres, she writes them under the same name. The readers for these are close enough that it's fine. Same goes for Jill Williamson, and her various speculative fiction novels.
Make it gradual: While it wouldn't be a very smart audience-building move to write a historical mystery, and then follow it up with a contemporary romance, you can gradually make your way there. For example, after the historical mystery, you could follow it up with a historical romance with elements of mystery. And then it could be a dual generation story where you're dealing with a contemporary setting and a historical setting.With each new book, you can tweak the genre just a bit.
If you want to explore that idea more, this season of Writing Excuses has focused on something they call "Elemental Genre" and it can really help you dig into layering genres.
Use a pen name: Or maybe you have two or more genres you want to write in that draw different audiences. Maybe you like writing historical fantasy for teens, but you also like the futuristic sci-fi for adults too. If you have two distinct author brands that you're wanting to pursue, that's when a pen name can be a good idea.
I would love to hear what kind of genres you guys write! It's helpful for us as we plan posts.