Monday, November 7, 2016

Writing Advice Examined: If you want to be published, do you really have to pick just one genre?



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 FacebookTwitterPinterest, 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 thingswhat 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 outlookI'm going to self-publish because I want to write whatever I wantignores 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?

If you are a young writer or a hobby writer, you just keep writing lots of different types of books. Don't feel pressured to pick. If you want to write a medieval fantasy, followed by a 1940s murder mystery, and then a novel in verse, go for it.

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?

Lots of writers do. You can probably even name a few. Here are some ideas for how to get away with it:

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.



25 comments:

  1. I mostly write fantasy (for younger Senders). I do get ideas for contemporary novels, but they normally just don't work out when I try to write them, it just doesn't click

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    1. I understand that. I'm the opposite where I sometimes have ideas for fantasy plots, and I know it's just not going to happen :)

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  2. Even though I'd say my stories always come to me in the same genre (fantasy), I'm glad to find out the why behind this advice. (That I had heard many times!) Now I know :)
    Something Brandon Sanderson from over at Writing Excuses stresses, is being mindful of what promises you are making to the reader, and then fulfilling them in a way that is satisfying. This applies to genre as well as your story. :)

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    1. Absolutely! And that's a big part of why people gravitate to certain genres. They like that particular set of expected promises.

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  3. I've been trying to write YA fantasy for a while, but I also have a YA contemporary romance/mystery floating in my head. For now, I'd like to still write some form of YA. It's a genre I love to read and I can do a lot with it, it seems. Great post, Mrs. Morrill!

    Sarah,
    http://finalfantasfiction.blogspot.com/

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    1. I think there's so much value in trying out multiple genres. You learn so much.

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  4. Super helpful post, Mrs. Morrill. I write (and read) mainly medieval fantasy stuff. My current WiP is a fairytale retelling, but I also have a plan for a alternate history (it's going to be very complex because it involves time travel). My biggest genre-jump is to a sort-off alternate reality-ish story. It follows up the historical but its set present day.

    This reminds me of something Leigh Bardugo did (she's one of my favorite authors). Her first two series, The Grisha Trilogy and the Six of Crows duology, were set in the same universe with a small time gap in between (it doesn't really matter what order you read them in). But I've heard that her next book is a contemporary-ish (there might be some spec fiction thing thrown in too but I'm not sure) about a girl in college.

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    1. That's interesting, Julia. I hadn't heard that yet.

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  5. This is something I've been struggling with lately. I've been writing for awhile now, and I know I may still be a few years away from publishing but I'm close enough to start thinking about my course of action.

    For a few years I've worked on a YA contemporary novel with a hint of sci-if that I'm really passionate about, but sci-fi isn't my usual genre. I enjoy contemporary and YA, and I'm beginning to lean toward mysteries too.

    Do you think if I tried to pursue publication of my YA sci-if but more regularly write contemporary mysteries, that'd be considered "close enough?" I don't want to publish a borderline sci-fi novel and then be restricted to that genre, but I also don't want to put aside this novel just because it's not my usual genre.

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    1. Oh, man, that's a tough one. What kind of sci-fi elements are you talking about? Some would be easier than others.

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    2. The only advanced technology in the book are microchips that four characters have. These microchips alter their emotions.

      Then to add to the sci-fi feel, most of the book takes place in a facility that is both a lab and living quarters for the four teens with the microchips.

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    3. I think that could fall in the "close enough" category, especially if the story is more about the characters than it is the technology/sci- fi stuff. A storyline like this would definitely be easier than something that involved spaceships :)

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  6. I write (and read) contemporary YA...I enjoy a (clean!) romance thread as well. I've never tried my hand at any other genres but historical fiction does intrigue me. I'm not sure if I'd have the patience to do the research and actually write one, though--the same goes for mysteries!

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    1. I felt the same way until I had THE IDEA, and I decided I would just have to figure it out. For me, it was critical to be passionate about my era and what I was researching.

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  7. Thank you, Mrs. Morrill! This is a very helpful topic. I am writing under the umbrella of speculative fiction and most deeply involved at present in an extensive alternate history series (it will probably include at least seven books). However, I have ideas for other stories that would be categorized as sci-fi, dystopian, and supernatural. Although these genres have marked differences among them, your post helped me recognize a common thread among them that should make them work for my audience. Thank you very much, Mrs. Morrill!

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  8. I write short stories, lol... I have a few novels too... but it seems they are each a different genre. What they all have in common is that I like to take "real people" and make them go through tough things, learning a unique moral of some sort.

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    1. Novelist Angela Hunt's tagline is "Expect the unexpected." She writes in lots of different genres, but every book of hers that I've read has a very unexpected event at the ending. So I think something like what you mentioned can definitely work for building a following!

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    2. Oh... wow! Thanks... that actually gives me an idea! 😀😀

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  9. The struggle is real. I think I'm like Jill. I mostly stick to spec-fic, and that can range over a few genres all with more weird/fantasy/etc type themes. But I also like writing crime fiction occasionally. And I dream of writing historical because I adore history. Mainly I am a fantasy writer, but still...

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    1. I have the same problem. So many different genres interest me...

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  10. I'm writing some books, but I don't know if it'll work out with a publisher. Like, I'm writing a Middle Grade Fantasy, a YA Fantasy (I think...it's like a Sci-Fi world with a touch of magic), and am planning a YA Sci Fi, another YA Fantasy, and a YA Mystery (I didn't realize how much YA I was writing until just now lol). I THINK that YA Fantasy and Sci Fi would be fine, but what about mystery? Do you think it would work if I added elements of sci fi and fantasy into it?

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    1. I think it would be a good idea to add the fantasy or sci-fi elements if it works with the story. If not, it might be a project that you set aside and save to use with a pen name or once you've built up an audience.

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    2. Thanks for your advice! :)

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    3. What if I just get my book published by another publisher? Would that work?

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