From my November 20, 2015 blog post on Not Your Usual Suspects:
Traditional publishers and agents have been advising writers to specialize in one genre only for decades. Forever, really. The reasons are many, some maybe even valid:
- If publishers spend time and money marketing your science fiction book, they want to build on that, rather than start all over with your historical romance.
- You’ll confuse (and probably tick off) the reader who goes looking for your noir mystery only to find herself reading your latest slasher horror.
- You’ll spend longer trying to develop your writer “brand” if you split yourself among genres.
Indie publishing has placed all kinds of decisions in writers’ hands, including this one. Now that they don’t have to bow to a publisher’s will, they have to decide: Should they? Shouldn’t they?
As with any creative or business decision, you have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages.
For me, it boils down to the reason you write. Is it to make money? (A very valid reason.) Is it because you love writing so much you would do it whether or not it made money for you? (Also very valid.)
There’s another question you need to ask yourself: what’s the cost (creatively, emotionally, even physically) of NOT writing the story that’s in you to write?
I think you should write whatever damned book you want to write. While you owe your readers something, you also owe yourself. You have the right to challenge yourself, to experiment, to fill every little bit of your writer’s soul. After all, what’s the point of spending all that time and effort if you’re not having fun?
One caveat: Don’t mislead your reader. If you don’t use a pen name, be up front about your different genres (have different tabs on your web site for science fiction, romantic suspense, horror, etc.). Even an “open” pen name lets the reader know that these stories aren’t the same as the ones under your own name. Some readers will follow you across all your genres, while others will only read you in one genre. And that’s okay.
Remember: If you use a secret pen name, it can exacerbate the issue. You’ll be working to build two names (or three, or four), rather than just yours.
Here’s a mini-list of well-known writers who write in two or more genres:
Walter Mosley: Literary fiction, science fiction, political monographs, YA, mystery
Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb: Romance, romantic suspense, science fiction/police procedural
Joyce Carol Oates: Gothic, horror, suspense, mystery/crime, romance, historical, fantasy, realism, surrealism…
Ian Fleming: Spy novels (James Bond) and children’s (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
Stephen King: What doesn’t he write?
Elmore Leonard: westerns, crime, suspense, screenplays
Nicola Griffith: science fiction, thrillers, historical
Kristine Kathryn Rusch: science fiction, romance, fantasy, mystery
Can you think of any others?