Thursday, August 25, 2016

Indie Choices: Writing in Multiple Genres or Specializing

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy

Part of the Indie Author Series

One of the empowering, amazing parts of being an independent author is we get to choose. That ability to choose and experiment is one of the things that drew me to self-publishing rather than trying to work with a traditional publisher.

A lot of the choices we make won’t have a right and a wrong. Instead, they’ll have a right for me and a wrong for me. What’s important is that we understand our options and select the one that suits us.

So today I’m going to cover one of the choices we have—whether to focus on writing in a single genre or whether to write across multiple genres. Over the next few months, I’ll hopefully be looking at a few more indie choices with you.

What Do We Mean by “Writing in Multiple Genres”?

The topic of writing in multiple genres can sometimes cause confusion because genre is a shockingly misunderstood topic in general.

An author who writes in a single genre is someone who writes, for example, legal thrillers and only legal thrillers or epic fantasy and only epic fantasy.

Most of the time, when authors think about writing in multiple genres, they think that means something like writing mysteries and also writing science fiction.

But if we decide to write epic fantasy and urban fantasy, we’re technically still writing in multiple genres even though they’re both fantasy. The tropes and conventions and expectations of those genres are very different and readers who like one won’t necessarily like another.

The more different the genre we’re writing in, the more likely we’ll be to experience the cons to writing in multiple genres that we’ll look at below, but these cons still exist even if we’re switching genres within a larger category like science fiction or mystery.

So now what are the pros and cons?

Pros of Writing in Multiple Genres

The variety can add longevity to our career.
In my opinion, this is the best reason to write in multiple genres. The longer we write, the greater chance we have of burning out, getting bored, and either quitting or phoning in our stories. Being able to switch between genres can keep us excited about both because we’ll be able to explore a wider range of ideas and writing styles.

We can write one for love and the other for money.
Not every writer wants to turn writing into a career or earn a full-time living from it. If you don’t care about the income potential of your writing, then you’re probably already writing what you love and it may or may not also be profitable.

For some writers, though, they want and/or need their writing to be an income stream. That can be hard to do if the ideas you fall in love with aren’t what’s currently hot and selling (and may never be). Writing in two different genres allows us to select a profitable genre while still also writing the stories of our hearts.

(If you’ve never heard about writing to market before, take a look at my previous post Writing to Market: What Is It and Should You Try It?)

Cons of Writing in Multiple Genres

It can be confusing and upsetting for readers who pick up something and it’s not what they expected. Reader expectations are powerful things. If they expect one thing and we deliver something else, we risk bad reviews and the reader never buying one of our books again.

Well, you might say, I’ll just make sure it’s clear in the book description. As authors, we spend a lot of time crafting our book descriptions, and so we assume all readers read them. They don’t. Authors who specifically state in their description that their book is a certain genre, a certain length, or contains a certain type of content will still get annoyed emails and bad reviews from readers complaining that the book wasn’t what they expected.

Here’s another reason why this matters for authors who want to write in multiple genres. We want to become an automatic buy for our readers. The first time they auto-buy one of our books and discover it’s not what they’ve come to expect from us, we’re no longer an automatic buy for them.

Readers won’t necessarily follow you across genres so you’re essentially two different authors with the same name.

You’ve probably heard about the 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day cliffs on Amazon. (If you haven’t, in a nutshell, these are the points at which your visibility on Amazon drops off. For example, after 30 days, you’ll no longer appear on the New Releases list. You’ll also be included less frequently in the emails Amazon sends out.)

The common indie advice is to try to publish something at least every 90 days to stay visible. Frequent releases also keep readers engaged so they don’t forget about us.

Not every one of us can publish this often to begin with. The problem compounds when we add in a new genre. If we’re able to write four books a year, as an example, that means we’re only putting out two books a year in each series/genre. If we’re only able to write two books a year, we’re now a once-a-year author.

If we’re just starting out in our career, it can take us longer to establish a fan base because our efforts are divided.

For obvious reasons, writing in multiple genres is a better choice for authors who can write quickly and release often.

Your Also Boughts will be a mess, which hurts your organic discoverability on Amazon.

Amazon includes Also Boughts on a book’s page because readers use it to find other books they might be interested in. The Also Boughts are a great selling tool for Amazon and for us.

Here’s a look at the Also Boughts for one of my Busy Writer’s Guides.

You can see it’s filled with my other books and with books from the Thesaurus collection of Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Puglisi (books I often recommend within my books). This is great because someone who buys my book Description might also be interested in my book Showing and Telling in Fiction. Having my Also Boughts filled with my other books earns me extra sales by getting my other books in front of readers who are my ideal audience and are already interested in one of my products.

But imagine if I also wrote books on dog training. The readers who did cross over and buy both kinds of books would mean that my Also Boughts for my books for writers would be polluted with books on dog training, losing me visibility and sales.

Some of these cons can be mitigated by a pen name, which is what I’ll be talking about next month!

Do you write in multiple genres or have you stuck to one? What’s been your experience?

Marcy Kennedy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at

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About How to Write Fiction: Busy Writer’s Guides Set 1

Three popular writing craft books are now available together. When you master showing and telling, deep point of view, and internal dialogue, you'll create vivid fiction that engages your reader emotionally. The books in this set put writing craft techniques into plain language alongside examples, so you can see how it all looks in practice, and combines it with practical exercises.


  1. I started off writing police procedural style mysteries mixed with a bit of romance with LGBT leads and I've established a small fan base of those readers. For fun, I spun off the two moms of my two leads into their own cozy series. Some of the original series fans followed but not many. I've been slower to develop that series and so the audience for it is very small but growing and made up more of older women who are not members of the LGBT community. A couple of the more open minded ones have crossed the other way and read the first series but there hasn't been a lot of that since I'm not far in and don't have a base built up for that series yet.

    I've also done a romance that went back in time (way back) and then came forward with two secondary characters from the main series. It was well received by an older female LGBT audience and some straight and LGBT men and many in my core mystery audience since I marketed it to them. Some of the romance readers have gone on to read the police procedural mystery/romance series (more so than cozy readers who crossed over to read it).

    I'm going to keep writing both series because it's fun and I've got some ideas about how to build the audience for the second one. I've also got another romance in mind for a secondary female character whose LGBT in my first series. She's in the New Adult range so I'm hoping to do that story well enough to entice a few NA readers and see if I can't cross some of them over to the 'older' romance and maybe even some mystery/romance too.

    It's all a big convoluted mess of a process when you start writing in different genres and for different audiences but it sure is fun. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.

  2. I write in three grenes but so far I've only published in one. I have different names for each. I enjoy the variety. But, so far, I've only been able to publish one book a year, so I can see how multiple genres would spread out my titles for each genre.

  3. I think cross-genre writing (in separate works as well as in Fusion Fiction) is an excellent idea, for a great many reasons that there isn’t the space to go into, here.

    It’s a free country: People can choose to read outside their comfort zone, or not. But I can’t help feeling sorry for those who don’t: their literary experience seems to me to be like a harp with only one string, and those who choose to applaud only the authors who devote their writing to one genre, sound like one hand clapping.