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 marcykennedy.com.
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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.