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Genre Identity Crisis

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I’m looking for your input, your opinions.

Do you prefer an author to write in a single genre, or will you follow that author no matter what type of book they release next?

Imagine Nicholas Sparks came out with a sci-fi trilogy….would you buy it? Or would you say he’s gone off his rocker for ditching his tagline heart-wrenching love stories?

Why do I ask?

There is a believe – a rule – in the publishing world that once an author publishes a novel in one genre they must continue to write the same type of thing. So let’s say my first release is a western family saga – they tell me readers would be upset if my next ten weren’t westerns with deep family ties as well.

But this thought gives me hives. I don’t want to have to write just one thing.

See, right now I have a contemporary western completed (a very serious piece). I have a historical with contemporary elements completed (which is two parts adventure, a genrous helping of humor, and plenty of dashing heroes.

I’m in the process of penning a sappy Christmas story (straight historical) but it keeps getting interrupted by a young adult fantasy idea that wakes me up in the middle of the night begging to be written.

Add to the mix that sometimes I toy with the idea of writing for both mainstream and the Christian publishing industry. Basically, I’ve got a genre identity crisis on my hands.

What does a writer do? Stop writing the stories that don’t fit into their assigned niche? Pen names for each genre? Or does one trust that readers are looking for compelling stories (not just a niche).


About Jess Keller

I'm an author, speaker and chocolate eater who's chasing hard after my dreams.

8 responses »

  1. As an avid reader, I value the author’s commitment to quality over commitment to a certain genre. However I think most readers expect an author to stick to a specific genre simply because many do. Then again one of my all-time favorite authors C.S. Lewis in an excellent example of an author who has successfully written amazing works in several genres (three favorites come to mind: Till We Have Faces, Out of the Silent Planet, & The Great Divorce).

    • Thanks for stopping by Rachel! You’re right, C.S. Lewis is an awesome example of someone with a genre identity crisis who made it work. I love all his stuff – from the non-fictions, to Screwtape to Narnia.

  2. Hmm… I wouldn’t call your contemp “very serious” – not a rom com, but when I think serious, I think… Crossing Oceans, for instance.

    I’ll follow across genres if it’s a genre I also like. I may or may not cross from contemp romance to dystopian space cowboys a la firefly. Just depends. Historical romance to contemp romance? I’ll at least give it a try.

  3. Rachel, it’s like you read my mind! CS Lewis was my go-to example of an excellent author that spanned genres. I too am an avid reader, and I would prefer to read a really well-written novel, whatever the genre, especially if the author felt passionate about their writing. I look at Lisa Tawn Bergren, who wrote contemporary and historical fiction for adults, but her fantasy series for YA is fantastic and I loved it. I would have missed out on some fantastic reading if her publisher had deicded not to go through with it simply because it wasn’t her genre. That said, perhaps it would be easier to establish your name as an author with a 3-book series, published back to back? Then branching out. Jess, having read some of your reading, including the contemporary, historical, and holiday, I would say that your writing voice is strong within all the genre’s, and it’s more about character and relationship study than a typical book in whichever genre.

  4. I have heard of several authors adopting pen names for the different genres they write. Nora Roberts writes romance, but under the name J.D. Robb, she writes murder mysteries. Iain Banks writes history under this name, but writes sci-fi under Iain M. Banks. So having different pen names is not without precedent.

    On a personal note, I’ll fall in love with a specfic story type and snatch up as many authors who write that way as I can. My most prolific collection of books and stories deal with Scottish Highlands romance in the 1500-1700’s. I have two authors that I love (Diana Gabaldon and Monica McCarthy), but if I see a book advertised in that specific genre, I’ll probably pick it up. If I like it, then I look for more books by that author. They don’t necessarily have to be that same topic, though. If I thought that the writing was good, I’ll look at other things they have written, even if they don’t follow the genre I originally discovered them for.

    Aaaaaand, I’m talking to you on Skype, so I will end this here.

  5. Interesting! I asked a similar question to an agent at the ACFW Conference last year and he said that is was possible, with the right author. He confirmed that while it is true you may have the start out in a single genre, if your writing is solid and has a unique voice, the readers will follow you across genres because the author’s voice will carry. Very sage advice, I think! What I would say is – write for your audience of One and go where He leads you. He’s given you an author’s voice, talents, and desire for a specific genre or idea. When the ideas come, write them up and who knows what will happen! ; )

  6. Personally I don’t really like it when an author changes things up. I rather like knowing what to expect. But I’m also one of those crazy people who wants to know everything about a movie before I watch it so to make sure it’s one I’ll like. 🙂

  7. If you are an author I love, if you write something outside of the genre I read/found you in, you get the advantage of my picking up a genre I don’t normally read and looking it over, but I won’t necessarily buy it, it has to have something super intriguing about it or wow my socks off in the blurb or first page.

    Me? I’ll read historical anything, and I’m not into contemporary.
    Take Francine Rivers – When Rivers puts out a new contemporary, I’ll actually read her blurb whereas I wouldn’t normally look at a contemporary at all unless word of mouth is great. But, I’ve only read one of her contemporaries. I put down all the others. But if she puts out a historical, I’ll pick it up even if I’m not exactly wowed by the blurb.

    Hope that makes sense. That’s how I do it. I have books outside of my genre that I want to write, but they are just a few ideas. After I get a following and $, then if I feel a need to do something off genre, I plan on always putting that one genre first, always cranking out the next, but I’d consider the other genre a “part-time” side job.


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