Should You Limit Yourself to One Genre?

It’s Thursday here at Panning For Clouds and that means I’m gonna ramble on about something that’s been stuck in my head for a while, that is probably in some way related to writing, editing, or publishing.

You ready for this?

So as the article’s title suggests, there’s often this THING in the publishing world that you hear about. “We want to publish your detective novels, not your sci fi novels.” “You should only write fantasy because it’s the thing people like the most.” “We have no interest in publishing out of genre.”

Now, granted, I would love to have that problem, because it means I have landed a successful story somewhere. But the point is that it’s a commonly held belief in the publishing industry and elsewhere that authors should be writing in one genre because of a variety of reasons.

  1. It’s easier to build a platform for an author when they’re known for one type of story. If you don’t have to tell people that your next book is “this genre” and not “this other genre that my last book was”, then people always know what to expect, in broad strokes from you.
  2. There’s a huge portion of readers that only read ONE type of story, and if they can know, by default, that you are a fantasy writer, or a hard sci fi writer, or a thriller writer, then they will buy every book you publish simply because they know it’s in the genre they like.
  3. Publishers will often want you to use a pseudonym for other genres so as not to confuse the readership because of 1 and 2, and not to dilute your “brand” by using your same name that is now a part of that publisher’s business model.

There are some other reasons, but this’ll do for the rough and dirty.

So the question is: Should you limit yourself to one genre?

It really depends on what your goals as an author are. If you want to write for a living, and only write fiction, then monetarily speaking, your best bet is pretty much to write to one genre, at least until you establish yourself and draw a living wage from your writing. You pay the bills on the backs of repeat customers for your new work, selling just enough to support yourself and maybe a family, but never breaking the million-seller barrier or becoming a bestselling Amazon author or whatever.

If you just want to write, and getting published/paid for your writing is a happy bonus, then you’re a bit freer to do as you will. The big authors in the modern era like King, Koontz, Patterson, Gaiman, they’re essentially just writing whatever they want because they know it’s going to sell on name alone. But King in his early career was focusing much more heavily on horror, and Koontz was focusing on paranormal thrillers, until they broke out and became huge successes and they were able to write a bit outside their genre.

If you got a book deal, and it went well, but there’s no guarantee on a deal for a second book, you’re probably going to be better off writing to the genre of the first in order to capitalize on the success of your first novel TO the fans of that first novel. It’s good business sense.

So I don’t have an answer for you, apparently. There’s no ultimate answer, because it comes down to what your goals are and what works for you personally.

For me? I’ve mentioned it before, and the evidence is plain on this blog, but I write whatever the hell interests me. I skew towards sci fi and supernatural, but I write a lot of general fiction, literature, fantasy, young adult, fable, fairy tale, etc. I write the kinds of things I like to read, and I like to read just about everything, so I’m not about to limit myself to a single genre when I have stories to tell in all of them. If I ever get published, I’ll probably be the bane of my editor’s existence because of that, but it’s how I plan to approach my career.

If you look at what I have self-published, it’s science fiction, modern supernatural, and literature. Last year I wrote two sci fi novels, a young adult road trip novel, a sci fi novella, a fantasy novella, a bevy of short stories in the colors of the genre rainbow. I write what I like to read and I think I always will.

So decide for yourself if you want to write in just one genre, and always remember the write the hell on.

One thought on “Should You Limit Yourself to One Genre?

  1. Bully for you! I’m glad you’re not limiting yourself. You have so much to offer the world. Keep on writing for all of us!

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