Sunday, July 15, 2012

Genre Hopping

I do my best not to compare my work with another writer's, but there are some differences I can't help but notice.  The biggest--the one I get worked up over on a regular basis--is my inability to pick a genre and stick to it.

Any time I meet a new writer, it seems like one of the first things they ask is, "What genre do you write?"  I can understand this question because genres are so distinct: sci-fi, fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, paranormal, contemporary, young adult.  It helps writers identify with one another, and creates a great jumping-off point for networking.

So what do I write?  Let's see.  I write sci-fi-fantasy-urban-dystopian-paranormal-steampunk-young adult.  I might try my hand at horror next.  Or romance.  Or cyberpunk, if that's still around.  I swap genres like it's nail polish.  Maybe I'm still trying to find my niche, or maybe I have trouble settling down.  I feel like I'm missing out on that identifier that other writers come to so easily.  I'm waiting for that day when I wake up and say, "Okay, I'm going to write fantasy for the rest of my life."  So far, it just hasn't happened.

It used to be hard for established writers to jump out of one genre into another.  Nora Roberts took the pseudonym J.D. Robb so that she was free to branch out into mystery.  That was the norm, but it's a norm that is slowly disappearing.  Like many things, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer are leaders in the genre-hopping field.

Just in case you haven't heard, the world is about to get a brand new J.K. Rowling book to devour.  Nope, it's not Harry Potter.  It's not about wizards.  It isn't even a children's book.  It's called The Casual Vacancy and it comes out in September.  It's just about as far away from the genre that launched her career as a person can get.  Will it be a success?  We'll have to wait and see.  I know I'm pre-ordering it, and there are thousands upon thousands of other twenty-somethings like me that grew up with Harry Potter and are ready for the next book from a beloved writer.

Then there's Stephenie Meyer who is, of course, world famous for her Twilight series.  I had a baby, but I managed to read them in three days.  Still, it was only this year (February, to be exact) that I read her adult sci-fi The Host.  To be fair, it wasn't that much of a breakaway from her original series, but it opened her up to a new section in the bookstore, and a larger pool of readers.

The list goes on.  Famous writers like Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, and Terry Goodkind have all stepped out of their comfort zone and tackled a new genre.  They've all got one thing in common which makes it okay for them and difficult for me.  They've got credentials and I've got a pile of notebooks and a laptop full of ideas, outlines, and stories that have never seen the light of day.

So my question, oh people of the Internet, is this: does a writer need to stick to one genre, or is genre hopping considered acceptable?  For me, I think I'll stick with what I know, and maybe eventually I'll find my place in this great big world of storytelling.


  1. My guess is writers who read widely (different genres) have lots of different ideas floating around. I know I do, but I seem to prefer my fantasy/scifi ideas.

    I think this is one of the fun parts of being undiscovered. You don't have to worry about marketing or becoming a brand, just write whatever you want to write.

    But I hear from internet buzz that once you get published agents/editors like you to write the same genre to form a solid fan base. Of course if you become the next J.K. Rowling, you could probably publish your grocery shopping list and sell a million copies. :)

    1. I've kind of got the same feeling about publishers wanting you to stick within a genre. That's why I get a little panicky about not knowing which one to go with. But you're right. This is the perfect time to experiment and figure out what I like best.

  2. I agree with MaryAnn. Write whatever story gets you buzzing, and if need be, use a pen name.

    Great post!

  3. I love to find out my favorite authors have jumped genres. But I agree that eventually you'll have to get a fan base in one of them. Until then, have fun. Great post, Trisha!


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