[This is a golden oldie—it ran on Indies Unlimited back on October 11, 2011.]
I guess that’s what it’s called—genre hopping—when a writer doesn’t stick to one single category. Apparently we’re not supposed to do this. I can’t refer to the exact blog posts or writerly advice articles that caution against it, but they seem quite adamant that as you build your platform and bolster your brand, you will confuse people if you don’t stick to one aisle of the virtual bookstore.
Now, I don’t pretend to be anything other than an indie author with one book out and a number of others in the pipeline, and am no sort of expert on the inner-workings of the publishing industry. Nor do I have any pretense of being either media savvy or adept at anything technological other than banging out a yarn on my keyboard.
I’m an author—not an authority.
But in these heady times while indie authors are enjoying opportunities via a virtual renaissance in reading and book buying, e-publishing, Kindle vs. Nook wars, and author empowerment, who is to say what ought to be done?
We sail on un-charted waters. We make up the rules as we go along and break them at need. We hit the ‘publish’ button, cross our fingers, and wait to see what will happen. Will the romance go over better than the murder mystery or the vampire coming-of-age novel?
What’s wrong with writing a thriller with a bit of romance tucked inside that’s set in a small town, then offering an action-adventure thriller with a strong sci-fi arc, then putting out a genuine whodunit mystery, followed by something geared toward the YA crowd?
I suppose, if you look to traditional publishers and the NYT bestseller list and the authors that perennially appear there, a guy like me might be making a BIG mistake, since the scenario I just presented is what my life is going to be like over the next few months (with hopefully a bit of actual writing tossed in).
John Sandford’s Prey series features 21 thrillers and counting. His new hero, Virgil Flowers, already has 4 books with good old Virgil in the lead role, and it’s joined at the hip to the Prey series and the Lucas Davenport character. John Sandford is a wealthy man. He doesn’t stray from his genre.
Vince Flynn and his Mitch Rapp character have an even dozen novels out there in series. Mr. Flynn is also doing all right for himself. Add Robert Crais, Randy Wayne White, Michael Connelly, and Clive Cussler to the mix. Every one of them is hugely successful and tremendously genre-loyal.
Like I said, I might be making a BIG mistake here…but it’s MY mistake to make. And at the end of the day, it might very well not be a mistake at all.
Here’s the deal: At this point I have no idea what’s going to work as far as my writing is concerned as far as sales are concerned. I’m not even sure what to spend my precious writing time on for my next project.
Why? Because my readers haven’t had the chance to tell me yet!
Ferris’ Bluff is a pretty good book. It hits a lot of marks—it’s guy friendly with all the action and gunplay, gal friendly in that not only is there a nifty sly romance woven into it, it’s also got a strong sympathetic male lead character women will like. That’s great! I’m selling a few copies! Life is good!
But it’s not the only story I have to share…and the other stories and characters and situations banging around in my head and (very important!) in inventory, need to and will be offered up as time and resources permit. Each one is very different than Ferris’ Bluff, and each one is similar.
I’m not the only writer who has recently decided to embrace the e-book revolution that has spent many years writing and querying and wondering what might catch someone’s eye. I’m not the only one out there with ‘inventory’, and my inventory isn’t in one narrow genre because I spent a number of years trying different things in hopes something would catch on.
If this sounds like you and your writing experience it’s a good thing, in my opinion. It’s a pragmatic approach. Find out what works. Experiment. Stretch boundaries. Get weird or a little freaky. That’s what writers do. And with e-books gaining in popularity, we can easily and economically get them out there for others to read and evaluate and comment on.
And what I think will happen with many of us is that once our readers have the opportunity to let us know—either through reviews or notes on our websites or through Twitter or on Facebook or speak to us ,most loudly, with their hard-earned precious book buying dollars—and tell us what they like best…well…that’s how series are born nowadays!
And once each of us finds what works we should expand on it, enlarge it and exploit the hell out of it. But until we find that niche and settle into a comfortable and hopefully profitable genre, I think we might have to hop about the aisles looking for it and hopefully, have a bit of fun in the process.