Recently I read a blogpost by a new writer bristling with pride because she wrote both nonfiction and fiction in about five different genres. She thought she was protecting herself and her career in case one genre tanked. This approach can be very tempting, and it appears to make sense on the surface, but something about it nagged at me.
Writing isn’t about playing it safe, but neither is it one size fits all.
So should you put all your writing eggs in one basket?
Every storyteller answers this question for herself, but consider the following:
1. It’s very easy to spread yourself too thin. Promotion has largely become the responsibility of the author. So the more subgenres you have to promote yourself in, the thinner your resources will be spread. Be brutally realistic about the time and energy needed for multiple Facebook and website pages, reader loops and reviewer blogs. Maintaining a presence on all of them takes more time than you think, and cramming them all together under one name creates a website that is confusing and unappealing. Plus, the necessary research to work intelligently in multiple genres takes away time from actual word count–even if you’re fast and disciplined. So keeping enough product in multiple pipelines may be unrealistic for most of us with day jobs and moderate writing speeds.
2. Why you want to write in multiple subgenres matters. If you’re chasing trends or doing it mostly out of fear that the subgenre you really love isn’t in favor now, you’ll have an uphill battle getting your muse on board with writing that post-apocalyptic YA novel–even when they’re the current hot trend. And lack of enthusiasm always shows. If you don’t love it, don’t write it. Cross pollination is another of those bright idea fairies that doesn’t translate for readers. Most genre readers are conservative. They like what they like. The more thinly you’ve spread yourself, the fainter your impression will be. Ask yourself this: how often have you checked an author’s backlist looking for something completely different from what you’ve just read? Never? Me either. I look for books that are similar, and I love finding an author with a deep backlist of the same kind story I just read and enjoyed. I love nestling in for a good glom. Build something readers can love.
3. Timing is everything. Blind adherence to a set of rules is as limiting as leaping at every shiny opportunity you see. Just because you chose to build a deep, coherent body of work doesn’t mean you won’t evolve as a writer. Once you have that base, branching out makes more sense.
4. Playing it safe is an illusion. What are your strengths? What do you stand for as a writer? Who are you? These may seem like irrelevant questions, but what you’re really selling isn’t books but yourself. And there is no safe or easy way around that. Your unique point of view, your voice is what makes you stand out among the thousands of voices crying for readers’ attention. Don’t water down that precious gift by spritzing a few drops here and there. Pour a river of you into the kind of stories that set your inner tuning fork humming. Concentrate your efforts on writing books that come from your soul and let the eggshells fall where they may.