Traditional wisdom usually calls for a writer to specialize in one genre and become well known and established in that genre. They usually write in that space for some time until they finally try and branch out and do something different. Their fans protest. The author finds him/herself typecast into being a X-writer (insert the genre of your choice.) That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It sure works for Stephen King and a lot of other authors.
I don’t subscribe to this thinking.
I write because I like to write. I read books in a varied group of genres. Sure, I like science fiction, but sometimes I’m in the mood for a good true crime book or a good military history story. I started out primarily as a science fiction author with a dozen or so novels under my belt from Penguin Putnam’s ROC imprint. I bucked the trend when I wrote my first business management book (Cubicle Warfare) and my first military history book (Cruise of the Sea Eagle.) I am confident that my choices of direction gave my agent ulcers but ultimately I write the kinds of books that I like to read. In the end, I write books that I would enjoy reading – I don’t pander to the fans or try to out-think them in terms of what they want to see. Besides, no matter what, you can’t satisfy everyone.
While I acknowledge that some people may read books from only one genre; I also believe that many readers are like me – and read a wide range of books depending on their interests and tastes. I don’t want to lock myself into one genre because I have good ideas for books that are beyond that narrow focus.
There are risks with this approach. I have regular readers in each genre, so how do I get them compelled to read the books outside of that area? The short answer is, I don’t. I let my different fan communities know that I have new books out and they make the choice. In my opinion most loyal readers are not lemmings that mindlessly follow an author, blindly buying every book they crank out. Don’t get me wrong, it used to be that way. The publishing industry is changing though and fans now can explore a wide range of books. Amazon.com’s linking of books other people have purchased to the book you are reviewing is a classic example. I have found a few new books out there because of these linked suggestions. I believe that the influence of the internet, on the long term, broadens what people read.
The publishing industry and agents try to force you, as a writer, into a niche. They have a 1950’s view of readers that does not match how book purchasing, reading, and publishing are changing. This is why the publishing industry is reeling so heavily under the influence of Amazon.com. Trust me, in three years, the industry is going to be a very different place…and better as a result.
For me, I can be at my creative best when I write what I feel like writing. If that means I want to do some short stories for Battlecorps.com or for Leviathans, I do them. I don’t need to worry if I am isolating my fan community. Those fans that like my books who are interested in the new genres, will buy the books. Those that don’t will wait for me to crank out another BattleTech/MechWarrior novel.
Do I have plans to branch out into other genres? Of course. I have a Steampunk idea that I really love that I think will be a great set of novels, for example. I have a neat Fantasy series I’ve been mulling around for years too. For the most part, my next few books will simply enlarge my fan bases out there in the genres I already write for.
So, if you are an author out there, don’t hesitate to write what you want to. Don’t buy the hype from the “publishing experts.” Do what you feel best. For you fans out there, what are your thoughts? Post your comments up on this blog and let me know. Do you read more than one genre? Do you automatically purchase books from one author no matter what?