Sunday, October 13, 2013

Being a Multi-Genre Writer

The conference is over and I'm heading home this morning!

Last night my wonderful Kensington editor, Peter Senftleben, took us out to dinner at the Chart House at the Golden Nugget. Agent Pam and David came along, too. It was excellent and very fun.

This week's topic of conversation in the bordello is Jumping Genres. It's a funny one for me, since I'm the one in this group who probably writes in the most genres. If we had Spice-Girl style nicknames, I would be Multi-Genre Ho.

Which doesn't have much of a ring to it, huh?

(Back when I was still pitching my first novels and trying to get a fiction-publishing deal, an agent told me my books fell in the cracks between genres. My ever-loving and supportive friends started calling me the Crack Ho.)

At any rate I have written and published in:

Creative Nonfiction
Literary Fiction
Magical Realism
Science Fiction
Sword & Sorcery
Fantasy Romance
Contemporary Romance
Erotic Romance
Erotic Fantasy

I'm also noodling a great idea for a kind of suspense/thriller something or other.

I kind of haven't met a genre I didn't like - they all have their seductive qualities. Really, I'll go home with any of them, as long as they treat me right.

It's not like I did this on purpose, however. In many ways, I think my "problem" is that I don't think in terms of genre. They're all just stories to me. This is possibly because there's not many books I don't enjoy - I read widely and eclectically. In my head, this becomes the kind of "soup" that Veronica and James mentioned in their posts last week.

Now, the standard advice to new writers is to concentrate on one genre, build your author brand there, and only branch out later. If ever. There are many cautionary tales of writers who stepped out of their branded genre to do something else and got slapped by readers. (Remember when Stephen King first wrote a Literary Fiction novel?)

I could never follow this advice.

And I used to feel kind of bad about it. I think that, in some ways, publishing in several genres did slow my trajectory. I don't have a author brand clearly associated with one genre.

However, looking back on my life, I see that this is very much who I am. I am Eclectic Girl. In college, I double-majored in Comparative Religious Studies and Biology - with enough credits for a theater minor. I'm not sure there's a genre I've never read. When I take those Type A vs Type B or Right Brain vs. Left Brain tests, I always get an even score of both.

This is who I am, apparently.

And now people are telling me that my brand is clear. That my stories all do have common elements, regardless of where they're shelved. Sure, I have some readers who only read my fantasy stuff and some who only read the contemporary stuff - but that's actually very cool. Something for everyone!

The topic title is an interesting choice, because it recalls the concept of "jumping genes." Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize for identifying this phenomenon, where genetic elements actually move from one sequence to another, essentially mixing things up. As far as fitness and natural selection are concerned, maximum heterogeneity (a variety of genes) is FAR more beneficial than homogeneity (genes that match). Basically it means that an individual with a lot of ability to adapt - for example, be able to change food sources - is more likely to survive than and individual with a very tight niche (think panda bears that can ONLY eat certain leaves).

After all, if you only write in one genre, what happens when that genre is no longer hot? You risk extinction as an author.

In the end, I really believe that genre is a marketing construction. It shouldn't be a straightjacket.

It's all about the story.


  1. "...I don't think in terms of genre. They're all just stories to me." Yes! Exactly. I've tried sticking to writing one genre, really I have, but I can't. I like writing different genres - suspense, mystery, speculative fiction and urban fantasy as of now, but who knows, I might have a SF novel in me or a MG fantasy or a historical. I know I'm probably screwing myself by not sticking to one thing and building a brand around it, but writing everything makes me happy.

    Now I need to get back to editing this suspense novel so I can jump into writing a new UF for NaNo. ;o)

  2. If my experience is any indicator, you're better off writing what moves you and seeing what ends up selling!