Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office, CA
So what’s another thing your agent does not want to hear?
“I know I’ve been writing [my genre] for some time now, but I’m dying to try my hand at [a totally different genre].”
Writers are creative people. It stands to reason that writing in the same genre or on the same subject can get old. But for an agent, finding out that a client wants to change genres or experiment with a new approach, it’s not news we want to hear.
Why is that?
Developing a reading audience is one of the most important things a writer does to insure success. If that audience grows with each book, the authors sales are going to grow. It’s that simple. I tell my clients it’s much like starting a business.
Let me draw you a parallel. Let’s say you have a thriving hardware store in a farming town. You work hard to stock all the things your customer needs. You maintain a list of your customers and you let them know when the seed comes in for vegetable gardens and when hoses go on sale. You deliver, you keep in touch and your customers are loyal because they know what they’ll get at your store.
Now let’s say you start to get tired of hardware. You took a pastry course in your spare time and so you decide to follow your passion. At first you install a bakery case in the front of the hardware store. Most of your customers are confused. Farmer in overalls don’t seem to want petit fours or designer cupcakes. Hardware sales drop 10% but you’re sure you’ll make that up with the bakery. Baking takes up a good part of your time and unfortunately, ordering suffers. When old customers come in and can’t find what they need, business drops off again.
You see the writing on the wall. You need the hardware business to fund your life while you try to get the bakery going. You move the bakery out of the hardware store and into it’s own building. Now it’s not so confusing because you realized that you have two completely different businesses with two completely different customer bases. Trouble is, you don’t have enough time, energy and money to service both businesses.
So what does this have to do with writing?
If you’ve been writing historical suspense, that’s your thriving hardware store, so to speak. Your readers know what to expect when they see your name on a book. They’ve come to expect a certain quality from you– a certain kind of read that they love. If you’ve decided to try your hand at, say, contemporary women’s fiction your readers are going to be confused. Some will even be angry that they bought a book thinking it was one thing but got something totally different. You’ll come to realize that the bulk of your readers will not follow you wherever your creativity takes you. They like a certain kind of book. They have expectations. They don’t want you to write like Jodi Picoult. If they want Jodi Picoult, they’ll buy Jodi Piccoult. They want you to write like you. The you they’ve come to expect.
So if you want to branch out, you realize you may have to continue to satisfy your old audience with what they expect– they are your bread and butter after all. You need to start a new brand, maybe even with a pseudonym, to reduce confusion. You’ll have to start all over and build your new readership from the ground up. Now you have two businesses, so to speak. The question is, do you have enough time to satisfy your core customer while building a new business. Can you write enough books to satisfy both audiences? Will there be enough money to promote to two different audiences?
Agents hate to hear that a writer wants to change his “brand” because it assumes things that rarely happen. It assumes the reader will follow the writer wherever the muse happens to take him. This is not necessarily true– think legal thriller writer John Grisham and his quiet coming-of-age-story A Painted House. Think Anne Rice and her move away from vampires.
And wanting to write it all– even if we can– displays a strange kind of hubris. It’s like you are saying you are all any reader needs. “You like mystery? I’ll give you mystery. You want a tender memoir. I can do that. You want literary fiction. That’s me. You want a book on how to save your marriage? Let me get right on that.”
So, yes, there can be compelling reasons to change from a successful genre, but don’t do it lightly. It’s like closing one established business and reentering start-up phase.
Experimentation is for the early years, the pre-published years. Find your voice, find your genre or subject and then build. If you veer off course once you’ve built, it’s gonna cost you. Sometimes the cost is way beyond anything we imagined.