Writing in Multiple Genres

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

One of the most common questions I receive is: Can I write books in more than one genre?

Well, sure, you can write whatever you want!

Can I write books in multiple genres and expect to build a successful publishing career?

Maybe not.

A lot of people have asked me this question, and they don’t understand my answer. Hey, they can write historicals, suspense, and fantasy. Why wouldn’t I be ecstatic about a multi-talented author who can do it all??

This is a marketing issue, first and foremost. If you want to publish books, attract a loyal readership, and have long-term success as an author, then you’ll need to pick a genre, do it well, and keep doing it over and over. Simple as that. All the arguing in the world and all the talent in the world is not going to change this reality.

You want to specialize, because a publisher can’t afford to try and reach a whole new audience with every single book. If your first book is a historical romance and 25,000 people buy it and love it, you now have 25,000 historical romance readers eager for another book from you. If your second book is a contemporary suspense, you completely give up the audience you’ve already built (leaving them hanging, by the way) and you have to build a new audience from the ground up. How much sense does that make?

It’s not usually feasible, especially in today’s competitive market, to try and be a jack of all trades. You can’t reinvent the wheel every time out.

Choose the thing you enjoy most and do it the best you can.

I know, it’s frustrating to be “pigeonholed” into one genre. You feel like the marketplace wants to limit you. They’re holding you down, keeping you in a box. The world wants to put artificial constraints on the heights to which you can soar.

I recommend you avoid thinking of it as pigeonholing. I doubt LeBron James feels pigeonholed into “just basketball.” I don’t hear Stephen King bemoaning that no one wants to read an Amish romance from him. They’re not pigeonholed, they’re specialists.

Even if you’re thinking about variations of a genre (romantic suspense, romantic comedy, etc.) it’s best to keep your main goal in mind: sell books. What’s your best chance of selling the most books? How do you build yourself a loyal readership? Specialize. Create an expectation in the reader, then fulfill that expectation. If your first book is romantic suspense, plan on doing that for awhile. Once you’ve proven yourself a success, you may have leeway to branch out.

Many self-published authors build careers writing books in several genres, but it works a little differently. They’re typically offering books at lower price-points ($4.99 or less) and they’re publishing several books per year. They often write under different pen names for each genre. They don’t have a publisher’s help with marketing, but they also have low overhead, so they can afford to do a lot of experimenting. It’s different when you’re an indie-publisher.

Some authors write both fiction and non-fiction. If you want to do this, understand that you’ll be working to build two different audiences simultaneously. There may be some crossover, but you can’t count on it.

How much time, energy, and money do you have to devote to marketing? Most authors find it challenging to promote a book in one category, let alone two. Make your decision with the full knowledge that you’ll be doing twice the promotional work if you’re publishing in two categories. This kind of writing life is best done when you don’t have kids at home, or a day job.

Writing in more than one genre or category means you’re also diluting your ability to focus. Are you able to study and improve the craft of fiction at the same time as learning the particulars of writing a great memoir? Just something to think about.

Of course, there’s something to be said for experimenting. You may want to try writing books in several genres that interest you. But whichever one is the first to sell to a traditional publisher—that’s the genre you’ll want to stick with for the first few books.

Have you found it challenging to focus on one genre?



Photo by Baher Khairy on Unsplash

24 Responses

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  1. Alex Garfield says:

    Absolutely. Like most college classes, it was focused on short, literary fiction stories, and I continued writing in that. But after taking a couple months off, I decided it would be completely fun to get back into my YA series I’ve been working on since I was in high school. It’s good to take a break and get some perspective – Listening to your heart on what you should do next. And now, I just love my characters and what I’m writing now.

  2. I dreamt a literary smorgasbord
    of groaning tables, abundant life
    of genres; and I’d be for the Lord
    His literary Swiss Army Knife.
    But reality’s strong and silken cord
    stayed my hands, showed me days rife
    with heartache would be sole reward
    for marching to my personal fife
    and drum, a lonely walk toward
    dissolution, the failure of my brand;
    but writing one genre just seems bland!

  3. I’m working in two related genres: non-fiction Christian life books and Bible studies. The unifying element is my easy-reading style–adult thoughts at a 4th-5th grade reading level. About half of adult Americans read below the high-school level, and lots of Christians think the Bible is too hard (we have a few of those in my church). That notion is stifling their spiritual growth. My goal is their ah-ha moment, “I can do this! With God’s help, I can.”

    • I love simple writing … I think it’s beautiful and for everyone. I don’t like when I stumble across a word that I don’t know, that isn’t used in everyday life. Sure, I’m learning a new word when I have to go to dictionary.com to know what it means, and I really do love looking up words like that. I enjoy learning. But I’m also thrown out of the story, when I’m reading fiction. 🙂

    • I love that you do this Shirlee! You are so right on reading levels of adult Americans.There is such a need to help people become biblically literate, and knowledgeable about God’s Word because as scripture says, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.”

  4. This has been looping in my head for the last hour, so now I’ll inflict it on…uh, share it with y’all.
    * There once was a writer from Dover
    who did one genre over and over.
    His agent he’d thank
    on his way to the bank,
    for advice that put him in the clover.

  5. Katie Powner says:

    As much as it pains me to say it, this makes so much sense. Thinking about it in terms of specializing instead of pigeonholing is great advice, and your final sentence makes me want to be very careful about which book I choose to seek publication for first. It better be in a genre I love!

  6. I’ve experimented seriously with two different genres and enjoyed both. But,I think I know which one best suits my voice and story ideas, and that’s where I’m focusing for now. I actually find it comforting to focus on really mastering one genre. It makes sense to do this to build a readership.

  7. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Thank you, Rachelle. The perspective of specialist rather than pigeonholed is helpful. Yours is the clearest explanation of this I’ve heard. And makes it easier to think of the books in different genres as experiments rather than losses. Here’s to freedom in knowing the truth!

  8. Sherry Kyle says:

    I am published in multiple genres, and I can attest to how difficult it is. Years ago when the children’s market wasn’t doing so well, I asked an agent if I should try my hand at novel writing. She told me emphatically, “Yes, you should.” And so I did. I struggled over picking one genre for years. My last six contracts have been for children’s books. Hmm. I wonder if God is making it quite clear. haha My problem is that I hold onto things too tightly. And I like change.

  9. Rachelle, thank-you for this post! I needed this information. You were so forthright and clear.It really hit the nail on the head for me. I am so glad that I have been writing what I have been recently because it seems to fit me in so many ways. I could write other genres, and am not totally taking them from possibility in the future, but for now and maybe always, what I’m doing is in my heart, and in the marketing plan on my current proposal.

  10. I can’t help but think authors like diversity and new challenges, that’s part of their creative side. I do find it a bit tedious and boring to stay focused on writing in one genre. However, I can expand and dig deep within the genre. Then the creativity returns. It all makes sense from a business perspective. Your point is a practical, sensible, and realistic. Some can pull it off; thinking of C.S. Lewis at the moment.

  11. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    This is always a tough part to deal with; but I realize the Word tells me to do what I should rather than what I want to do. So, instead of getting muddled with specifics of a question, I realize I’ve already been given the answer–to give that which will benefit the most people.