I’m often astounded at how questions about writing to me cluster. In the last week or so, I’ve received such a cluster of questions on writers switching genres. Since this was a rather large cluster, I decided to blog on the subject and to expand the answers to include sharing random thoughts.
Often writers chase the market. It’s rarely, if ever, a good idea. Every writer has specific strengths, and the career writer recognizes that and writes to them, aspiring to create excellent versus mediocre works.
So my first thought on switching genres relates to the individual writer’s flexibility. It’s hard to back off your work enough to see it objectively. But the writer really has to make the effort and determine his/her strengths, author theme, and personal tastes.
Does the new genre enhance the writer’s strengths?
If your strength is, say, comedy, it’s broad enough to fit comfortably into various genres. If your strength is suspense, that too opens the writer to many genre options. But if your strength is writing male/female relationship stories, then the best possible genre to showcase your work is evident.
Look at your work and determine your strength. Then determine if the new genre embraces those strengths. Not just tolerates, but embraces. Maximum strength to maximum potential–that’s the goal. So that what the writer is best at is what is most important to the genre.
Why link your strengths to a weak area? See what I mean? Strong + Strong = Powerhouse. Don’t settle for less when here you can shine.
Every author has one. If you’re not familiar with the term or frame of reference, there’s an article on it in my web site library and I urge you to read it. If I’d identified mine earlier, it would have saved me a lot challenges.
Anyway, any time an author writes outside his/her theme, the storytelling aspect of the work suffers. So it’s critical that the author identify his/her theme and respect it. In the case of switching genres, that raises the question ….
Is the new genre one that embraces your author theme? Are the types of stories typically found in the new genre the types of stories that come naturally to the writer at thematic level? If so, great. If not, then explore other genres. Why? Because if you’re writing stories that don’t fall naturally into your author theme, you are deliberately closing the door on writing your best work.
This isn’t something that being flexible will correct. The flaws that are injected into the work for that genre are ones that come from nebulous places in a writer on things like perspective, value judgments, analytical thinking. Those are intricate processes that occur within the author long before they manifest in the form of novel elements like plot, character, motivations on the page. In this area, an author cannot fake it until they make it. Because making it isn’t the objective. Being it–the stories coming naturally, as second nature–is the objective. This is the seat of “to thine own self be true.”
As soon as you get into the book, you’re going to be true to yourself. It’s like breathing. So you really have to make sure that this new genre embraces you through your author theme. To fight it is to fight you. And nothing kills creativity like a forced story in which the author lacks total faith and commitment.
If you love the new genre, great. If you don’t, don’t bother trying to write in it.
Sounds pretty bald, stated that way, but it’s just cutting through the clutter. If you’re switching genres to sell, that’s the wrong reason, and it negates your odds of selling to it, as well. If you’re switching genres because the novels in the new genre captivate you, you feel as if your storyteller has come home, then you’re on the right track and doing this for the right reason.
That right reason is significant. It gives you the discipline to write and the desire to write well. It motivates you to not settle for anything less than your best. And all those things greatly increase your odds of selling.
Over the years, I’ve often heard writers say that they can write anything, so they just go after what’s selling. They’re chasing the market. A few–very few–have been successful. Most have not. Why?
Because storytelling is about creating magic, and to create magic you must feel it. If you don’t feel it, it shows in the work. And translated, that means no sale. You can’t fake it; the truth comes through in the work in thousands of little ways. So it’s best to just accept it and invest your time–your time is your life, so be picky how you spend it–in stories where you do feel the magic.
Think about it. Would you really want to spend years writing about things that are not to your personal taste? Stories you don’t like to read?
I’ve written in many genres and straight mainstream. And these things mentioned above are, I believe, key factors in making a decision on this.
There are other considerations, too. Your reader base, for one. Some will follow you to the new genre, some won’t. You’ll lose some readers and gain some new ones. You’ll increase the odds of bringing more readers with you if you can write several transition books to help bridge the gap. Sometimes that is possible, sometimes it is not. But if you can swing it, that’s a wise course of action.
Flexibility is vastly important in writing to sell. Everything changes and we either change with it or stagnate. But it’s important not to get to a place mentally where you are chasing the market. It’s usually obsolete by the time you catch it, and it doesn’t do a thing to fulfill your purpose of writing books that only you can write.
I believe writers are called to serve, and the form of service is through the work. That nets purpose-driven work and the potential for contentment–in living a life well spent for the writer.
If you feel driven to switch genres, then do. But do so not on emotion, not on a whim, and not because you’ve come upon a challenge and wish to switch rather than fight. Switch if purpose is driving you to switch. Do so with your head and your heart, and make sure that you’re switching to a genre where you are unleashing restraints that bind your potential. If you are, then hack through that which binds you, and soar.
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