“I wrote this book, but I wanna write that book…”
This was the gist of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who wrote a nonfiction book. It sold pretty well, and she was getting ready to drop the bomb on her editor and agent that she was going to write fiction – her first love. I can’t say as I blame her because I love writing fiction. It’s a marvelous place where I can let my imagination run wild and make up people and plots ’til the cows come home – or the beagle runs out of tequila and limes.
I wasn’t too sure how her agent and editor would greet this news because they all worked so hard to establish her readership, which is a specialized population with specific issues. I know how I’d react if I were her editor. I’d scream and carefully eye the bottle of Jim Beam because I would expect her to write another couple books in this same arena in order to solidify her readership and become a leading authority on her given topic. News that she now wants to write a horse story would make my brain explode.
Genre Interruptus isn’t about just her. It means that she’s abandoning all the hard work everyone put in to establish her readership and exposure to the marketplace, all because she wants to move on to “greener pastures.” The question is, is it really greener? From an agent’s or editor’s perspective, she hasn’t fully established her footprint in the reading public’s eye, so she will be starting over from scratch in gaining a readership. It’s unlikely her new readers of her nonfiction will follow her into FictionLand because they bought her first book for a specific reason.
And this will make her agent faint and her editor suck the tailpipe of a Ford Camero.
John Grisham was an internationally known author with a boatload of lawyer books under his belt before he crossed the road to write YA. He can pull off Genre Interruptus because he has millions of fans who will follow him into the Gates of Hell.
What kind of pull do you have with your one book?
For my friend, the answer was, “not much.” Her agent wasn’t supportive of her fiction idea and declined to represent her book. Her editor was of the same opinion.
Let’s face it, starting over is hard because audience may not follow you – especially if you’re going from nonfiction to fiction, or vice versa. Committing Genre Interruptus means that you need to have a strong promotion plan because there’s a risk you’ll lose the support of your agent and editor.
I sympathize with my friend’s desire to write in a different genre, but I also understand the headaches of the other side of the desk. I know what it’s like to push an author’s platform and aid them in gaining a readership only to tell me they want to write fiction. The bottom of my heart falls out to the floor when I think of all the hard work that went into their book, and how none of it will probably make a difference if they change genres.
Plan Your Career
It’s imperative to plan your writing career so you don’t disappoint yourself and those who have worked long and hard to make you a success. My friend thought that by writing her nonfiction she was establishing her audience. She found out that what she was establishing was her publishing credit.
Of course, we all love a publishing credit because it establishes a verifiable track record. However, if you wrote a fantasy and you’re querying me with a book that deals with Death and Coping, I know we have to establish a whole new readership. This means that new book better be amazing.
So plan your career carefully and intentionally, and consider how others within the industry will view your Genre Interruptus.