This is what a friend of mine told me over margaritas and chips. She had a wonderful nonfiction hit the stands, which did quite well and made her editor all googly-like. Her editor was so pleased that she asked what was next. My friend gushed to her editor, “I’m working on this fabulous novel!”
The editor was about as excited as finding a pregnant lemur in her purse. My friend was confused. “It’s a new book, so what’s the problem?”
I fought the urge to whack her over the head with the salt shaker. “Have you learned nothing?? The problem is that you and your publisher have worked mongo hours to promote and market your book. They have spent countless hours winning over media, hounding newspapers and magazines in the single-minded effort to increase your platform and your brand. And now you’re dumping all that to start over from scratch?” I then offered that she might want to have someone else start her car for the next few months, as editors can be an unforgiving lot.
Here’s the deal with genre-hopping and the risks you’re taking with your career.
Path of Least Resistance
The first thing you look at is what you believe can sell first. So you take the path of least resistance in order achieve your goal more quickly. For example, I have a series that’s been in my head for years. I wrote the first one eons ago (Donovan’s Paradigm). I adore those two crazy kids and their constant duel over who’s crazier, the doc who uses alternative medicine in her practice, or the doc who doesn’t. I love them so much that I have two more books outlined for them.
However, as much as I love them, I know that the fun little romantic comedy I’m noodling with is far more commercial and marketable. So I’m taking the path of least resistance by going with what I believe has a better chance of selling. However, what are the consequences if I take the hypothetical success I’ve now established with the romantic comedy and move back to my Donovan series?
Establishing Yourself – Being the Expert
Readers who would enjoy the fun romantic comedy (titled The Publisher, aptly enough) have an expectation that I’ll continue writhing romantic comedies, which the Donovan series is not.
In a word, I’d be confusing my audience…and possibly losing readers because I’ve already established myself as a writer of romantic comedy. My hypothetical agent and editor would be very displeased with me because Im a resident “expert” in all things romantic comedy-ish. When we think of John Grisham, we know he’s the established Great Yoda of legal thrillers.
You know that saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”? It’s a reference to someone who is competent with many skills but is not necessarily outstanding in any one. There are places where I see the benefit – for example, the beagle can make a mean margarita, but she’s branching out into making a very respectable chocolate martini. And her nachos aren’t too bad, either. In publishing, “Jack of all trades, master of none” is enough to make me ask the beagle for an engine grease mojito with a chaser of Drano.
Establish an Audience – Predictability
Now that I’ve established myself as an author of romantic comedy, my hypothetical editor will work to establish my audience, and all that publicity is going toward keeping me established as a writer of romantic comedy so that readers will eagerly await my next book. However, if I decide to write about the metaphysical philosophies of Zeus, my hypothetical audience will abandon me faster that the beagle polishing off a box of Twinkies.
The offshoot of this genre hop is that I’ve destroyed all sense of predictability. Romantic comedy to Zeus? I’ve lost my credibility and predictability. My hypothetical publisher knows this and probably will drop me faster than I can say, “where’s my advance?” because they will have to establish me all over again to gain a readership.
Buh Bye, Audience
So let’s say I have my initial book and Zeus. Not only did I lose my first hypothetical agent because she wouldn’t rep the Zeus book, but I had to get a new agent to sell the book, which means I have a new editor as well. The worst part is that I’ve likely lost my hypothetical audience because readers who loved my romantic comedy had zero interest in reading about the metaphysical philosophies of Zeus. So I’ve said buh bye to my core audience and must start over from scratch (and pissing off my first hypothetical agent and original hypothetical editor). Oh, the hard work I’m facing.
Sleep is Overrated
Now that I have to go after a whole new audience, I have double the workload, which means I have to dilute my focus on multiple fronts – my romantic comedy audience and my Zeus audience. It’s like the strategy of war. If you have your troops too thinly spread, it’s easier for the enemy to punch through. Meanwhile, your own forces take bigger hits because they don’t have enough concentrated power to repel attacks.
Can I do justice to my audience of readers who lapped my romantic comedy, and then leap over to my Zeus audience? There is no crossover audience, so I’m saying goodbye to sleep and any semblance of a personal life in order to pay homage to two very demanding mistresses. And it also means that I’m irritating both editors because they know I can only give partial attention, and not my whole attention.
It’s easy to see how much thought and care you need to put into your literary career. The path of least resistance can come back to bite your tushy if you your debut book isn’t a genre you want to stick with. It’s not a matter of, “Oh well, I’ll make my mark with this book, then write what I really want to.” That thinking can see you starting all over…a daunting task, considering how hard you worked with your first book.
My recommendation is to make your mark first and write in your particular genre. Get established. Once you have a strong readership, then see whether you can make a leap over to another genre. If you do decide to genre hop, then go in with your eyes wide open. You may lose your agent and your editor, and it may take a long time to find your footing, and your audience. But if you’re well known for your fantasy and have many books under your belt, you just may be able to make the leap to YA. Or Zeus.