Writers, especially inexperienced and unpublished writers, are usually advised to master writing in one genre at a time, and this is generally good advice. When you’re still learning your craft, it pays to focus on one thing at a time.
Less often, new writers are advised to experiment in several different genres to discover their strong points. For some, this exploration is a worthwhile learning experience.
The question of genre loyalty is the subject of some debate, but it seems to boil down to personal preference. Many writers prefer to establish themselves in a particular genre. It may be their area of strength, their greatest love, or a combination of the two.
If you love horror and read horror exclusively, why not stick to writing horror if you’re good at it? If you don’t enjoy reading science fiction, why would you want to write it? Some writers stick to one genre out of fear of the unfamiliar, while others simply have limited writing time and prefer to concentrate on one style.
It is not at all unusual for more experienced authors to write in more than one genre, despite being advised against it. Writers who want to be published write for a specific market—they adhere to the context, audience, and purpose of the genre they’ve chosen, and if they don’t write for the market, their work won’t sell. When the popularity of one market cools, these authors are prepared to write for the next hot market. They’re adaptable, with a good business sense.
Writers cross genres for many reasons. Some follow the trends and write for the market. Some seek the exposure. Others skip over into other genres simply out of boredom or a desire to stay fresh. They feel limited by their genre and seek to break out of their comfort zone. And still others simply enjoy writing in a variety of styles.
Sometimes authors write in multiple genres within a single piece of work—they may combine elements of a mystery with those of a historical romance, for example, and this overlap, if skillfully done, can be very successful. And many of the defining lines of genres have blurred in recent years, giving writers greater freedom than ever before. One of the most obvious examples of this is the latest trend, blending mystery with romance.
Many authors adopt pen names to suit their different styles. Perhaps the paranormal writer doesn’t want his books to be associated with his Westerns and so pens them under different names. The author who writes both torrid romances and young adult fiction doesn’t want her two audiences to overlap, so she uses a pseudonym.
The industry seems to prefer authors who stay within their defined genres—an established science-fiction writer who veers off course and produces a chick-lit novel will likely be pressured by his agent or publisher to stick with science fiction. But there are agents out there who are willing to represent multi-genre authors, and it is not always necessary to have multiple agents for multiple genres.
As the lines between genres blur, so will the number of multi-genre agents increase. An established author who can show that she can sell in more than one market will have an easier time finding an appropriate literary agent, and she’ll likely be shown more leeway. Unpublished writers, however, should steer clear of this altogether, and pitch one story at a time.
More information on creative writing genres:
If you’re considering crossing the great genre divide, read widely in the genres you love, and create a unique voice for each. If you’re a playwright, try your hand at poetry, or experiment with short fiction if your novel is complete (or stalled). Play around and discover fresh talent within yourself. If you’re proficient in multiple genres, find an agent who will represent you no matter what you write. And scoff if you must at the advice of those who refuse to cross that line: sometimes the stories just come, genre be damned!
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