Friday, May 18, 2012

Breaking Out of your Genre

One of the best things about being an author is that you get to create worlds, people, places, and scenarios that wouldn’t otherwise exist. It doesn’t matter if you write literary fiction, horror, romance, fantasy, YA or any sub genre of these; the fact remains that you are the creator of stories.

But what happens when you decide to try a new genre, to tell a new style of story? What if you love to write in the YA world, but then want to take a stab at writing horror?

Breaking out of a genre that you have placed yourself in can be exciting, terrifying, liberating and more important than all of those, a HUGE learning curve.

For me, I’ve always written somewhere in the fantasy genre. Urban, epic, dabbled in horror. But lately, my muse has been feeding me other stories, ones that I’m excited to try. *Gulp* Contemporary romance is not something I EVER thought I’d be interested in writing, and yet, I have three plots penned, and am pumped to get started in this new genre. Already, I am learning what to do, and what not to do. So if your muse is doing like mine, and spinning new tales in new genres for you, then read on!

1.       First and foremost, only switch genres if your muse/creativity is taking you that way. The ONLY reason I’m looking at writing a contemporary romance is because my muse is almost SCREAMING at me. The stories won’t leave my head, so I know that I have to write them. Don’t force yourself to switch genres. If it isn’t for you, then it isn’t for you and that’s okay. ***

2.       Now, you’ve written something no one saw coming. Brace yourself, not ALL of your fans will go for the new book. Some will follow for sure, but many readers will only read an author’s work if it stays within the readers expectations. A perfect example of this is my two series. My zombie-ish series has a great following and good rankings on Amazon. However, my second series, The Celtic Legacy which is more urban fantasy and less horror, has not seen the numbers that my horror series has. My horror fans just don’t go for the fantasy. I have to promote these two books separately. Once caveat to this is that if your write romance (of any style) you have the best chance of bringing your readers with you to a new genre. Studies have shown that romance readers are amongst the most loyal and will follow a favorite author just about anywhere.

3.       If you don’t currently read much in the new genre you want to dabble in, take some time, read a few bestsellers before diving into the deep end. The best way to irritate new readers is for them to see that you don’t understand the genre, and you aren’t meeting their expectations. This of course does not mean you can’t put your own twist on things, but you need to remember that most genres have a formula. Learn it, THEN twist it to your own uses.

4.       Be prepared to start marketing from scratch. Even if you have a MASSIVE fan base, you need to treat the new genre as if you are a debut author. You will be reaching a new group of readers who have otherwise never heard of you. So start your marketing early, and promote that new book to the masses!

Of course, there are some very lovely perks that come with crossing into a new genre. You WILL find new fans that will scope out your other works. You will learn a ton about your writing style, and you will ultimately become a better writer for stretching yourself. For those reasons alone, I’m looking forward to breaking into a new genre.

***I would encourage you to try a genre that isn’t your usual fare. Not necessarily to publish, but to train those writing muscles.  It’s a good exercise and one that I think all authors should use from time to time. You might just surprise yourself. ;p


Jim said...

Very interesting blog, Shannon. And you make some valid points. I think that the idea that stories are screaming to be written means that you write them.
After that it doesn’t matter if they are “successful” in the marketplace. They very well may be, but the writing is the thing.
I agree that forcing a switch in genres is a bad idea.
As to point number 4, you may get a lot of your readers taking a look at the new stories out of curiosity, but yes, I think you do have to re-brand yourself in the new genre. And that may not be too big a job, depending on the genre-jump.
In my opinion, the shift from romance to anything else may not be that huge. Going from big-city-present-day romance to old time westerns can be handled easily if there is a love interest in the story. Romantic love is a cross-genre concept and can give you a head start.

Shelley Munro said...

As a reader I always read widely in different genres. When I started writing it seemed natural to follow my muse wherever it led me. Looking back, I wouldn't recommend this method but it has kept me from getting bored. I like a challenge and writing different genres provides this for me.

Annikka Woods said...

I write high fantasy mostly. I've got a bunch of stories to tell about the world I've created. But I've also got two sci fi series I want to write, a series that I'm not sure if it counts as UF or Para Rom, and some vague ideas about Regency romances. I'm focused on the fantasy right now, but I intend to write all my stories. Whether there will be people to read them or not is another thing altogether.

MJKane said...

Great advice!

My first attempt at writing ended with a story that was between YA and Romance. I didn't want to conform to the rules of YA to tell romance is currently my home. Though I do have a short story with the potential for a novel, a YA interracial story that is a murder/mystery/suspense sitting in my file. I want to work on it some more, but like you said, you gotta follow your muse. Right now my muse has me working on The Butterfly Memoirs series which so far is 6 books with the potential to be more. Every now and then, my YA character comes to mind, but never long enough for me to pick up pen and paper. I gotta get my my first book out first, ride the wave and then, and only then, if my young muse resurfaces and offers me another challenge...I'll go for it!

Shannon said...

Thanks Jim, Shelley, Annikka and MJ. :-) I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. It doesn't hurt that you all agree with me ;p