Thursday, April 21, 2011

Writing Other Genres

I’ve noticed a school of thought among writers that agents are excited about having jack-of-all-trade authors in their stables—who can write a variety of material in different genres. It would mean the writer is more salable, right?

From what I’ve heard from other writers, this isn’t usually the point of view of their agents. I’m not speaking from personal experience because I’m only interested in writing traditional mysteries for the foreseeable future.

But I’ve heard that agents prefer it when writers specialize in a genre.

I think this is because you’re easier to brand as a writer to editors that the agent might know. I’m pretty sure that my agent is branding me to editors as someone who writes traditional mysteries with Southern settings. It definitely makes it easier for me to get work. If someone wants a series that fits my profile, they know they can contact my agent about it.

When a writer writes several different genres (not genre-blending, but different genres for different books), I think it muddies the waters a little, in the agent’s eyes. Now they need to brand you several different ways to their contacts. Maybe they need to develop new editorial contacts in areas where they haven’t before.

I know that if I suddenly decided that I wanted to write children’s picture books, I would need to find another agent for those books. My agent doesn’t handle that—she says so on her site. I would be asking her to make totally new relationships with people in an area she doesn’t plan on working in. Besides, I would want an agent that specializes in those types of books and has contacts in that genre, anyway.

If I were to switch genres, I’d almost definitely do it under a pseudonym. That’s because I wouldn’t want my mystery reading base accidentally buy books that are a totally different genre—possibly one they don’t even read. That would be a good way to lose some readers.

Writing under a pen name basically means starting over with a fresh platform…getting that name known on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. You’d have to work to tie in your pen name to your real name (that’s already branded.) I’ve done this and it does take a lot of extra energy.

Agent Wendy Lawton wrote a great post some time ago on the Books and Such blog about switching genres. She points out that most of a writer’s dedicated readers don’t want to follow along into new writing ventures. She states:

They have expectations. They don’t want you to write like Jodi Picoult. If they want Jodi Picoult, they’ll buy Jodi Piccoult. They want you to write like you.

Another point that Wendy Lawton makes (that I hadn’t really thought of) is this:

And wanting to write it all– even if we can– displays a strange kind of hubris. It’s like you are saying you are all any reader needs. “You like mystery? I’ll give you mystery. You want a tender memoir. I can do that. You want literary fiction. That’s me. You want a book on how to save your marriage? Let me get right on that.”

All that being said—I’m likely going to branch into other genres at some point. I’d like to have another 25 years in this business and at some point I’m going to be interested in trying other things. I’ve already decided that when that day comes, I’ll probably have to query an agent for that particular genre and also write under a different name.

In the meantime, I’ll write magazine articles, poetry, and the occasional short story to just shake things up a little bit.

Are you a writer who writes different genres? How are you approaching representation and promotion?