Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One Way Novelists Have it Easy

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

MWIM1I don’t watch much television, but I’ve always been interested in bios and documentaries on writers, musicians, and visual and performance artists.

So I was watching, with interest, a show called Metal Evolution on a music cable station (I know…but I was in high school when metal was big. :) ) Metallica had been a thrash band before coming out with the Black Album which had a more commercial, radio-friendly sound. It made a lot of their fans upset. But it brought them a lot of new fans…and some of those new fans became interested in metal because of it.

Ozzy Osbourne’s picture used to scare me to death as a kid in the 70s. The other kids in my elementary school would whisper about various gross things he’d done at concerts. He looked like the kind of monster I’d worry was in my closet at night. Then, in the late-80s, Ozzy had a chart-topping hit, Close My Eyes Forever, a ballad. Did it mean that I checked out more of Ozzy’s music after that? Sure it did. Were his fans upset that he’d sold out? Absolutely.

There are many examples of singers and songwriters who have wanted to explore new areas with their art (sometimes for commercial reasons, sometimes just to keep challenged.) Sometimes it works out and the artist has a crossover hit. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work at all.

The problem for recording artists is that they can’t (well, I guess they could, but it would be harder) record something completely different from their norm and have it be an anonymous effort. Their image is too closely woven into promo. They have to just put it out there and wait and see what their fan reaction turns out to be.

Not so for writers.

A writer who wants to try something completely different and expand a little? It’s easy. You just choose another name, create another online identity and promote under it. Maybe you want to write something more commercial. Maybe something more literary. Maybe you’ve gotten bored with what you’re writing and want more of a challenge. If you wanted, you could publish something fairly anonymously.

There are a few different ways for a published writer to approach a change of genre:

Pen name—This is least risky, I think.

For instance, right now I’ve got six cozy mysteries for sale and one upcoming release in June. They’re all the same subgenre of mystery. I’ve got the same type of style and voice, similar settings, and the same kind of humor in the books. What if I suddenly started writing science fiction under the same name? It would be tempting to write it under the name that’s better-known, that has a platform and some reader recognition. But then, unsuspecting readers who wanted more of the same could be disappointed…and might even think twice about buying new books from me again, if they feel they wasted their money or felt duped in some way. That’s because I’ve established a whole platform based around this particular type of book.

Write the new material under the same name: Some writers have decided to write their new genre under the same name, looking at it as an opportunity to bring some readers with them to a new genre. Or possibly to create a crossover book that will work for old readers as well as attract new ones.

Use a pen name, but associate the pen name with the author’s real name: Another option is to write the new material under a pen name, but attempt to link the pen name with the author’s real name. This wouldn’t dupe old readers into reading it, but they would still probably discover that you were writing something different---then they could choose to read it if they wanted to. You could have a Facebook page, for instance, that’s set up like this: “John Smith (Joe Roberts)".”

The nice thing is that we have a choice. We don’t have to feel boxed into our genre. We can try new things—whether it’s under another name or not.

What would you do if you wanted to change genres as a writer? Hope your readers embraced your new genre? Write under a pen name and start off from scratch with your platform building?