Much like actors, I think writers often worry about being typecasted, so they carefully select a genre and stick with it. I’ve not really had that mindset. I like reading various genres and have aspirations to write in quite a few, particularly several branches of speculative fiction, historical fiction and perhaps even a western or mystery. Each of these genres offers something new and fun for me; after all, they require very different tones, characters and styles. What’s not to love? With multiple genres, writers get to spice things up and challenge themselves.
However, not many writers choose to do this. And it’s not necessarily because they fear that they are/will be typecasted. Instead, especially when you are just starting out, writing multiple genres is just not feasible in today’s market, at least not at first. If you go the traditional route, your agent won’t be fond of having to approach a lot of companies right out of the gate on your behalf. Additionally, your publisher will want you stick with them (most publishers have set genres that they publish) and build an audience. Jumping between genres is not a good means for building an audience, which is why sticking to one genre increases your odds of making a decent living from writing.
Rachelle Gardner did a great post on Books & Such that writers shouldn’t feel pigeon-holed by this one-genre approach, but rather think of it as being specialists in one genre. And I have to say this is a much more pleasant way of thinking about sticking to one genre. The key to writing and gaining success by writing is learning and improving one’s skills, which is easy to do if you stick to one genre since you learn the ends and outs of that genre. This in turn gains more readers, because you know what you are doing.
Currently, I’m putting all my eggs into the SciFi genre with “Heritage Lost.” In doing this, I’m hoping that my fantasy novel will not be so incompatible with the image my publisher — should I take that route — will want to forge. After all science fiction and fantasy both fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction; however, I’m working with the knowledge that my fantasy series might be on the back burner for a while as I expand my SciFi offerings.
For the other genres that I would like to write in, I might have to take an alternative route so as not to mess with the platform/brand that I will be building for myself: namely, use different pen names for genres. This tactic has been used by many authors. J.K. Rowling (Robert Gailbraith for her adult detective novels), Anne Rice (Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure for her erotic novels) and Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb for her romantic suspense novels) are the ones that spring to mind. It is an option for the future, however, distant it might be.
For now, however, I will be taking Gardner’s advice and focusing on one genre, building up that platform/brand before touching my other genres of interest.