I suspect the answer to this one is obvious, but I thought I'd ask anyway. How off-putting is it for an agent, publisher or even a reader if an author doesn't stick to one genre?

My last book was a comic thriller, my current book is supernatural noir* and my next will either be a galaxy-hopping sci-fi romp or a tale of the unexpected confined to a quiet English village. How annoying is that? If you were a fan of Vivaldi, would you check out his upcoming punk album? If you loved Billy Ray Cyrus's 'Achy Breaky Heart', would you buy his hardcore techno cover version of 'Knights in White Satin'?

Of course, I wouldn't put my writing up there on a par with either Vivaldi or Billy Ray Cyrus, but all the successful writers I can think of have built their careers on a foundation of a single genre. In crime-writing, that often goes hand-in-hand with recurring characters. Somehow I doubt I could do that, but is this the only rational, professional choice for a writer?

* - Is that even a proper genre? Whatever it was, the first chapter was published as a short story in Spinetingler - The Office of Lost and Found. This was the infamous story I obliquely referenced in my previous forum post, the one that confused some people as to whether a character had been shot or not.

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If you're pitching to agents, you can only pitch one book at a time, so there's no reason to tell them you have ten previous novels, all in different genres. Once you get a publishing contract, most writers like to establish a brand--Author X=Genre X. But you can use pseudonyms and write in as many genres as you want.
I have a friend who has written 150+ books. He's a working writer, his words, because I think he wants to make a distinction that the sustained income is most important to a guy who raised his 5 kids by himself as a fulltime author for 18+ years earning a 6-figure income for most of those years. Most people are not familiar with his name unless they read the various genres he writes. And even then, only by the pen names he might have chosen. Even his agent doesn't know how many contracts he signs because some of them are straight forward and don't require negotiation. His agent has been trying to get him to write a specific genre to get a reputation and to make himself standout, but he likes doing it his way. If he had stuck to one genre and developed a name, would he be better off? Who knows what might have been? He's happy doing what he's doing...and he's successful by most people's standards, even though readers might not recognize his name. And he hustles for those next contracts, whether his agent is along for the ride or not.

You'll definitely have a different readership jumping from paranormal to sci-fi. I think you have to ask yourself how much you're willing to sacrifice to write what interests you, regardless of what the market trends are or whether you go against an agent's recommendation. An agent will always want you to make a name for yourself in one genre and make the easy sale where there's the most money. I think for my friend, he wants a steady flow of money in the door and he's developed his own relationships directly with the editors who know what he can do and how fast. It takes time to develop this kind of network.

I'm a big fan of Dean Koontz. I'll read anything he writes, no matter what genre I think it fits into. He's at the top of his game and I can't wait for what he's going to do next. Some writers get a rep and their style becomes what you follow. But I also think that takes a long time and a string of successes to build upon. A strong fan base is key.

And Vincent--Ranking your work as somehow beneath Billy Ray Cyrus's Achy Breaky Heart is not an analogy I'd use with an agent or editor. (grin)
Oh Vincent, Vincent, Vincent...what ARE we going to do with you. The answer is painfully obvious. And is, of course, well, yes and no and it depends. There. Would you like me to expand? No? Tough, I'm going to anyway.

As a reader, I love it when authors mix things up a bit. I've just finished reading Joe Lansdale's LOST ECHOES which is definitely going to be one of my favourite reads this year. It's a wonderful mixture of kind of supernatural, crime fiction, relationship story. It's about a boy who suffers a childhood illness and, as a result, he sees visions of violence which are trapped in sounds. It's brilliant.

And I love comedy thrillers, so you're onto a winner with me with that one (I'm sure you'll be well chuffed to hear that!).

I would definitely want Vivaldi's punk album (didn't he do one called "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's the Concerto In G Minor for Flute and Flugelhorn"?) Billy Ray Cyrus...not so much. If Ken Bruen wrote a cosy featuring a talking armadillo in 17th century New Guinea I would buy it in a flash. If Al Guthrie wrote a Dr Seuss inspired village mystery with recipes I would be first in the queue (by the way Al, how is GREEN EGGS AND MASTURBATING HAMSTERS coming on?).

So, I think writers should write what they feel the urge to (I hope I'm right - I really want my erotic embroidery novel set on the planet Uranus to sell).

And Vincent, don't do yourself down...I understand from various quarters that you are the Billy Ray Cyrus of crime fiction. I believe it was the mullet.

Yours, helpfully,
Would that be Joe Lansdale of Bubba-Hotep fame? (Haven't read the book, have got the DVD)

Given the comic thriller is probably destined to be an unpublished, first-part-in-a-trilogy-missing-parts-two-and-three curio and suitably depressed as a result, I shall go tell it you think it's probably a winner and that might cheer it up a bit.

That last bit is a scurrilous and unfounded rumour. I don't think I've written enough crime fiction to qualify as the Billy Ray Cyrus of that, but I pray that one day I will qualify as the Billy Ray Cyrus of something (I understand it's rather like being a Patron Saint, only without your gonads having to be hawked to monasteries as religious relics). The mullet, however... no. Never. Not once. And if I did, no one can prove it.
The very same Joe Lansdale His Own Self. The man is a genius - he can write anything. He has a humourous crime fiction series featuring a mismatched duo, some wonderful historical coming of age novels, some very dark crime fiction standalones, horror, western...all with a wonderful vein of humour, amazing writing and the most amazing storytelling skills.

Tell the comic thriller I send hugs. And I want to read it.

And re the mullet - I am sure I've seen pictures. No, maybe it wasn't the mullet, maybe it was the gonadal relics. I always get those two things mixed up.
Perhaps commercially successful authors are the ones who stick to one genre, yes, but there are also the truly great writers who write what the hell they want. I would aspire to be the latter rather than the former. But that's just me.

Personally I don't even think in terms of genre. But I do try to mark out a territory for myself. Whether that territory falls within a genre or straddles genres or is unclassifiable, I don't know. And I don't care. It's my territory, and I patrol the boundaries each dawn and dusk, pissing on the occasional tree.
Where can I get the Billy Ray Cyrus thing? Sounds like my next favourite summer sound...

Oh, and I'm not sure there's an answer to the genre business. It looks like some authors go down the pseudonym route. You know, one name for their sci-private eye-fi, and another for their romantic-historical-noir. That's always an idea, with the added benefit of allowing you to waste a few more evenings thinking up all your potential nom-de-plumes.
Billy Ray Vincent. It's got a certain ring to it.


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