Saturday, September 22, 2007

Writers and Readers and Creative Diversity

Wendy Crutcher posted this morning in Romancing the Blog about a favorite contemporary romance writer whose latest book was a paranormal romance, and expressed some dismay at a well-liked author moving to a subgenre she doesn't really care for. The point of her post was something else (and worth reading) but it made me think about the preference so many readers have for reading in their favorite little niche or two and their reluctance to try new things. I'm sure we've all heard of writers who've changed pen names when they changed genres, and the standing wisdom that it's better for marketing purposes to become a whole new person if your writing changes too much.

But as Ms. Crutcher's comments, and those of any number of other people I've heard on the subject show, there are readers who don't even want to shift subgenres, much less genres. Ms. Crutcher bought the latest book of this writer she likes, but is hoping she'll move back to straight contemporary. And I know people who just won't shift their reading patterns, period, no matter how much they like a writer.

This is rather depressing because I'm the sort of writer who likes to try a lot of different things. Looking at my current backlog of completed stories, I have:

Humorous Romance 2
Humorous Erotica 2
Humorous Erotic Romance 2
Erotic Suspense 1
Erotic Paranormal Romantic Suspense 1
Erotic Suspense 1
Contemporary Erotica 2
Contemporary Romance 2
Romantic Adventure 1
Contemporary Romantic Erotic Suspense 1
Contemporary BDSM Erotica 2
Humorous BDSM Erotica 2
Contemporary Erotic Romance 2
SF Erotic Romance 1
Non-Romantic SF 1
Non-Romantic Fantasy 2
Contemporary Fantasy Erotica 1
Contemporary Fantasy/Horror 1
Urban Fantasy Romance 1
Urban Fantasy Humorous Romance 1
Comic Fantasy 1
Comic Contemporary Fantasy 1
Humorous Contemporary Fantasy Romance 1
Comic Fantasy Erotica 1

Wow, I didn't realize I'd written so much of the funny. [blinkblink] And actually, although I tried to distinguish between comedy (where the funny is an integral part of the story) and humorous (where there are significant funny bits but the story isn't necessarily funny), there are still others that have less significant funny bits. The Urban Fantasy Romance, for example, has funny bits but I could take them out without changing the main plotline. There's also some suspense, but it's just the last few chapters, so.... :P

But the point is, I like trying a lot of different kinds of stories. There are a few in there which aren't erotic or romantic (unusual for me) and there's even one which is technically het, since at least the main character (male) is fantasizing about a girl. I have lengths from three hundred words and change to just over 40K. Straight contemporary, urban fantasy, horror/fantasy, modern (but not urban) fantasy, SF....

I like writing different things -- different settings and lengths and moods, sexy and not, romantic and not, normal and fantastical, tense and light, plus anything else that pops into my head, and the thought of "branding" myself and sticking to one subgenre forever is dismaying. Any suggestion that I "should" stick to one thing for whatever reason makes me snarl. One of the things that makes creative work interesting and absorbing and creative is always learning and growing and pushing one's boundaries as an artist. If you can't do that, then why bother?

I don't even think everyone has to do it the way I do, everything all at once. If someone wants to write half a dozen historical romances, then eight contemporary romances, then five contemporary paranormal romances, then ten non-romantic urban fantasies, then whatever else, that's cool too. I can understand serial monogamy, even if I don't practice it, at least literarily. :)

But the thought of spending my life writing nothing but X, even if X is something I like.... No, that's not for me. If someone else is into that, and finds creative satisfaction in writing all in one subgenre forever, then good for them, honestly. I can't do that, though, and I know a lot of other writers who can't either.

So what do we do? Have a different pseudonym for every genre? Or even every subgenre? Completely re-market ourselves every time we do something new or different? Or see sales drop when we write something new under our old name and wonder whether it was marketed properly or whether it was just tossed into the same old chute, despite the fact that it doesn't fit? Here I'm thinking of Orson Scott Card and Alan Dean Foster, two well known SF and Fantasy writers who each wrote a straight historical novel at one point. Most bookstores shelved their straight historicals with the SF/Fantasy books, leaving SF/Fantasy fans annoyed at what looked like a bait-and-switch, and leaving fans of historical novels with no clue the books existed because they never showed up on "their" shelving unit in the bookstore. That serves neither the writers nor the existing fans of the genre the writers tried.

I certainly understand having preferences for some genres and not caring for others. But when it comes down to it, for me it's about the writer, not the genre. Personally, I'll follow a favorite writer (I call them my short-list writers) anywhere. I might not absolutely love everything they write, but I'll at least give them a shot no matter what they try or how their stories change. One of my very favorite historical romance writers switched to contemporary romance back in the eighties. I was dismayed but I tried her new book and it was good, so I kept buying her contemporaries. It wasn't a genre I liked but I liked her so I kept reading her books. One of my favorite fanfic writers has gotten me to read and enjoy a World War II story, fercripesake! Now that's skill. When I read the summary when the story began, my initial reaction was "Ack!" but I tried it and it was good. There you go -- that's what matters. And I hope at least a core of my readers will follow me, even if they're sort of iffy at first, because they like me and my writing, because I don't plan to dig myself into a rut just to make it easy on Marketing.

But a lot of readers won't, and will whine and gripe and swear when their very favorite writers "abandon" or "betray" them. [eyeroll] Wow, entitled much...? That's what's out there, though, and we need to at least think about it. :/



Charles Gramlich said...

I don't really understand that clinginess either on the part of readers. As a writer I like to write a lot of different stuff, SF, fantasy, horror, westerns, childrens stories, poetry etc. But as a reader I read even more eclectically. I can't think of a genre I haven't enjoyed at one time or another.

Travis Erwin said...

I read all genres and have dabbled a bit with short stories but all three of my completed novels are women's fiction ... but the one I'm working on now is pure comedy.

Should it be the first to sell I wonder where that will leave me since msot of my work and future ideas are women's fiction.

Angie said...

Charles -- Me too. [nod] I have some favorite genres, but I also have a few books from here and a few from there. (And that's just the fiction.) Sometimes a favorite writer from another genre will branch out and sometimes a friend I trust will recommend something and sometimes something different will just catch my eye. But genre divisions are just signposts, and I do walk past them at times. I comprehend intellectually but don't really understand in my gut readers who don't.

Travis -- exactly. [nod] It feels like there are two people in my head, one artist who just wants to go nuts with experimenting and creativity all over the place, and another who's looking at how the business end of it all works and is going "Wait! But! Will that work?! Will I be allowed to...?"

Will your comedy readers be willing to try your women's fiction? Will the people you pick up with the women's fiction be willing to read one of your non-female-specific comedies, if you write another one later? When you get an agent for the comedy, will she or he want to or be able to represent your women's fiction?

I have this image of myself twenty years from now with five or six pseudonyms. [wry smile] I'm trying to figure out how to use "Angela" or "Angelina" or "Angel" or "Angeline" in all of them, so if someone calls "Angie!" at a convention or a signing or something, at least I don't have to go through my mental rolodex to decide whether they might mean me, LOL!


Bernita said...

For some readers I suppose it's like food, and their favourite restaurant has switched from steak and ribs to salad and soufle.

Angie said...

Bernita -- probably true. And like I said, I can understand where that feeling of dismay comes from. When I get annoyed with readers is when they express that dismay directly at the writer who's made the change, with some expectation that the writer will apologize and change back, just because the reader wants them to. Or just, as one or two people did in the RtB thread, just sort of generally wish that a subgenre they don't personally care for would, like, stop growing or something.

Personally, I can have my own likes and dislikes without demanding or even particularly wishing that the whole world would cater to them. I can't stand spicy food, for example, to the extent that I order my Taco Bell burritos with no sauce at all; even a minimal amount of Taco Bell's "mild" sauce is too spicy for me. So if my favorite seafood place turned into a five-alarm chili restaurant, yes, I'd be disappointed. But I wouldn't write outraged letters to the owner or the newspaper or the Chamber of Commerce, nor would I picket outside. I certainly wouldn't accuse the restaurant owner of abandoning the fish format and going toward chili only because chili's getting popular and they greedily wanted to make a buck at the expense of my favorite fish place. (Although even if they did, so what? It's a business and they have bills to pay.)

I might grouch about the changeover in private, sure, but not with any expectation that anyone would change what they're doing just to please me. That's not how the world works, and when people communicate in such a way that it seems they think it is or should, it just sounds obnoxious. :/