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. :/