Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Other Worlds Might Not Be The Best Worlds

Our theme here at the Blood-Red Pencil blog this month is “Otherworldly.” But the second I heard that word, the ideas that popped to my mind were about an entirely different kind of other world—namely, constructing worlds, as an author, that you don’t usually go to. So I have to start out with a story that makes me cringe on several levels….

It sounded like a great idea to
go out of my world at the time....
Many years ago, when I first started writing for publication, I heard the piece of advice that I’m sure we’ve all heard before: Pick one genre that you love and can see yourself writing in for the rest of your career and do that…and ONLY that.

Well, aside from the fact that people telling me what I can’t do is like nails on a chalkboard for me, I wilted at that advice because I have so many stories in me. So I glibly ignored it, and in the summer of 2014, I published the first two books in what was supposed to be a straight-out Science Fiction series. I went otherworldly, all right, straight onto the other world of a different planet. The premise of the series is that a group of colonists from Earth crash on a habitable moon, no one will ever be able to find them, and they have to start a new civilization from scratch.

Yeah. Not Historical Romance, which is what I am primarily known for. “But it’s sort of historical-y,” I argued. “The civilization they create ends up at about a medieval level. And there are romantic elements, so it counts, right? RIGHT?”

It turns out that the advice I was given was correct. More than a year later, I can count the number of copies of those books that I’ve sold on my fingers and toes with a few toes left over.

So why did this happen? I’m a pretty good writer. People buy my Historical Romance by the cartload. So why didn’t it work to jump so far outside of my genre and into another writing world?

It’s all about audience. Readers of Historical Romance are an entirely different demographic than readers of Science Fiction. I’m one of the cross-overs who likes both, but there aren’t very many of us. And of course I got frustrated and discouraged when this all went down and lamented that I should be able to reach Science Fiction readers too. I insisted that it shouldn’t matter that I used the same name, readers are readers, even if they know me in different lights.

If I'd only used a pen name and
written more in the series...
Wrong. And lesson learned. Like it or not, when we begin to write in a specific subgenre, we make a name for ourselves in that genre. While a lot of readers say that they’ll read anything, categories that are as far apart as Historical Romance and Science Fiction—or Horror and Amish Romance, Spy Thrillers and Romantic Comedies, any combination you can name—simply don’t have the same audience. Writing with such diversity under the same pen name is like attempting to climb Mt. Everest with no previous climbing experience, wearing three inch heels.

However, I think writing in vastly different genres CAN actually work…if you do it right. And by right, I would argue under different pen names. Many well-known authors have written very different genres under different pen names and been successful: J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Anne Rice/A.N. Roquelaure/Anne Rampling, and I’m sure you can think of a lot more. Writing under different pen names can give you just the sort of separation that you need to explore a different genre in depth.

That being said, the other mistake I made was not so much a mistake, but disregarding the realities of self-publishing. I only published two books in the series. One of the things I’ve seen time and again with people newly entering publishing as indie authors is that it takes around 7-10 books before you start to see real traction. The same thing goes for a different genre. If I had had a little more time and patience and was able to put out more books in that series, I might have seen it take off at a certain point. I still might write those books (I actually have 64k words of the third book in the series…but discovered that part of my central plot action is physically impossible, so back to the drawing board).

So go for broke and venture into another world with your writing if you feel the spirit move you. But be aware of the possible pitfalls you might face. Writing in a different genre is like starting over. If you have the mettle for it, then by all means, do it!

Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.


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    1. That is an excellent point about the covers, Elle. I just attended a marking workshop where cover design was a major focus. The leader stressed how important it is for all the elements on a cover to reflect genre.

  2. One of the beautiful things about self publishing is you can do what you like. The caveat is that for every genre you write, you have to seek out a new audience and market in that direction. Some of your other readers will cross over. Most won't. So marketing is twice as hard, but I would not want to limit myself to one type of story.

    1. I totally agree. If you are focused solely on making money, I guess this could be considered a failure - at least thus far. But, 1) you could seek out that sci-fi audience and market to them, and 2) you finished a series of books!

      Are you proud of how those books came out? Did you become a better writer during the process of writing them? Maybe because of branching out into a new genre? Did you polish your craft and/or learn new tricks?

      If the answer is yes to those questions, you certainly did not make a mistake.

  3. I agree that the covers don't say "sci-fi." Having said that, however, I must admit to dabbling in more than one genre. Rebecca's comment nails it on the head, I think, because it addresses elements of success beyond dollars and cents.

  4. Working with conference and meeting so many amazing authors, I am most intrigued by those who are active in multiple genres. The success seems to come down to the marketing. Don't try to sell your horror to the romance fans, or vice versa. I've seen everything from different pen names for each genre, to different agents for each genre. It can be done, especially in today's crazy, ever-changing, publishing world. If it is in your heart to write it... do it, even if its not your norm.

  5. I write in whatever genre fits my mood, because I want to enjoy what I write!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.