Juggling Genres...Brilliance or Pure Folly?

Today we're happy to welcome Anne O'Connell, an author currently juggling fiction and nonfiction writing, which, as you know, is near and dear to our Bookshelf Muse hearts. Authors are often advised not to switch genres—to find something you're good at or passionate about and stick with it. But the truth is that for many of us, passion isn't confined to a certain kind of story. We need to be able to write (and sell) the stories that interest us, whatever genre they happen to be. But how do we do it successfully? Luckily, Anne is here to talk about her tips on doing just that...

I love to write but don’t want to get boxed into one genre. Does that create problems? Absolutely! Does it keep things interesting? You bet!

On this, the occasion of the launch of my first novel, I pondered briefly on whether or not I’ll be giving up the other writing I do… not a chance! Mental Pause is my first novel but my first book was @home in Dubai , a nonfiction book published traditionally by Summertime Publishing, and my second was a self-published e-book about doing your own PR. I enjoyed writing them all equally.

I consider my specialized skill to be simply…. writing. Do some writers have a particular niche they focus on? Most do and many ‘experts’ warn not to switch about, as it makes it difficult to market your services. That’s probably the biggest downside to switching genres. For authors with a following, it can alienate your readers. But sometimes you just need a change, right? If you plan on juggling genres, just promise that you’ll be back. It’ll be part of your messaging. If you’re traditionally published you might have a battle on your hands with your publisher, though. That’s when you might consider turning to self-publishing.

For me, I need the variety. After spending days on end writing web copy for a client, my eyes tend to glaze over and my mind wanders. Sometimes the screen even gets blurry. It’s amazing how invigorating it is to switch gears to a work of fiction. It’s almost as energizing as a brisk walk on the beach.

Switching genres may have its ups and downs but that doesn’t mean it’s not doable. Here are some successful methods for writing across genres:
  • Look for inspiration to spark an idea (for business writing or nonfiction, it usually comes from a client brief or an area of expertise; for my novel it came from a night sweat). 
  • Write a synopsis of the idea. Just get it all down… it’s what I call a mental dump. 
  • Determine the target market for any type of writing before you get too far into it because that will dictate some of your language use and the level of writing. 
  • Write an outline. For business writing it’s usually pretty sewn-up before I write the bulk of the piece; for nonfiction it starts with a fairly complete chapter outline. But my novel evolved as I wrote it, from a loose idea and a bunch of scenes from my initial mad ramblings of a peri-menopausal woman that I had dumped into a document. I know some authors need to start with a more prescribed outline but your personality will guide you here. The important thing is to just write. 
  • Do the background research, which is equally as important for both. For nonfiction, it lends credibility and for fiction, believability.

Tempering the Confusion 
If you decide to write multiple genres, be ready to manage a complex communications strategy. I’m in the midst of fine-tuning mine to make sure that it speaks to both my copy writing clientele as well as readers of my novel (hopefully many more to come). The novelist persona is very new so I’m gently introducing that side of me, while maintaining the ‘bread and butter’ of my copy writing side.

  • I have redesigned my website that I’ve had for more than five years. I’ve made it softer and changed the focus from hard-core business to more of a personal feel. Most of my clients are in the service or consulting industries and are therefore more people centric, so it works well. 
  • I’ve added a books tab and am creating landing pages for my books (for @Home in Dubai it actually links to a whole different website). 
  • I have a website builder package that includes unlimited pages so I can add books as I write them. I create and manage my own websites using Go Daddy, which makes it easier and cheaper. I also use the same service for my email database and distribution as well as my online bookshop. 
Social Media 
  • I have a presence on Facebook, which I’ve been building for five years. I have a personal profile, which I keep for family and friends as well as several pages, one for me as a writer/author and a page for each book. There is some overlap but I try to post fresh content on each so those who are on all of the pages don’t get annoyed. 
  • I have chosen to only have one Twitter account (@annethewriter). I rotate tweets between all my endeavours, including my volunteer work. I gamble that there’s enough commonality among my Tweeps that if I post a Tweet about my book launch, it’s not going to turn off my current or potential copy writing clients, fellow expats or social media buffs who are following. 
  • I have two blogs, one for general writing and one for my novel. I think blog subscribers are less forgiving if you switch gears on them too much. I know I’m walking a fine line with that and probably need to streamline my writing blog a bit more. 
  • Like my website, my LinkedIn profile combines it all with a headline that reads, ‘Freelance Writer, Social Media Consultant and Author’ and sports the same photo that I have on the website. My status updates rotate in a similar way to my Twitter posts but are not duplicated. 
  • I’ve just started playing around with Pinterest so don’t quite have a handle on it yet but do have my book covers pinned (in different categories) as well as images that link to my blogs on writing and social media. 

These are the strategies I’m using where I’ve combined all of my genres, but there are those that are specific to promoting my copy writing services, nonfiction book or launch of my debut novel as well. For example, the blog tour for my novel was totally different from the blog tour I did for @Home in Dubai. Book reviewers do focus on particular genres so once you have a list built, if you’re switching genres, you probably won’t be able to use much of it again.

When it all comes down to it, you’ve got to do what makes you happy, and for the time being, juggling genres is what does it for me.

Thank you, Anne! It seems to me that while writing different genres can be a challenge, it's the selling different genres that can be a bigger headache. I agree with Anne, that you have to vary your marketing techniques and be prepared to do some extra work in the social networking arena if you want to have success in multiple areas. I'd love to hear more thoughts on this topic. Musers, what techniques have you used to write or market for different genres? What successful methods have you seen others use?


Anne has been working as a freelance copywriter, writing coach and consultant since 2007, specializing in social media, marketing, corporate communications and public relations. She is a regular contributor to Global Living Magazine and Expat Focus. In between clients she squeezes in time for her newly found passion - writing fiction. She and her husband have a passion for travel as well and that adventurous spirit has taken them all over the world. Anne grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has a bachelor of public relations from Mount St. Vincent University. She is the author of @Home in Dubai… Getting Connected Online and on the Ground, 10 Steps to a Successful PR Campaign – a Do-it-Yourself Guide for Authors and Mental Pause, her first novel.


Beth said...

This is a really timely post for me. After publishing three children's books, I'm now working on a book for adults. Part of me thinks I'm crazy, but I have to write the story that needs to be written. And right now, that's in a different genre.

Anne OConnell said...

Hi Beth,
I say go with what feels right! Good luck with your book.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I switched genres but that's because it felt like a natural progression to go from YA to NA.

Thanks for the great post, Anne!

Anne OConnell said...

You're welcome Stina. Glad you liked it! The other thing that spurred me on was NaNoWriMo, which happened along just at the right time for me.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Good stuff to know--especially since I've got mss I'm editing in three different genres. I like to read multiple genres, but I hear a lot (even from other aspiring novelists) that lots of people don't.

I remember when Twilight had come out and Meyer's had announced the release of a SciFi (The Host). A coworker who loved Twilight said she doubted she'd pick up The Host because she didn't read SciFi. I reminded her that Meyer wrote about relationships and it wouldn't be like reading Heinlein or Asimov where the book has sections that might as well be college lectures. That for Meyer the SciFi was likely to be the decorations in the room. The core to the story would still be the relationships. Which it was, and my coworker loved The Host.

Once things that's making it easier to write multiple genres is the ease of finding books by the same author in one place online. Where in the past you had to look in multiple section of a brick and mortar bookstore, that's not the case anymore.

Kessie said...

I've heard of authors making a pen name for each new genre they dabbled in. Ellis Peters comes to mind. I know men who write romance novels use female-sounding pen names.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Probably when you start out it may be good to stick to a genre. But I don't think you're locked into it or writing for a specific age group. Thanks for all the advice.

Anne OConnell said...

Donna, I love the Meyers example! As Natalie says, it might be easier once you're established but we could spend a lifetime second guessing readers. I've got several WIPs and will alternate between them depending on my mood and client deadlines :)

Natalie, I'm glad you found the advice helpful!

Kessie, that's not a bad idea. Actually, if you search Amazon for my name, there's another Anne O'Connell who writes erotica! I think if I switched to that genre, I might use a pen name :)

Happy writing,

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for the great post, Anne - very interesting. I write short stories, articles, children's stories and novels, adult novels (historical and contemporary) and occasional poetry. I don't think I could ever concentrate on just one genre or type!

2unpublishedgirls.com said...

Great post. I write YA and adult supernatural romance. My head is always swimming with different ideas. I don't think I could stick with one genre, either.

Dr John Yeoman said...

One solution to the 'genre trap' that refreshes a different part of your brain is to blend genres. I used to write non-fiction gardening books but got tired of the 'do this' formula. So I asked myself: 'How would a 15thc farmer have coped, without modern technology, but if he knew what we know today?'

The result was Gardening Secrets That Time Forgot, a how-to gardening manual written as a novel. It sold some 7000 hard back copies.

DonnaGalanti said...

Great post! I too write in different genres. My adult suspense is out and now I'm looking to publish a middle grade adventure, and starting to write a YA. Question: to write in a different name for children's books? Some authors say no, to create one brand and others say yes. What are your thoughts?

JeriWB said...

I'm drafting my first book, but I am aiming to stay within the confines of psychological suspense and/or literary fiction. I envy writers who can take on multiple genres, but don't think I am one of them. Although I do like to write personal essays (of all things) so it's hard to decide how to define my niche...

C. Lee McKenzie said...

She's covered a lot of social media territory and obviously thrives on that and her love of two genres. Congratulations! I really got a kick out of your Mental Pause cover.

Traci Kenworth said...

I've tinkered with doing this over the years, but I just don't know if I'd have enough time and focus to do more than one genre. It's tough to find time to do the one I'm in now!! But, you never know what the future holds. I figure, if nothing else, someday, I may devote time to another genre.

Becca Puglisi said...

Personally, I love this topic. We're always being told to stick with one genre, that you can't be successful selling books in different genres. But that's simply not true. It takes more work, definitely, and you have not know your audience and be willing to market to both. But I love hearing how authors are succeeding in writing the stories they want to write regardless of audience or content. Thank you, Anne!

Donna, I think your answer depends upon how you intend to market your books. If you've built a brand based on your thriller writing by tweeting about thriller topics, posting newspaper articles on fb, etc., then you'll most likely have built a base of fans who are coming to your social networking sites because they enjoy your thriller content. To then start tweeting about MG adventure would most likely turn many of them away, because it's not what they've come to expect and it's not what they're interested in.

But if your brand is more general—a brand as a writer who posts about general topics—then you're probably ok changing genres, because to start posting about MG topics is still within the realm of what the audience has come to expect. I think you have to look at the audience you've built up and what they're looking for from your communications. If changing genres is going to disrupt what you've worked so hard to build, then yes, you should start again with a new brand to build a new audience.

My two cents. Great question.

Anne OConnell said...

John,the more I think about it the more different types of writing I want to try! Funny you should talk about combining genres. One Amazon reviewer of Mental Pause actually said, "I don't even know how to place this in a genre so I'm having to split it as a Crime Drama/Family/Mystery/Chic...it's a weird combo but it works."

Donna, I agree with Becca... it depends how you've positioned yourself. I've stuck to one name so far and use some of my marketing to promote all genres and then created and linked to others that are more specific to each book. I'd rather not have to think about switching personae mid-stream as well! I'm sure it'll evolve as I go.

Thanks Lee! I'll have to tell my designer who presented me with about 25 options and variations before I chose the final cover. He was very patient!

Nikki Benz said...
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