I read books from nearly every single genre, and I know I’m not alone — book lovers love books, all kinds of books.
And so it naturally follows that when people sit down at the old typewriter they want to write books in every genre under the sun. Sometimes at the same time. When I was a literary agent I often received queries from people who are shopping novels in multiple genres, even massively different genres, such as science fiction and historical romance.
Be cautious about genre hopping
But here’s the thing — for the most part (big caveat alert), genre hopping isn’t always the best move.
I know. You have a killer idea for a science fiction novel involving monkey space cannibals and you ALSO have an idea for a historical fiction novel about a group of courtesans in King Arthur’s court who are actually monkey space cannibals. WHAT TO DO??
Well, pick one, for starters. And then go all out. Because, as most of you know, it’s really, really hard to break out in one genre. It takes mountains of time, effort, luck, perseverance, luck, effort, perseverance… time… I could keep repeating myself indefinitely. I could keep repeating myself indefinitely.
Breaking out is really hard to do, and the kings of genre fiction have worked for years to steadily build an audience (and a brand) within the same genre. Heck, even writing a novel within a genre that’s saleable usually takes several attempts.
Did I mention it’s hard? It’s hard. So you make it even harder for yourself when you splinter your time, attention, learning curve, and, eventually, your audience by jumping around to different genres.
How to genre hop
But. Genre hopping can be done, and done well. And here’s the best method: first you become hugely successful.
Take John Grisham. He wrote legal thrillers that became some of the most successful and popular books of our time. Then he went and wrote about a football team (the American kind) in Italy and it’s called Playing for Pizza, and oh yes, it became a massive bestseller. Why was he able to do this? BECAUSE HE IS JOHN GRISHAM.
Unless someone could type in one of those TM symbols after your name without anyone blinking or thinking it’s strange, chances are you probably aren’t there yet.
I know there are exceptions, people who are successfully able to juggle multiple genres, whether it’s by using pen names or just following their own drummer.
But genre hopping should really only be undertaken in close consultation with your agent and after a lot of soul searching — are you hopping because it’s fun or because it’s the best career move? If it’s the former, have all the fun you want, but don’t forget that a writing career is a marathon, and it’s hard to win when you sit down every mile to change your shoes.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: Jumping Trout by Winslow Homer