Jilly: Writing in Multiple Genres

Not For Novices

Not For Novices

Do you read or write across multiple genres? What would make you follow an author (or not) from one genre to another?

This week I’ve been up in Derbyshire again, handling the final details of my mother’s house sale and thinking about the great discussion that came out of last week’s post about my home county as the perfect setting for a steampunk series.

Right now, my focus is firmly on finishing and querying my WIP, a 100k-word contemporary love story set in London and the Scottish Highlands, and I already know that I want to write at least three more contemporaries set in the same world, but as I was whizzing around the Peak District and dreaming a dream or two I got a lot ahead of myself and wondered whether I might eventually want to write in more than one sub-genre and if I did, how I’d go about it.

As a reader I choose my favorite authors for their voice – they words they choose to tell their story, and the kind of story they choose to tell. I like love stories with a happy ending, peopled by smart, funny, kind, passionate, larger-than-life characters and lashings of community. If I love the author’s voice, I don’t really mind whether the community is peopled by dukes, werewolves, SEALs or plain old billionaires.

Many other readers must feel the same way, because some of the most successful romance writers of all time have managed this juggling act with stellar results. I’m not thinking about authors who’ve chosen to switch or experiment with a new genre (writers like Sherrilyn Kenyon/Kinley MacGregor and Alyssa Day/Alesia Holliday/Lucy Connors), but authors who’ve consistently published fiction in more than one sub-genre over a long period of time.

Michaeline wrote this post yesterday about Georgette Heyer. Heyer is legendary as a historical romance writer, but she also wrote a dozen contemporary mysteries. She released one romance and one murder mystery per year between 1932 and 1942, all under the same name.

Jayne Ann Krentz writes contemporary romantic suspense under her own name, historical romantic suspense as Amanda Quick, and paranormal/futuristic romantic suspense as Jayne Castle. She uses three different pen names for her three different worlds, so that readers know what to expect when they buy a book, but she only has one website for all three pseudonyms, making it easy for fans to follow her from one sub-genre to another.

Nora Roberts writes contemporary romance, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense under her own name, and futuristic suspense (the In Death series) under the name JD Robb. All her books under both pen names are now listed on her website, but it wasn’t until the release of the twelfth In Death book that her publisher revealed that JD Robb was a pseudonym for Nora Roberts.

My guess is that writing in multiple genres works for authors like these because they’re outstanding story-tellers, they’re well-established and most of all they’re incredibly prolific. JAK has published more than a hundred books, and Nora Roberts over two hundred. Hopping genres is a way to keep their work fresh, for themselves and their readers, and to offer something extra, a bonus option clearly branded so that their readers know what to expect and can choose whether to make the jump.

Even for established writers, I suspect branching out could become problematic if they stray from the core elements that their fans love. Our McD teacher and mentor, Jenny Crusie, has written on her blog about the adverse reaction she faced when she published a book that was not romance, even though it was clearly described and packaged as not a romance. I understand. I bought and read the book with all its caveats because I love her voice and I’d read anything she wrote, but the thing I took from it and wished there was more of was the beautiful love story that accounted for maybe ten per cent of the book. (Sorry, Jenny).

For me as a newbie writer, I’ll be sticking to contemporary romance, at least for now. I think in time branching out is something I might want to try, though I believe I’ll always stay within the romance genre. When I have a little time, maybe over Christmas, I might try sketching out a steampunk love story or two, but I’ll do it as a personal experiment to see if it helps to top up my creative well, in the same way I’d read a book, or go to the ballet, or watch a movie. If I really, really love what I come up with I’ll report back here, but don’t hold your breath 😉 .

What do you think? Do you/would you read an author across multiple genres or sub-genres? Why would you follow a writer, and where would you draw the line?

19 thoughts on “Jilly: Writing in Multiple Genres

  1. I’ll follow them if a favourite author writes something I enjoy, regardless of genre. For example, I read Nora Roberts’ romantic series and stand alone romantic suspense but not JDRobb because they’re a bit too violent for my liking.

    As both a reader and a writer, I think the key here is how quickly you write. I wouldn’t be thrilled if I had a favourite author who only wrote one book a year and every other book was in a genre i didn’t like – but on the other hand (I’m thinking out loud here), it wouldn’t make me like said author any less.

    How’s your WIP coming along Jilly?

    • I’m sure that’s right, Rachel. I’m guessing (also thinking out loud here) that even for a very well-established author the minimum would be a book a year for each genre.

      WIP progress has been slow since I got back from San Antonio, because I’ve been in parental house sale hell. That’s finished now, thank goodness, and I’m back home, at the keyboard. I got some really helpful comments from an editor while I was in Texas and I have to make some changes for that, but I intend to be finished by September, certainly no later than October including the blurbs for the second and third books.

      How’s yours? Have you submitted your story to the RNA New Writers’ Scheme?

      • Poor you re your parents’ house – I’m hoping that will get easier for you now.

        I really am looking forward to reading your story (especially as I have heard so many bits and pieces over the past year) – I shall be first in the queue when you’re ready to share.

        I’m having to submit previous draft to NWS (i could have done that back at Easter if I’d known) because I’m still making big revisions. Of course it is that draft I’ve had to send when publishers requested full at conference so hoping it is not too awful! Are you bothering with NWS this year.

        I’m hoping to twist your arm to RNA winter party because it would be lovely to meet – I know you say you don’t like dressing up but who does (okay, lots of people do but not me) – so consider yourself forewarned!

        • As Jenny kept reminding us, it’s a process, Rachel 🙂 I’m sure you’ll get some great feedback, from the NWS, but give yourself plenty of time to digest it and assess it carefully to be sure any changes suggested are right for you. The reader will be an experienced professional but she might (or might not) be your reader – you never know when you just get one read. We’ve recently had a similar experience via contests: in the Fool For Love I got three reads, including two from published, agented authors, and I got different things from all three. One reader loved it and thought it was almost perfect; another didn’t really get it and thought it ‘needed cleaning up’ to make it readable.

          I’m not going to submit to NWS this year because I’ve found other ways to get feedback, and I prefer to choose my critique partner and have a continuing dialogue with them. I’m not sure whether I’ll renew my NWS membership for 2015 – I still want to participate in RNA but it seems wrong to take a place if I’m not going to ask for a read. Winter party … hmm … okay, forewarned is forearmed. Definitely maybe 🙂

  2. I tend to read only one genre at a time for several months. During that time, I won’t switch genres to follow an author. However, when I do switch from one genre to another I immediately check to see if any of the authors whose work I like have written anything in the genre I’m currently reading. If so, I put those books on my must-buy list.

    I’m realizing I need a database to keep track of different authors, genres, books I own and in what format, and upcoming books I want to read. I have been using Amazon Wishlists for this purpose, adding “the next book in so-and-so’s series” to the “I want- ‘Save an idea’ section” of the wishlist when I finish the most recent book in a series and then checking up on these to update the wishlist with the actual title when it becomes available. I also keep a summary of the overarching plot of the series and a short character list (with descriptions) in the Amazon wishlist so that I remember what’s what (titles are all so similar these days!). It would probably be smart to also have a place to list authors/books I’ve sampled and rejected so that I don’t waste time looking at them again. I just need to figure out what database would work best for me.

    • I know you’re organized, Jennifer, but wow! I would never bother to keep a summary of the plot arc and character list of a series – in fact I’ve wandered away from some good ones because I don’t have the patience to wait for the next instalment – if I can’t get it reasonably soon, the urge passes and then I rarely go back. That’s why I prefer series of standalone books set in a familiar world – unless I discover a completed series and can binge my way through to the end.

      You’re absolutely right about titles being generic. Often they don’t offer a strong association with a particular author, let alone a specific story. One of the (many) benefits of Kindle is that it stops me from re-buying a book that I’ve already read and forgotten. It happens surprisingly often. In the old days, I’d have bought it again, read a chapter or so and then thought ‘wait a minute …’

      • The generic titles make me crazy. I can’t even tell which book belongs to which characters in a series by the titles. Just think about JAK’s books; “Running Hot,” “Sizzle and Burn,” “Fired Up.” Readers call them “Luther’s Book,” Zack’s Book,” and “Jack Winter’s Book.” I had to go look those up, BTW. But it just wouldn’t be that hard to make them distinguishable by referring to something, *anything* in the books. Luther’s book is set in Hawaii, Zack’s book is about witches and hearing voices and trust, Jack’s book is about a magic lantern for goodness’ sake. None of these would be difficult to develop into a more meaningful title.

        • Yep. I have that problem with Sherrilyn Kenyon – Night Play, Night Pleasures, Night Embrace, Kiss of the Night, Unleash the Night. I know they’re all Dark-Hunter stories, but I have no idea which one is which. If I have the physical books I can read the blurb on the back and work it out, but with e-books it’s really annoying.

          Stand by for a post about titles some time in the next couple of months. We spent weeks brainstorming them at McD. My working title got nixed because it sounded too category, and the book’s not category. Eventually I settled on Rent & Cornflakes, which I really like because it’s specific to my book and fits the story really well. Jenny thought it was good, but in San Antonio I got some push-back because it doesn’t sound like a romance, more like women’s fiction, which it is not. I’m letting the Girls think about that while I work on finishing my re-write.

    • Jennifer, have you tried Good Reads? There’s a strong social aspect to it, but there’s also a really good organizational aspect. You have three basic lists: books on your wish list, books to read, and books you have read. There’s info on the form for when you read them, a review or other notes about them, a starring system, an ability to put them on a “shelf” of your choosing (genre, great books, books about cats, author — you choose) and I think tags. I believe you can keep all of these private. I haven’t done much with my Michaeline Duskova account, but I’ve used my personal account to kinda/sorta keep track.

      Be ware, though, that if you have a lot of friends who read good books on there, you may have an ever-expanding TBRead list. (-: Dangerous site!

  3. Re: titles—I attended a workshop at RWA where the presenter asked us to write down 20 titles for our book in three minutes. I’ve been struggling with a title for my book since I started it, and I was panicked to do this exercise. But the first thing that came off my pen was brilliant. Should a publisher ever buy it, of course they’ll change it, but in the meantime, I’m really happy with it. Maybe you should try it! I think the adrenaline of the limited time can help stimulate creativity. And it’s like brainstorming. Nothing’s wrong.

    • I’m curious, too – and I’m definitely going to try this exercise, Kay, thanks! I already have a couple of hundred failed attempts in one of my notebooks, so hopefully I’ve got the obvious ones out of the way. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything amazing.

      • (-: Do tell!

        I think a good working title really helps. Every time you pull up that file, you are reminded about what you want your book to be. My WIP title went from Underground (which is really important for setting) to The Djini and Ms. Jones (which concentrates on the characters — because let’s face it, it’s the characters who are doing things). (-: When I come up with a really good action/plot-based title, I might be on the homestretch with the book!

  4. I write what comes to mind. So far, that means a number of WIP fantasy novels (most not in the same worlds, one done but in need of an overhaul), wrapping up a scifi novel (and some fun ideas of what to explore next in-universe), most of a contemporary (It started as a romance, then went dark and gritty, and is more women’s fiction/suspense now) and the idea of a sequel that is more about booting out a cancerous subplot that wouldn’t stop growing… and some ideas for a contemporary romance that I’ve started, but set aside to knock out more on the sci-fi novel.

    I’m really, really horrible about starting off, loving the exploration, then petering out. “Oh, that’s where it goes. Cool. NEXT!” Making myself finish the fantasy novel, and now to stitch up the sci-fi is good practice. I hope to tackle the dark&gritty contemporary next. I think as I get better about *finishing*, I’ll have a better grasp of what I actually write well.

    I have found that if I try to make myself do just one WIP at a time, the Muse wanders off and pouts, so I try to do the “new and shiny!” and then take that momentum into another chapter or two on the longer WIPs. And sometimes, the new and shiny happens in the WIP, and I can focus for a good long while. People who plot and write linearly are like magicians!

    • This actually sounds like an efficient way to work, Flo, as long as you use momentum from the new and shiny to carry you forward with the hard stuff. I think I remember someone here (Justine?) talking about an author who typically has three books on the go – one in final edits, one in revision, and one in discovery. Maybe this is another trick to try in future. Right now I’ll be happy if I can just finish this book and move on to the next in a nice, orderly, linear fashion 🙂

      Your method also seems like a great way to figure out which genre(s) work best for your voice. Cancerous subplot that’s taken on a life of its own? Definitely sounds like a sequel.

      • It’s really helpful when the new is a short story idea, and then I’m hungry to write more, and oh, hey, there’s this story that’s about 2/3 the way through that needs finishing…

        I think it was Dan Wells who had tried and tried to write epic fantasy and just wasn’t pulling it off, switched over to horror and started doing really well. I figure I can play with genres, write what I want, and see what’s the strongest. I will probably query agents who represent all the genres I’m dabbling in, on the off chance the others aren’t all trunk novels. That’s the wonderfully freeing thing about writing right now- no one’s offering a paycheck, so I can follow whatever whim strikes me.

        And the subplot to sequel… secondary character (also with dark and gritty past) caught my attention. When I had 15k out of 70k devoted to exploring his character background and motivations, I knew I had to give that “subplot” the boot to the next book.

        As with so many things, I need to buckle down and finish. It’s like every other skill- the more practice you get, the easier it gets. But the first few times are stuttering, unsure things. The more I learn about story structure (like the Hollywood Formula, the Hero’s Journey, and Dan Wells’ 7 point story structure I found on Youtube), the more I can see why the ending has come to a head with whimper instead of a bang. The more I can see how to draw the pieces together in a satisfactory way, the more fun it is to get to “The End.” and the more I want to do the work to finish.

        Here’s wishing us all the best of luck on finishing the current WIP and moving on to the next novel in that nice, orderly, linear fashion!

  5. As a writer, I don’t know if genre considerations should even be thought of unless 1) one is stuck and needs new ideas or direction, or 2) one is in the final edits, and after being rejected, one is trying to figure out how to make it more marketable.

    The thing is, a writer writes best when s/he follows the muse. A great book that’s cross-genre or out-of-genre is a better experience than a so-so-book that follows the genre formula.

    But then again, as a reader, I like just about anything. I love it when a writer mixes in a bunch of genres and pulls off the whole she-bang! Some people just naturally think along those lines. Lois McMaster Bujold writes many different kinds of genre into her stories — there’s always a good dose of romance, often a bit of mystery (or a whole chunk of mystery) and almost always some comedy-of-manners. She also writes in two distinct genres — her Vorkosigan series is science fiction, and her other series (and The Spirit Ring) are firmly in the realm of fantasy.

    For her and also for Jenny, I pick those books up because “It’s a Bujold!” or “It’s a Crusie!” The name is the genre.

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