Monday, November 17, 2014

Tips for Writing in Multiple Genres

This post is based on a presentation I gave at the St. George Book Expo at the end of October. I adapted it from a power point presentation I put together for that conference.

The famous line from Norman Maclean's classic novel, A River Runs Through It, says "Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it."

Maclean's point was that often in society we kill each other over details when really we aren't all that different from one another. 

I'm gonna take that argument and apply it to genres. 

For past generations of authors, they usually had to pick a genre and make their career in that genre. Because it took so much--face to face sales, book tours, radio/TV spots--to sell books, they had to stay in the same niche in order to be successful. 

And of course every author is biased toward their own genre. Understandable, perhaps, but the fact is that every good story has similar components. All stories have to have great plots that follow the same basic structure, great characters, great writing, etc. They aren't actually very different from one another. Genre is just a detail. 

There are only so many stories, so many conflicts. (Man vs. man, man vs. himself, man vs. nature, man vs. society, etc.) which means that, as authors, our originality=0. It's our creativity that makes us great story tellers.

All stories basically merge into one.

Let's look at dystopian as an example. All dystopias (Hunger Games, Divergent, The Road, The Walking Dead) have the same basic structure. Actually, I've made the argument multiple times that all stories are inherently dystopian. If there wasn't something undesirable about the world of your story, you wouldn't have a story to tell. 

But all dystopians have the same elements--both as one another and as other stories. It's the details that set them apart. Details set different novels in same genres apart. Genres set apart all stories.

Why People Say You Shouldn't Write in Multiple Genres:

  • People will tell you not to write in multiple genres for branding purposes. 
  • Historically, this seems to be wise advice, but the world of writing is a very different place today than it was even a few years ago. 
  • Books today sell more because they are good than because they are branded. 

Example: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. When Veronica Rossi first put out book 1 of her trilogy, it was on such a low budget that this was her cover:

Hideous, right? Any industry professional worth their salt would have told her that she should have an awesome cover to sell her book. Something that looks more professional than the one above. A cover than that can ruin your sales. I'm sure it took time, but eventually her book sold so many copies that a publisher picked her up and now she has great covers. 

Much better, yeah? My point is that twenty years ago, with that cover, she would probably not have been very successful. Today, because books are so widely, easily and cheaply available, they will definitely sell based on content, not so much marketing. (Not that marketing isn't important, but a great book will find it's way to readers. Period.) And that wasn't the case even ten years ago.

Why You Should Write in Multiple Genres:

  • More streams of revenue -- Why not get lots of different series or books with lots of different fans and then you'll have lots of different revenue streams?
  • More creative avenues -- I'm very eclectic, and when I stall in one genre, I can let my mind wander in a different kind of world for a while. It feeds my muse.
  • Inspirations for writer’s block -- I often find solutions for my plot stumblings in one genre while I'm exploring another. It's like a writing prompt, that just happens to be turning into a story of it's own anyway. Killing to birds with one stone. (Yea!)
  • To make the voices in your head go away! ('Cause you know, that's super-important.)
How You Know You Should Be Writing in Multiple Genres:

  • If you think of stories in multiple genres 
  • If you enjoy stories (books, films, tv, comics, etc.) in multiple genres 
  • If you have a lot of cross over fiction, that doesn’t fit into one particular genre 
  • If the voices in your head tell you to. 
  • If while writing one genre, you find yourself thinking of another story you could never write because it doesn’t fit within your chosen genre.
Final Tips:
  • Immerse yourself in whatever genre you’re writing -- No matter which genre you're writing, don't worry about the others. Just totally focus on the one genre you're currently on, and you won't have problems crossing them.
  • Write whatever you’re into right now. (Do what the voices tell you.) If you're working on one and get inspiration for another, there's nothing wrong with switching gears.
  • Take inspiration from different genres
Marketing Tips for Writing Multiple Genres:
  • Brand by genre -- As long as each genre or series is branded for itself, your readers really won't be confused. The look of crime fiction is very different than that of historical romance. If you do awesome covers and branding, no one is going to mix those up. 
  • Different Blogs/Blog Memes -- I do one blog (this one) for scifi and fantasy, including dystopian. My other blog (L.K.Hill) focuses on historical and crime fiction. (I will probably merge the two blogs eventually, but you can also do different kinds of post for different genres on the same blog. I've found that not many people anymore follow a blog daily. Rather, they hunt for posts that they like on Twitter, Google, etc and go read them. So you can get away with different kinds of posts on the same blog to promote your different genres. 
  • Write across books for REALLY loyal fans -- This one's super fun. If you're going to write in multiple genres, find ways to let your characters invade one another's worlds, even if just in the background. This is a way to let those who read more than one of the genres you write have something extra. It's like an inside joke between them and you the author, and a great way to connect with the fans. 
  • Give it time -- It does take more time to grow a following for 3+ genres than for one. So give it time, just keep steadily working on books and, before you know it, you'll be well known for more than one genre.
As Norman MacLean would say:

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”--Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

What do you think? Do YOU write in more than one genre, or will you? Did I miss any important points? 


  1. I've thought of branching to fantasy, which would still all fit under the speculative fiction umbrella.
    I know lots of authors who write in multiple genres now, some with pen names, some with the same name. I think the game has changed in the past few years.

    1. I agree, Alex. Anything's possible these days. :D