Switching Genres — Can it hurt your author brand?

I asked for blog topic suggestions on twitter yesterday, and one of our readers posed the following (paraphrased):

There’s the idea of author brand and books readers expect from that author. But what happens if the author wants to write in a new genre?

As a YA author who debuted with a sci-fi/dystopian trilogy and is following up those three books with a historical fiction stand-alone, I find this topic incredibly fascinating. Yes, I’m changing genres, but it hasn’t worried me too much. And maybe that’s because I don’t really think my brand has changed.

As an author, the bulk of my brand is me, a human being. I’m not Nike or Starbucks,1 some corporation with a logo and strict style guide. I’m Erin, who loves Harry Potter and geeks out over good typography and has an unhealthy obsession with all things Autumn. These are the things people know about me via twitter convos and blog posts, and they haven’t changed. Neither has the fact that I write YA fiction.

I’d argue that the remainder of my brand as an author is made up not by what genre I write, but by the characteristics of my novels, the type of story a reader is going to get when they pick up any of my books.

Let’s look quickly at the Taken trilogy and Vengeance Road. The two are very different when it comes to plot and genre classification. But if I examine the core elements of either story, there’s a lot of overlap: good vs evil, a gritty world, unexpected twists, action and adventure, a dash of mystery and a touch of romance. As such, readers who enjoyed Taken will most likely enjoy Vengeance Road.

I guess what I’m saying is that readers love an author less for the genre that they write, and more for the type of stories they create. If the staple elements that readers fall head-over-heels for exist in an author’s newest book, there’s a good chance readers will be happy regardless of that book’s genre or label.

Stephanie Meyer, for example, jumped from straight-up paranormal romance to light sci-fi. Many fans of Twilight followed her to The Host and were rewarded with her staples: forbidden love, relationship drama, and a slow-burn romance. Lauren Oliver debuted with a stand-alone contemporary and then released a dystopian trilogy, but both had the beautiful prose readers expect of her, plus nuanced female friendships and well-developed themes of love/family.

Perhaps the more difficult-to-navigate transition is changing audiences—switching to MG or adult, after establishing yourself as a YA author. Naturally not all of your existing readers will follow you if you do this, simply because the new book is meant for a completely different age group. Still, Oliver has found success writing for a variety of audiences, as have others.

At the end of the day, the advice we hear over and over is to write the story that excites us, the book we’d want to read. I still think this is some of the best advice around. Let your publisher worry about how to entice your existing fanbase to try your next-book-in-a-new-genre. You just worry about writing an awesome book. Be aware of what elements from New Book will also appeal to fans of Old Book, if only so you can better promote it to your existing readers when the time comes, but write what makes you happy. Life is too short (and the publishing industry too uncertain) to write only within one genre if you’re anxious to try others.

Remember: Labels are a result of bookstore and library shelving. They are a necessary evil of the industry. But readers just want good stories. So go write good stories, genre be damned.

  1. Nike and Starbucks are the brands, sneakers and coffee are the products, respectively. The same is true for authors. The brand is the person, the product is the books.
  

14 Responses to Switching Genres — Can it hurt your author brand?

  1. PK Hrezo Sep 17 2014 at 8:31 am #

    Exactly Aaron. As authors we should be able to write the story we want to tell. That’s why I brand myself as a fearless fiction author. And when I go from sci-fi to contemporary that just means that I’m not going to be afraid to go anywhere. Characters and style make the story, not the genre.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Sep 17 2014 at 5:14 pm #

      “Fearless Fiction Author.” Love that. You need it printed on your business cards. 😉

  2. Mandy Mikulencak Sep 17 2014 at 9:50 am #

    Thanks for this post, Erin. I, too, faced similar questions. My debut YA contemporary comes out next September but the book I’m working on now is adult literary fiction. I chose an agent who respected that I wanted to write for both the YA and adult market and she supports me wholeheartedly. I agree that writers are not brands that suffer if they drift from their original ‘product,’ like new Coke. 🙂

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Sep 17 2014 at 5:15 pm #

      So great that you have an agent who reps both markets *and* supports you writing in both. Good luck with everything!

  3. Tracey Neithercott Sep 17 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    Great post, Erin. As a reader, I agree that it’s more about an author’s writing style and the type of stories he or she creates than a specific genre that draws me to the next book. I was thinking about this after reading an article that mentioned an author who was known for writing in a certain genre. It made me think about what authors do when readers get tired of books in the genre they’re known for (like with paranormal romance or dystopian fatigue). For instance, I like knowing so-and-so is a go-to author for fantasy/sci-fi/contemporary. But it’s easy for books to start to feel so similar when their genres/etc. are always the same. I’m thinking of a huge, NYT bestselling author. The author certainly has a brand, but the two series that to me feel very, very similar.

    On the other hand, I can’t help but think about Melina Marchetta who’s done contemporary and fantasy and—like Lauren Oliver—kept the books similar because of the writing style. I’m pretty sure she could write sci-fi, historical, paranormal, or car manuals and I’d still gobble up her books. Mary E. Pearson also comes to mind. I loved THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, and while it’s fantasy KISS OF DECEPTION has the same slow-building plot and lyrical voice.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Sep 17 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      Always writing in the same genre and ending up with books/series that feel too similar or formulaic is a whole different side to this discussion, and one I hadn’t thought about. Especially if that genre deflates in popularity. Really interesting point. (Thanks again for suggesting this blog topic!)

  4. Rowenna Sep 17 2014 at 2:30 pm #

    Great post–you deserve a pumpkin spice latte and a walk in some crisp fall weather! (I love autumn, too 🙂 ).

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Sep 17 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      I did get in a nice fall walk today. Still looking for that pumpkin spice latte though… 😉

  5. Emy Shin Sep 17 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    “[R]eaders love an author less for the genre that they write, and more for the type of stories they create.”

    I can’t agree more. When I like one book by an author, I tend to seek out everything else they’ve written — chances are, I’ll like those too even if they’re in entirely different genres/sub-genres, because the things that make their stories gorgeous aren’t genre-specific.

  6. Adam Silvera
    Adam Silvera Sep 18 2014 at 1:13 am #

    AMAZING POST, ERIN!

  7. Lauren Spieller Sep 18 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Wonderful post! I think about this a lot, especially since the book on sub right now is a YA Psych Thriller, while the book I’m writing at the moment is a YA Contemporary. I do wonder, however, if changing genres after a series is somehow an easier transition, since (at least in theory) a series author already has a larger fan base that will be willing to follow them into new territory, while an author with a standalone might not have built up that loyal of a following yet?

  8. Kendall Sep 19 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    Love this. So true and well said!

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