There’s no shortage of articles examining the pros and cons of switching genres. But while I’ve found that many of these essays discuss moving from literary to commercial fiction or vice versa, there are decidedly fewer resources for writers who have achieved a measure of success in a well-defined genre but are itching to try something new.
Every change in our lives offers the opportunity to learn and grow. Often, however, these changes come with a cost. I’m here today to talk frankly about the upsides and downsides of switching genres, and to share my journey from a cozy niche in crime fiction into a new and untested future.
For ten years, beginning in 2008, I wrote cozy mysteries. Although I also produced a few gritty short stories during that time, the writing that earned me invitations to panels and conferences was thoroughly cozy based. Before then, however, I’d sold a few science-fiction shorts and had several mystery novels produced by a small library-based publisher. While these represented major milestones for me personally, it wasn’t until I started writing the White House Chef Mysteries and the Manor House mystery series that my career took off.
I loved every moment of those ten cozy years. But copyright issues on one series (long story) and a sense that my other beloved protagonist had reached a good place in her life, gave me the freedom to step back and reassess. In my heart I knew it was time to move in a new direction. And here I am.
Virtual Sabotage, a techno-thriller, is unlike anything I’ve published before. Protagonist Kenna Ward is an envoy for a virtual reality provider—a lifeguard for the brain—sent in to save VR participants if they become overwhelmed and believe that their mind-based situations are real.
Readers have come to know my writing from the strong female characters I’ve created. And while this new book follows the adventures of another resilient woman, Kenna is different in that she’s a professional trained to take out bad guys. She isn’t an amateur sleuth who solves a mystery in her spare time. Kenna is a dedicated specialist whose job it is to perform difficult rescues. At the outset, she faces a tough challenge. It’s only later in the story that she realizes how high the stakes truly are.
Because I’m at the very start of this genre-switching journey, I can’t tell you yet if my cozy readers will embrace Kenna as well as they have her predecessors. But I’ve learned a great deal as I’ve navigated this change and I’d like to share some observations:
Promoting books is hard work and establishing a brand becomes imperative, especially for new authors. Branding makes it easier for readers to find the types of books they love. What happens, then, when an author changes her brand? Is it like starting from scratch? Or is there a way to encourage readers to join an author on her new journey?
For me, at least, the challenge hasn’t been keeping in touch with my readers—they’re wonderfully responsive and vocal—it’s reminding them that although this new book may look and sound like something very different from what they’re accustomed to from me, the characterizations, suspense, and heart they’ve come to expect from my novels are all still there. To do this, I’ve invited my readers along to join me in the process. They’ve cheered my newly revamped my website, offered opinions on potential book titles, and have been wonderfully supportive whenever I share news.
In addition to the fresh website, I knew I needed updated author photos. Although my cozier one—big smile, flowery background, taken by my husband—served me well for a long time, it didn’t convey the precise vibe I was hoping for. My new professional pics do. I’m thrilled with them. Makeup, lighting, and a super talented photographer for the win!
What about adopting a pseudonym? That means starting from the very beginning with branding for the new name. It also means maintaining another social media identity. A lot of work, for sure. But look at Nora Roberts. She makes no secret of her JD Robb pseudonym and she’s enormously successful with both.
I considered adopting a pseudonym for Virtual Sabotage. As a techno-thriller, it isn’t limited in terms of violence, language, and sex the way my earlier books were. While I don’t “drop F-bombs with wanton abandon” —a reader-friend asked me that this week—I can’t deny this book is far from cozy.
So why didn’t I opt for a pseudonym? Two reasons: changing my name felt slightly dishonest; and, it also meant that I didn’t trust my readers to be able to decide for themselves whether to make the switch with me. I have too much respect for them for that.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Sure, promotion can sometimes be fun. But what I really want to be doing—what I should be doing—is writing the next book. Do I really want to take the time to learn which social media outlets offer the best return on time spent? Even though I may reinvent the wheel with each new marketing effort, I lose lots of time deciding which wheel works best for me. How to balance writing time and promotion, then? In my case, I needed help, so I turned to the awesome publicist, Dana Kaye.
Dana, Julia Borcherts, and the entire team at Kaye Publicity have been working with me for many months now. I’ve truly benefited from their guidance and expertise. They’ve saved me an enormous amount of time (writing time!!). Hiring a publicist was definitely the best promotional decision I’ve made.
Switching from writing in one genre to another is not without peril. Being able to shift from one tone to another, from one voice to another, requires a lot more discipline than I possess. That’s why, when I decided to make this change, I attacked it full-on. No half-measures. I walked away from cozies in order to devote my full attention to this new book and all the books (I hope) to come.
You, on the other hand, may be able to adopt one writing style in the morning and a different one in the afternoon. If so, more power to you. You have my deep admiration.
Read, read, read
The age-old wisdom to read, read, read can’t be repeated too often. Distinction in one genre does not guarantee triumph in another. Each genre has its own quirks and there’s no better way than reading widely to learn and understand the rhythms, vibe, and nuances of the books you hope to create. Find authors whose works speak to you and devour as many of their books as you can.
All the right reasons
If you plan to switch genres, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. You may want to attempt writing a vampire romance. That’s great—but only if you’re passionate about that particular sub-genre. Leaping into a new type of book simply because they’re hot, hot, hot right now is almost never worth the effort.
Does your new genre make writing fun again? Do you jump out of bed every morning because you can’t wait to get to the keyboard? Oh yeah! That’s the sign of a positive genre-switch. And it’s the best feeling ever, isn’t it?
I want to thank Julie for being my guest today! Readers, do you dream of moving between genres in your writing? Please share your questions and thoughts in the comments!
Julie Hyzy is a New York Times bestselling and Anthony Award-winning author. Her novels include the standalone techno-thriller, Virtual Sabotage (October 23, 2018; Calexia Press), the White House Chef mystery series, the Manor of Murder mystery series and the Alex St. James mystery series. A Chicago native and graduate of Loyola University, she lives in the Chicagoland area with her husband. You can visit her at juliehyzy.com