|Someone asked a second-book question I’ve heard frequently: “If I’m writing a series, is it unwise to venture into a different genre? For example, if my first book is a fantasy, should the second book also be a fantasy, or is it acceptable to write a chick-lit? Will it be like starting from scratch, since I’d have no sales figures in the new genre?”This is a question every novelist must think through. Here’s the way I view it: An author must consider what he or she wants to do with a writing career. If you intend to make a living writing novels, you’ll find it best to figure out your voice, then write to the particular genre that fits it. In other words, as far as the marketplace is concerned, you’ll do best if you pick one category and stick with it. If you’re at the start of your career, you may be floating around a bit, trying to find your voice, so you may try a couple different genres. But eventually, most successful writers pick one area in which they write, and stick to it. That may change over time, as their voice develops and they decide to branch out, but for the most part, this is how we see a writing career develop. Of course, all the talk about “branding” lately can be tedious. A publisher telling a new author to “decide on an audience and write your books to them” seems like good career advice… but what if the writer doesn’t have enough experience yet to know where he or she should write? Or what if the novelist is multi-talented and feels she has stories to tell in various genres? I represent Lisa Samson, who many people believe is one of the best faith-based novelists in publishing these days. Lisa publishes her adult novels with Thomas Nelson, and she doesn’t really have a clear genre. She writes great stories that I suppose could all be termed literary fiction, but that’s more a convenience to help with the marketing and sales of her books. The fact is, Lisa crosses genres. A fine writer can make that happen — sometimes an author will not want the strictures inherent with naming a clear brand. So while focusing on one genre can assist you as you’re starting your career, it’s not absolutely imperative.
Having said that, I’ll admit that if an author tells me he is writing a “series,” but that the first book is a fantasy and the second a chick-lit, I’d tell him to start taking his meds again. That is NOT a series. And yes, every time you jump genres, you’re starting over with your career.
One beginning author wrote and asked, “If I write in more than one genre, should I have separate pen names? And will I need separate agents for the different genres?”
There’s no single answer that can speak to every writer on your first question. There are successful writers who have done books in a variety of genres (for example, Melody Carlson is a very good writer who has successfully published in numerous areas), and there are others who have felt it necessary to use different names for different types of books (Nora Roberts is a great thriller writer who also creates novels under the pen name J.D. Robb). What works for one may not be a fit for another. I suggest you talk with your agent, publicist, and publisher about the question, so that you get everyone’s best thinking before making a decision. Trying to squeeze every genre under one name may simply dilute your brand; but using multiple names means you have to work extra hard to establish each writing persona. There’s no easy solution, though I think any experienced hand will tell you it’s tough to keep multiple pen names going successfully.
As to your second question, I doubt you’ll need separate agents for the different genres. Most good literary agents work across a broad range of publishing categories, so your agent will probably be able to help if you simply want to move from writing a romance to writing a thriller. There are a few authors I’ve worked with who have had a second agent, but it’s usually for a speciality field (one creates software guides, another does accounting books — the types of things that are pretty far afield from trade publishing).
And a writing friend wants to know, “How will an agent react to an author switching genres? Does a second book have to be in the same genre as the first for the agent to continue working with the author? If I switched from fiction to nonfiction, would I need to change agents?”
Doubtful you’d need to change agents, Lorraine, but you may want to think through the focus of your writing. I encourage authors to write widely until they find their voice, their message, and their audience. Then the author can focus sharply on what works. But be aware that moving around genres can keep you from ever establishing a dedicated readership. Compare writing to any other art — Picasso experimented with various forms, but once he discovered his artistic style, he focused on that for the rest of his life. Same with Monet, Degas, Van Gogh. Once you know your writing voice, you’ll want to chase after what you do best. You’ll find the most freedom there, as well as the most satisfaction.