Can you picture it? Stacking bbs can be fun, but it’s hard to make much progress. 😉
I used to wonder why professional publishers advise authors to select one genre–one style of story–and stick with it. I like to read LOTS of different genres, and the stories brewing in my head were not necessarily similar. Why couldn’t I write them all?
You can, but you will encounter two challenges:
Readers will not know what to expect. This may not be a problem if you are either so obscure that readers have no particular expectation or so famous that they’d read a telephone book if it had your name on the front, but I’d advise those in between to look no further than your last pot luck dinner to understand this bit of human nature. As you stared down a long table loaded with food, you shared the same dilemma as a shopper staring at a row of bookshelves. So many options! You can’t possibly sample them all, so you start with a few selections you expect to like. If they’re good, you might go back for a second helping–or a book by the same author. But you probably won’t know if the cook who brought such great cookies brought a vegetable dish as well, and even if you did, the fact that she’s a great baker doesn’t mean you’d like her asparagus. Likewise, you might not even notice if your new favorite author had written another book that’s shelved in a different section, and even if you do, there’s no guarantee that you’d like it. We are creatures of habit. We like what we like, and most of us don’t like to waste time making risky choices.
Different books require different marketing strategies. Let’s say you’ve written a non-fiction book about the Civil War. Chances are you know other people who share your interest in that subject, so it’s easy to let them know about your new book. And maybe, while you did your research, you came across a compelling human interest story and decided to write a novel. It’s possible, since the book is set in the same period, that some people who enjoyed your non-fiction will enjoy your fiction as well, but there are others who read only one or the other. You’ll need a different marketing strategy to reach different groups of readers. Now let’s say that you decide to write an allegory of the issues you feel led to the conflict, but in this story warring factions of some mythical planet blast away at each other with photon torpedoes. Um…problem. The people who go to Civil War re-enactments are not the same folks who hang out at Star Trek conventions. In order for your new book to “live long and prosper,” you will have to develop a platform and build relationships with a third group of readers. You are now officially too busy to write any more books!
So what if you have lots of stories in your head? Are some doomed not to be written?
When you’re developing your skills, it may be fine to experiment. Try your hand at several genres, if you like, and as many writing styles as it takes to find your voice–the unique storytelling style that’s most comfortable for you. There’s something to be said for obscurity. 😉
Once you’re established in one genre, you may be able to branch out under a pen name–one that your die-hard fans will recognize as “you” without causing confusion to the others. You’ll still have to develop a second platform and build relationships with a new community of readers, but if your heart is truly divided, it may well be worth the effort.