Before a genre hopping writer I was a genre hopping reader.
When I was six I bought my first manga book. Its pages were large but the book itself was thin in terms of pages. Besides, on each page it showed large drawings and only one meager column of text. As a result, in an hour or so I read it from cover to cover. Then for a lack of better options I started over reading the book, and by the day after I had reread it many times. I knew the story by heart and was eager to read something new.
According to familiar folklore, it was out of exasperation for my insistent nagging that my mother took me to the nearest bookshop. Here I marveled at the unbelievable amount of books stacking the shelves and then proceeded to buy my first “proper” book.
It was a SF book. The Secret of Saturn’s Rings, by Donald A. Wollheim. In the space of a few days, I devoured it too, and thanks to some more nagging I was soon back in the bookshop.
Little by little I also began perusing my mother’s library — who alas wasn’t exactly a SF fan (I remember being maybe thirteen and “secretly” reading Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller and understanding little of it.)
However, it was also thanks to my mother’s personal library I would soon discover The Shining by Stephen King and be scared shitless by the initial description of the clock. So much so, it took me months to marshal up the courage to get back to the book.
As you can see even if as a reader I was at first a fan of science fiction — with Isaac Asimov being one of my preferred writers — I read voraciously pretty much all I could put my eyes on. As a result, when I began writing I didn’t feel any necessity to focus strictly on only one genre. Instead I kept doing what I had been doing forever as a reader.
However, to help you decide whether you should embrace genre hopping, I’ve compiled a list of pros and cons you may want to take into consideration.
The pros of genre hopping
1) Reading and writing in different genres can give you a wider perspective and a better intuitive understanding of how an effective story is structured.
Of course, this is not to say in this way you’ll be churning out a masterpiece after the other, but it can surely help you to work more effectively toward such a goal, if you want to. In any case, you should always remember that sales and artistry are more often than not linked in ways that are still beyond comprehension. So just take it easy and have fun.
2) You can write about a particular aspect from many different angles. For example, getting old can be declined in the mainstream type of novel where an aging woman finds she can no longer keep up with the frenetic pace — or the fast changing morals — of everyday life.
But the same theme can be examined from the point of view of a woman who undergoes a total body change to be young again, and yet finds it impossible to regain the same drive she had when she was in her thirties. You could also try your hand at a sort of reversed “use of recreational drugs in juvenile culture” and transform it in “use of nootropics drugs in desperate old geezers.”
3) Genre hopping can help you being more productive. In fact, especially for those writers who revise so many times a book they end up being sick just thinking of touching it again, a change of genre can help them start a new project without having to wait for too long a time.
4) For the same reasons, genre hopping can also help you prevent burnout. In fact, if you’re fed up with your SF series, nothing prevents you from writing a western, where you could even ponder the same moral questions from a somewhat stripped-down but no less excruciatingly relevant perspective.
5) Genre hopping can also help you better understand yourself. In fact, in time you’re bound to discover you can write particularly well in some genres but not in others. This can be simply a matter of experience. But the longer you’ve been writing, the higher the chances are that something in your psychological makeup make you particularly suited for certain genres and not so much for others.
Ask your friends about it — I mean the ones who share your writing universe. It’s unbelievable how blind we can be at something about ourselves that is instead apparent to the people around us. More than narrowing, I think of this step as a sort of reorganization. After all, at the end of it you’ll be still writing in several genres.
The Cons of Genre Hopping
1) The first and most obvious potential drawback of genre hopping has to do with time. In fact, while once you’ve mastered the rules of a language you can write pretty much everything, a good knowledge of the genres you want to write in or you want to adapt or reinvent is an undisputable bonus. After all what kind of romance would it be one in which the two lovers never meet for a final ecstatic scene? Or a thriller lacking a final confrontation between the serial killer and the hero?
From this point of view writing in different genres is like putting together a large repertoire in chess. It takes more time and there will be occasions you’ll be playing at a level that is even below what you’re capable of, but in the long run you’ll become a better player/writer.
2) Genre hopping can be a problem if you don’t take into account your readers’ expectations. I mean, the vast majority of the readers of your SF series aren’t exactly eager to read also your westerns. This is perfectly fine of course. After all, the fact you’re genre hopping doesn’t entail that also your readers must do the same.
As a result it’s important that you take all the possible steps to make it as clear as possible to what genre each of your books pertains. In fact, if readers have come to love your stories in a particular genre, they could unintentionally underplay (or outright miss) important cues about what it is your books are about.
So, even if it seems like an exaggeration, you should engineer you online sales pages, the covers, the blurbs and whatnot to help your readers realize they are buying, for example, a noir and not a fantasy.
In fact, while readers can be patient creatures if they know your next book in a series is still to come ( Think of George R.R. Martin’s works), once they have bought one of your books because they believed was something, and then they discover it’s something else, you’re in trouble.
If you’re lucky you’ll just get some mails of complaints. Otherwise you’re going to get some one-star reviews. “Oners” you could have most likely avoided.
Well, all this hopping about has tired me out. So, see you soon, and in the meanwhile keep writing and having fun =)