Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Perils of Genre Hopping

Now that Slayer for Hire’s safely in release, I can relax a bit on the promotion. I don’t like doing promo. I’m not into trolling for sales or the whole social media thing. I’d rather be writing, which is my second-favorite thing, or avoiding writing, which is my first-favorite thing. That explains why my career hasn’t taken off like a rocket.

So does this. Doing promo this time around was particularly difficult because in order to tell the story, I had to jump genres. Slayer is aimed at readers in their upper teens and beyond. There’s a little swearing, some violence and no sex. No problem there. The problems hit when I try to court readers, or direct potential buyers to my sites.

I’m on two blogs, this one and Shapeshifter Seductions. This one has a clear adult warning: nobody under 18. There goes a good chunk of Slayer’s target audience. The other site’s devoted to romantic shapeshifter flash fiction, which doesn’t apply to Slayer. Sometimes the flashfic gets racy. The kids might like that, but I doubt if their parents would.

It’s no better on my author sites. Let’s take a look at my pages on Amazon and BookStrand. I’ve got three mainstream shapeshifter romance novels, three erotic guy-on-guy books, and a M/M/F ménage that includes a woman having threeway sex with a man and a vampire, and sex between two guys. To this I’ve now added a book about a 19-year-old who learns how to kill vampires and has a sweet romance. I’m sure whatever readers I have left are scratching their heads by now.

That’s not counting the dozen or so SF and fantasy stories I wrote way back when that may still be floating around out there, or the story I had published in a recent anthology about serial killers. At least I had the sense to put a pen name on that one.

This, boys and girls, is called genre jumping. If you’re a writer, it’s one of the best ways you can go about shooting your career in the foot.

I hear a lot of talk about “branding” these days when it comes to writers and writing. Stephen King’s “brand” is horror. Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton are “branded” as mystery writers. You want epic fantasy, head for the Tolkien shelf. Nicholas Sparks writes chick books. I’m not quite sure what James Patterson does because I’ve never read any of his stuff. Whatever it is, he’s selling tons of it. Like a fast-food franchise or hotel chain, people know what to expect from him, so he’s the one they go to when they’re in the mood for that.

What can my readers expect from me? Given my track record, chaos.

If you want to build a readership, you have to be consistent. You have to establish a brand. No flitting around from genre to genre, or even subgenre to subgenre. If you start out writing M/F contemporary and feel a hankering to write M/M or urban fantasy or M/M urban fantasy, put a pen name on it to differentiate. Otherwise the readers are liable to get confused. I was told this by a publisher, and it’s solid advice.

So how’d I do? Well, my backlist speaks for itself. My one “series” consists of a M/M, a M/M/F, and now a YA spinoff. The next book in the trilogy, if I ever complete it, is M/F. I can’t even stay consistent within a series.

I admit now I should have written the M/Ms under a different name. I thought if readers liked my writing they’d follow my name, not my subject matter. They followed Isaac Asimov, and he wrote in several genres (science fiction, mystery, nonfiction, whatever the hell he wanted to). Of course, he was Isaac Asimov and I’m not. I’ve since learned readers tend to specialize, with little crossover between genres or subgenres, even when they’re by the same writer. If we as writers want a healthy career, we have to specialize too.

Yeah. Good luck with that. With my series I’ve been following the characters, and this is where they led me. The characters called for a young-adult plotline, not erotica or even flat-out romance. This is the book I wanted to write and the way I wanted to write it. And now, as the saying goes, what do I do for an encore?

At the present time I have no idea what my next book will be. It might be another YA. It might be a romance. If it’s a romance, it could be either M/F or M/M, depending on whichever plot rises out of the muck. If it’s M/F, I’ll put a different byline on it, my nod to genre differentiation. Slayer came out under P. E. Cunningham, my SF/F name. I haven’t published in that genre for awhile, so there might be less confusion. Except the book I subbed to Harper Voyager’s open call was fantasy, and under that name. Oh crap.

Time for damage control. I’ll have to go back to an earlier plan, and use different names when I genre-hop. If that means I wind up with six different names and six different readerships, so be it. As long as I can earn gas and grocery money, I’m good. The hardest part will be the application of butt to chair so I can write the damn books, never mind what genre they are. And how is your life going?


Savanna Kougar said...

Sympathies on the genre hopping chaos. I do understand.

Yeah, if I ever write a sweet type of romance, it will be under a different pen name. Actually, I have one written that might fit the whole YA thing, except the setting is in another timeline reminiscent of the forties, or sort of alternate history. Not what's trendy, as I understand it.

When it comes to all things romance, if you do jump ship from sweet to extreme, and anything between, it's best to use another pen name. imo

Serena Shay said...

Ah, genre hopping. I know it well, but when you have a story to have a story to tell. It matters not the genre.

I suppose different pen names is the way to go, but that leads to different everything - emails, blogs, social media and the list goes on. There's not enough time in the day to keep up with it all, unless you've "made it" then you can get an assistant! :D

Pat C. said...

Can I get the assistant to write the books for me while I watch TV? That would be best.

Savanna Kougar said...

There's probably an assistant out there who would jump at that chance... oh, except, why? when you can self publish? hehe...