Thursday, July 23, 2009

Do the Genre Hop! (Hop Hop Hop!)

Or, you know, don’t.

Fans of authors expect a certain voice or genre from an author after buying their first book. After all, say Meg Cabot (wonderful lady and author that she is) wrote a horror-erotica, violent Victorian-era YA novel. Her fans would be shocked, because that’s not something they expect from the author.

So it comes down to this: How much does the author owe the reader, and the market? If a voice is chatty and cutesy in the first novel, set in a high school, can the author “genre-hop” with their second novel (say a murder mystery set in medieval times?) Well, no. Not quite.

Often publishing contracts will include a clause stating that the publisher has the first look at the author’s next work. Maybe it’s only the author’s next work in said genre. There are even situations where, unfortunately, the author must have their next work be in the same genre regardless of their future plans for writing.

I’m going to make up a pseudonym here. Say Wright Author only planned on writing one young adult fantasy book their whole lives, and the manuscript got them a literary agent. Awesome, right? However, if their voice and genre aren’t consistent, their marketability down the road plummets. Authors are creating a name or “brand,” and readers expect something from that brand. Authors may well be forced to churn out another young adult fantasy book to fulfill the clause. Wright Author is stuck without a home for their loveably witty adult mystery.

I’m not saying this is how the world works—no, of course not, there are always exceptions and there are always restrictions. However, as a reader, would it bug you if your favorite author wrote something in a genre you don’t normally read? Would you “follow” the author over into another genre, or would you pass in favor of a new favorite author in the same genre you love?

7 comments:

althrasher said...

I think that just because an author becomes published shouldn't dictate what they have to do for their whole lives. What pops into my head is the author in MISERY: the books he'd written turned into his whole life, and he never wanted to do that.

Plus, if authors stay locked in the same genre/style, things start to get really repetitive (i.e. Dean Koontz. Not that I'm lambasting him, because my best friend and I were sort of obsessed with everything Koontz between 9th and 10th grade.)

elissa said...

this is something that causes me some angst, actually. I write the stories that come to me, and I have very little interest for what feels like telling the same story over and over. I kind of worry if I'll ever be able to stick to one genre, and I worry about getting an agent/book sale with one genre and then yeah, the next thing doesn't fit with the expectations, so it won't sell.

That said, it doesn't bother me when an author I like tries something new, either. I like to see growth and experimenting from authors, even if at times their books don't actually "work".

it does bother me to hear about authors getting pressure from editors to churn out more of the same, when they actually have ideas or completed manuscripts that are just a little different.

hannah said...

As an author, this pisses me off, but as a reader? I don't know. I don't like when my favorite authors do the exact same thing, obviously, but I like knowing, in a general sense, what I can expect. I didn't love Paper Towns by John Green because I felt that it was a minor re-shaping of Looking For Alaska, which I loved, but could re-read if I wanted the same story. I didn't like when Chuck Palahniuk wrote Lullaby using some of the same distinctive tricks he used in Fight Club. But I *love* picking up a John Irving book and knowing that I can expect a story about a boy (probably named John...) from his early childhood to his adulthood with beautiful writing and unbelievable plot twists.

S.E. Hinton springs to my mind as an author who's written in multiple genres. She has a lot of YA books, all with the same general feel, and a light MG book and an adult mystery. I've read all the YA books and have no interest in the MG and the adult. So I think if you write such disparate things, you have to accept that there's a good chance your audience won't follow you. But if you write the same thing again and again, there's a good chance they'll get bored. It's a fine line.

george said...

As far as I'm concerned, good writing is good writing, and I'd happily follow an author from one genre to another if the writing still moved me.

Shelli said...

if they are that well known. They will probably write under a pen name :)

Sage said...

Hmm, I have followed authors across genres, sometimes being disappointed, sometimes not. I mean you like the author's books in a certain genre, and what you like about them may not follow naturally into the next genre. So you might lose audience. You might gain a different audience. You might have people follow you over only to find that this other genre is better.

Now here's the possible problem with crossing genres, as far as your audience goes. Even if you have doubled your audience, you risk upsetting them by writing the next book in each individual genre more slowly. And in that way, you might lose audience too. If you're not multi-published, you might be forgotten by the fans in, say, the fantasy genre while you're off writing your cozy mystery

However, I hate the thought of pigeonholing anyone. And we know writers who can't write what they want because they have multi-book deals for sequels to their first. Or whose agents push them to write the same type of book as the first with the hope that the same publisher will be interested.

Sometimes it's great to see a wide range of talent from a person as they cross multiple genres or give you multiple types of characters. And a good writer can pull it off.

But sometimes you just want something familiar from them.

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