Focus on a single genre?

Question from a forum, and my response:

Q: How important do you think it is to stick to a narrow genre as a writer? I’m looking at the next book and, somewhat annoyingly, it seems that the idea that keeps bubbling to the surface is a comedy/romance. I’m cool with that but do you feel that you have to really keep plugging away at a single genre?

ME: It’s a bad idea to switch genres if you have any traction. If you are not getting traction, then you should jump and see if you can get traction somewhere else, but if you are getting traction, then it’s bad. People want to put you in one box, and if you do that one thing, they will follow you.

Once you have an audience, and a big one, you can experiment more, but in the beginning, until you can get traction you can try other things, but once you get traction, that’s the level you need to press down on.

Unfortunately, you likely won’t get traction for several books, so it’s hard to know if you have traction somewhere.

And then, if you suddenly find you have traction in a genre and you’ve moved on from that genre, you have to move the bus around again to try and capitalize on it. I say this from a LOT of personal experience.

I mostly write fantasy, but I did mystery and sf as well, and once I started getting traction in fantasy, it’s been very hard to slot in those other novels, or even do anything that’s not related to the core products, especially since I still don’t have a big audience that will follow me to another genre in big enough droves to make it worthwhile.

OP: That’s a really interesting perspective but, and I say this with utmost respect, isn’t it the tail wagging the dog? Surely, your role is to create what you want? If you’re just doing books to maintain or appease an audience, isn’t that a bit sad?

ME: There are a lot of sad truths in life, Andrew.

But there is nothing sad about people buying a thing from your head, that you birthed, and they love.

That is magic, if there is any in the universe. Giving a person what the want and need, in a way the don’t expect, is the job of a writer.

Yes, it would be great if I could do anything in the world, but the truth is, I’m able to do the thing I want to do in the world, which is write and create stories. I just have to do it in a box, which is a might bit better than not being able to do it at all.

So no, I don’t think people loving my work, and me giving them something they will love, is sad at all. I think it’s the only thing worth anything in this stupid universe, truth be told.


My opinions on this have changed and evolved over the years. I originally started much like the OP, but I now see that drilling deeper is the only real way to push through and build a name in an oversaturated market. This isn’t the 70s, or even the 00s. I’m not sure Stephen King would stand a chance breaking in now by doing standalone books or one offs. You need enough great product to push through, and then you can expand, but push though one small hole and drill into people’s brains, because otherwise there is too much there to consume them.

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