Should you write in only one genre?

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare

“You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want.” – Anon.

There is no shortage of writing advice out there. Books, websites, blogs a’plenty will give you all of the secrets of writing success. How to boost your productivity, improve your focus, raise your quality, etc., etc. One of the chestnuts I’ve come across more than once is “avoid skipping around genres”. Pick a genre and stick with it. If you write sweet and sappy, your readers will come to expect sweet and sappy. You need to keep writing sweet and sappy (and ONLY sweet and sappy) to develop a following.

If you should ever write anything weird and spacey, or sexy and scary, or (God forbid) something gruesome and ugly, you’ll just piss everyone off and alienate your readers. Your original readers will abandon you and you won't get any new ones because your body of work is too inconsistent.

Disembodied Voice of Reason: “Whoa, Tony, hold on, you really went off the rails there. Are you OK?”

Tony Noland: “Fine! I’m fine! Never better!”

DVR: “You don’t sound fine.”

TN: “I'm just getting a little frustrated with conflicting advice. I asked about writing in multiple genres in an #agentchat on Twitter. I got opposite advice from two different agents. I should say, from two people who identified themselves as agents. I’m trying to find my way as a writer, trying to find my voice, whatever the hell that means. I'd like to avoid making rookie mistakes that I'll just have to spend a bunch of time and energy correcting later on.”

DVR: “I know you, Tony. You want to avoid making any mistakes at all. That damned 'zero defects' standard of yours has gotten you into more trouble than your smart mouth. Regardless, what’s your problem here?”

TN: “The problem is that I’ve written a bunch of different stories in different genres, and several of them have gone over pretty well.”

DVR: “Why is that a problem? I would have thought you’d be happy with a positive response to your fiction.”

TN: “I am! It’s just that I don’t want to write in just one genre all the time. I get lots of ideas, see? Some of them are happy, some sad, some kind of scary or ugly. I don’t want to be pigeonholed.”

DVR: “Has that been a problem? Are people upset because you’re put up different types of writing?”

TN: “Not exactly, but every now and then someone says something like, ‘Tony, if you wrote stuff like this [i.e. this genre] all the time, I’d come back more’ or ‘Tony, you are very, very good at [specific genre], you should write more of it’ or ‘Gee, Tony, this is so much better than that [other genre] story you wrote last week, this is your true calling’. It just makes me worry that I get too many people who read one or two stories, but don’t come back because they get turned off by a story that’s not what they were expecting.”

DVR: “So, you aren’t happy with the loyalty of your readership? Or is it the growth rate of your readership?”

TN: “I’m just worried that I’m doing this wrong!”

DVR: “Doing what wrong? What exactly are you concerned about?”

TN: “Just… everything! All that advice that says don’t switch genres!”

DVR: “What advice? You mean the stuff at the top of this blog post?
Pick a genre and stick with it. If you write sweet and sappy, your readers will come to expect sweet and sappy. You need to keep writing sweet and sappy (and ONLY sweet and sappy) to develop a following. If you should ever write anything weird and spacey, or sexy and scary, or (God forbid) something gruesome and ugly, you’ll just piss everyone off and alienate your readers.
That advice?”

TN: “Yes, that advice. Look at me, look at this blog, then look at that advice, and tell me I’ve got nothing to worry about!

DVR: “You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

TN: “Oh, thanks a lot. That helps tremendously, really, it does.”

DVR: “Relax, Shakespeare. Two things, OK? First, that advice is passed around by agents who are thinking of the marketability of their authors, not their creativity. It’s not intended to be a straightjacket to prevent you from exploring your writing wherever your imagination takes you. Some writers work exclusively in one color: butterfly-pastels, FM-red, bone bruise-purple or some other shade. Others jump around. One kind of writer isn’t necessarily better or more noble or talented than another. It’s just that people are different. If you want to write different things, why not?”

TN: “But the logic of that doesn’t hold up. If sticking to one genre supports the marketability of the writer, then by posting my variety of stories here, I’m working against myself!”

DVR: “Ah, that brings me to point number two. You aren’t understanding the advice properly.”

TN: “I’m not?”

DVR: “No. The advice shouldn’t be taken to read, ‘write only in one genre’. The advice is actually, ‘publish only in one genre’. They’re talking about publications. Putting stuff up on your own blog doesn't count. Have you published any of these stories?”

TN: “Well, a couple of them.”

DVR: “So don’t worry about it. This is a playground, for you to have fun and get some exercise. Finding your voice means getting comfortable with writing prose that sounds like YOU, not like you trying to channel Wodehouse or Asimov or Trollope or McPhee. You need some time and space to do that, to work out what direction you want to go in. You can write whatever you want; this advice applies only to material you’re publishing. Writing and publishing are two different things.”

TN: “So… I don’t need to worry about genre hopping until I want to publish my books?”

DVR: “Exactly. Even then, you can still write whatever you want; just give it some time and sit on the material that’s outside of your main racket. Publish it later, after you’re so famous with one kind of writing that the genre switch will be taken as a sign of your genius and flexibility, instead of a sign of your inability to concentrate.”

TN: “Wow. I guess I never thought about it that way before. I really shouldn’t stress out about this stuff so much, huh?”

DVR: “It’s OK, Tony. It just shows that you care, that you’re interested in doing good work.”

TN: “Interested, or obsessed?”

DVR: “Heh, you said it, buddy, not me.”


  1. It seems to me you should write whatever you enjoy first and foremost. Then worry about what genre it defines.

    Your DVR is correct in advising that you can write anything you like on your blog. Writerly muscles do need exercising. They don't care about genre.

    More importantly, what shows can your DVR offer?

  2. Haha! I write in different genres all the time -- poetry (my true love), shorts, non-fiction/essay, and of course, my blessing and bane -- The Novel.

    Cross-writing certainly fertilizes all my writing, not all of it necessarily good. Sure, I translate word choice and economy from poetry and short shorts into my novels and longer shorts -- GREAT! But then I get the constant 'your prose is so poetic' comment -- NOT GREAT! Poetic prose tends not to sell, so I'm always conscious of alliteration, assonance and consonance seeping into my prose.

    Great post. Lots to ponder... Peace, Linda

  3. This is a great post :) And timely too, seeing as I've just announced on my blog that my next trilogy will be in a completely different genre to my first.

    The distinction you make between creativity and marketability in publishing is an astute one.I have a publisher for my debut novel who only publishes dystopian fiction, so there's no way in hell that he'll even consider my next trilogy. That puts me right back to square one if I want to publish that one. I have no idea if being published in another genre will aid or hinder me.

    But you know what? I don't care. I write stories because I have to write those stories at the time. If I only wrote what I thought would be marketable, I'd be miserable as sin, and not true to myself at all.

    Write first, sweat the publishing bit later I say. It worked for book one, and if it works for the others, then great. Maybe I am far too naieve, but at least I enjoy writing what I write :) And that's what I want for you too x

  4. Key points: The difference between publishing and writing, marketing and creating. Jobim may be able to pull off a one note samba, but even he had the wisdom to change the chorus.

    If the quality of the writing is consistent, the genre doesn't matter. I'm of the opinion there are two types of book fans: Those who like a type of story, and those who like a style of writing. As a creator, it's worth considering which fan base you would rather be stalked by, I suppose. Beyond that- screw 'em. Write what you wanna write.

  5. Marisa, Linda, Emma, Trev: Thanks for these thoughtful responses, guys. This has been kicking around in my head for a while now. I needed to get this out where I could get my thinking straight on it.

    Perhaps all of this is arising from a combination of insecurity and arrogance. The question "But what will my public think?" presumes that a) I have a public, and b) they think something about me. Allowing myself to be paralyzed by the potential negative opinions of future readers, reviewers, critics, publishers, etc. is just another roadblock to just writing.

    But what shall I write? What shall I write? What if I'm writing the wrong thing?

    Really, isn't that just dithering? Write the story that feels like it needs to be written. As Trev said, beyond that? Screw 'em.

  6. Ah Tony, I feel your angst.

    Remember, no word is a wasted word. It may not be a famous word, the right word, the best word, but it is never wasted.

    Every word makes you a better, stronger, writer.

    Trev is a wise dude -- listen to him. Peace, Linda

  7. I agree with everyone who has commented before me: great post and write what you feel!

    I write all over the place but focus on a few genres. What I share with others is a subset of what I write. What I hope to publish will be an even smaller subset.

    I always think about this and have struggled as I've tried to force, say, a historical fiction piece to be a futuristic sci-fi thing (because that's what I write). Eventually, I give up and write the historical fiction piece (because that's what I had to write right then) and move on.

    When I am famous, I'll publish whatever I want. I look to authors like Asimov who were insanely famous in one genre or another but also published in others (Asimov did mysteries, non-fiction, humor, limericks, etc. in addition to his large body of science fiction).

    Personally, I think the more varied your writing is in general, the better your writing will be on any specific piece because elements of many genres and styles can fit appropriately into specific areas of "your genre". You need to use the writing muscles now so that they're ready when you need them later.

  8. I'm so tired of blasted "advice" that spans the entire spectrum of the universe that I now follow no advice, only my gut feelings. So. There. Take. That.

    I say, if you write in different genres, you develop a following in different genres.

  9. I've noticed I get different comments on different genres I write. I could just stick with the one genre that gets me the most comments, but I'm not about to sell out when I'm not even making any money.

  10. I've noticed I get different comments on different genres I write. I could just stick with the one genre that gets me the most comments, but I'm not about to sell out when I'm not even making any money.

  11. I'm starting to get fed up with it too, Laura, especially because it's so contradictory.

    Jared, I have the same experience. My writing is much better when I write what I want to write instead of what I think other people will like.

  12. Why worry about constraining your creativity like this?

  13. I'm seeing this a little late, tony, but this issue has been gnawing on me as well. i can't even properly define genres much less stick to them. the most stressful time of my week is picking the 'genre' on jon's fridayflash collector! ;-) we're still in exploration mode and i feel that if i start to reign myself in i will kill my creativity and suck all the joy out of it. so, i'm happy to let my imagination run wild and in fact i'm trying to do more of it ;-) if at some point down the road we settle on 2 or 3 or even more genres that are comfortable for us, i say put sections on your blog (on a menu bar or elsewhere) so that ppl can easily get to the type of content they enjoy. in the meantime, have at it!


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