Does writing in different genres turn off readers?

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Does writing in different genres turn off readers?

As a writer, I’m like any artist learning and mastering a craft and trying to stay fresh and passionate while doing it. This has led to considerable prolific-ness, mostly in what I’m becoming known for—mysteries—but also forays into literary suspense (Unsound) upcoming romance Somewhere on Maui (an Accidental Matchmaker  Novel) and a YA novel that my agent is still shopping around, Path of Island Fire.

As a self published author, I’ve seen no problem with writing whatever I feel like and putting it out there—and letting readers decide. However, the recent brouhaha over J.K. Rowling’s leaked identity in writing a book in a very different genre has given me pause. Would READERS be better served if I were to create pen names for these other genres? Would it work better for me, too?

Certainly, that’s the way traditional publishing houses have handled it for years—creating “branding” around a given genre for an author, and using pen names to market different genres by the same writer.

Here’s why I hate that idea:

  • I’ve worked hard to build name recognition as Toby Neal. Re-creating that marketing wheel feels exhausting before I even get started. *impulse to lie down and take a nap*
  • I’m hoping that by stretching into different genres with one overarching umbrella, Hawaii, as my brand niche, I can bring my readers along with me for different types of reads.
  •   I personally don’t like the sense of “inauthenticity” that comes with a pen name. If I can’t stand behind my book with my own name, why should I expect readers to do the same? (I may be alone in this one.)

HOWEVER.  I threw the question of cross-genre confusion, pen names and “brand loyalty” out to my vociferous Facebook friends, a responsive group of book fans, family, friends, and fellow writers. The discussion, here,  was really fascinating.

Out of it all, some conclusions:

  • Most readers will “try” a favorite author’s book in a different genre, but if they don’t like it, they won’t buy another.
  • This loyalty trend could even extend to characters/series within the same genre—Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson were cited as examples of writers whose series within the same genre generated fan loyalty but not necessarily crossover to their other series.
  • Established authors chiming in said they’d had negative results with fans when they wrote in a different genre—that readers felt “betrayed” and panned the books with boycotting and reviews a la J. K. Rowling and The Casual Vacancy. These authors advocated for writing under different names as an effective “branding” tool that protects authors and reader loyalty.

All this has given me food for thought as I think about the titles, author name and branding of my upcoming romance and YA novels. *chews nails* Because of this discussion, I’m leaning toward using variations on my name for these upcoming works—so that way, fans can still see it’s a Toby Neal book, but also that it’s a different genre/branding.

What are your thoughts on authors writing in different genres, and would you follow a favorite author into “foreign territory”?

25 Responses to “Does writing in different genres turn off readers?”

  1. Kathryn Brown

    Yes, I would follow an author into new genre territory because I like to read so many different genres. My first novel was paranormal then I went onto a chick-lit and my third book is another chick-lit. However, I have a murder/mystery/suspense awaiting edits and I’m thinking about a contemporary romance also, so for me, different genres are a must. I also dithered over pen names but have decided against it. As an indie author, marketing and promoting oneself is the most difficult part and I’d like to think my readers will buy another Kathryn Brown book should they enjoy one of them. If I’d written under a pen name, how would they find my other books? Obviously there are ways around this but I’m not famous and my marketing skills aren’t the best, so I guess I’m making it easier for myself.

  2. Jamie DeBree

    I think one other thing to consider is whether your voice will be relatively similar across genres. I think some of the “betrayal” readers might feel is to pick up two books with your name on them, written in vastly different voices. So then the question for the reader is, which one is the real you? And how do they distinguish if they prefer one over the other, and the only thing separating is genre (which is often not denoted if you just go to the Amazon page from an author search)?

    If your voice is fairly consistent across genres, I think it would certainly be easier to keep everything under one name, because you won’t have that jarring difference when readers pick your books up. For me, I try to match my voice and style to the genre I’m writing in, making them very different in voice and style. So there’s a good chance that someone reading my horror wouldn’t even recognize that as “mine” if they’d read my romantic suspense books before, and the same for erotic romance, and the sci-fi I’m working on.

    Which is why I guess I don’t have the authenticity issue with my pen names either. They’re all “me”, just different sides/manifestations of my writing personality. I refer to them as my alter-egos. 🙂

    • toby

      Veeeerry interesting, Jamie, I like your honest and thoughtful answer. I think my “voice” has been consistent across my books except for Stolen in Paradise, which while still a mystery, veers into romantic suspense and has more explicit sex in it, something readers either love or hate (from the reviews) even though same genre. Unsound, which is as I said, a different genre, definitely has a different, more personal feel as it’s in first person but it’s also a character from the Lei Crime world, so readers are following me there and liking it so far.
      Somewhere on Maui is definitely a “Toby Neal” book, with short descriptive passages, a feeling of action and movement, and focus on characters in the Hawaii experience. Though a romance, I think readers will recognize it as my style even more than a book like Unsound.
      So I’m still debating… I may focus on the title, blurb and cover to convey the romance message.

  3. Ihilani

    You know I love the Lei Crime Series and the characters that you’ve developed in that series and in companion books, and while they are mysteries, your books are really about people, and it’s their humanity that jumps off the page and makes for an interesting read. I think you can do that in any genre and be successful. I like the idea of using “Hawaii” as the umbrella that holds all your different novels together. The fact that you’re writing about completely different experiences of the people in Hawaii speaks to Hawaii’s complexity, which is not something people associate with this place unfortunately.

    I also agree with you on having to rebuild yourself under a different name. That just sounds like a whole lot of work and you’ve already built up such a great community. If you went by a completely different pen name, wouldn’t you let people know it was you anyway? So wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? I never quite understood the purpose of pen names in this situation, unless it was a woman trying to disguise the fact that she was a woman so she could be taken seriously. Not a problem for you.

    There are other ways to let people know you’re writing something different like the cover art (LCS looks way different from Stolen even though they’re the same genre), the tag line of the series, the blurb can have genre specific words like “mystery” or “suspense.” Plus you’re so good at communicating with your audience and being open about your work so we all know what’s coming.

    You may be known as a mystery author right now, but that’s only because that’s the first thing you published and the first thing you got “famous” for. To the reader who might find Unsound first, you’re a suspense writer, and reading Lei might be off-putting. Don’t we tend to praise actors who can’t be put into a box? They don’t change their name for every genre of movie they put out. I don’t see why writers have to.

    Ok I had a lot more to say on this than I thought lol! Bottom line: Go with your gut. We all love you and one author’s bad experience with/without a pen name won’t necessarily be yours.

    • toby

      Thank you Ihilani, I’m so thrilled to have your thoughts here! Hope the new baby is sleeping well! XOXOX

  4. Medora

    Please use different names for different authors. Buying a book from a favorite mystery author and finding out it’s a romance (gag) means I’ve wasted my money. Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters is very successful under both names. With Fantasticfiction.uk.co though, I can now look up an author & no longer get a romance or YA by mistake.

    • toby

      Great example you gave of Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters. Great to know about FantasticFiction’s purpose, I noticed they were listing my books there and was happy about it!
      Aloha and thanks for chiming in.

  5. Andrea Dalling

    You could try the “Toby Neal writing as…” route. I’ve seen authors use that styling on their cover. That way you can change the brand but still build on your following.

    I recently learned that one of my favorite authors writes in another genre under a different pen name, but she didn’t reveal what her other author names are! So I can’t go see if I’d want to read any of those books, which is disappointing to me as a fan. It cuts both ways.

    I use a pen name for the erotic stuff I write, because I don’t think there would be a lot of crossover among my fans. I’m writing different kinds of stories in a different style with different themes.

    • toby

      Yes, I think writing erotica under a pen name makes a lot of sense and it’s its own brand in a way! Thank you for the new idea of “writing as” but to my mind, it seems like a silly extra step…I think sticking with signaling change of genre through cover, blurb and title should be enough for me, at least. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Sandy Prout

    After reading last night’s “friends” discussion and today’s posting, I’ve come to a decision as far as Toby Neal and your writing is concerned. I love the fact that Hawaii is and will be the location for your books no matter the genre. I’m glad you’ll continue to use your own name instead of a pen name. I will read any product you put out there, no matter the genre. My favorite being Mystery! I’ll try the new genre but may or may not continue to follow it. Continue with Lei and hopefully find new Mysteries to invent. Continue your great character development and use of the lovely lands of Hawaii. Places I’ve been and places I’ll be! Mahalo Nui Loa, Toby

  7. Meg

    On the personal note, I would like you to keep writing under your own name, because I like how you write and am more likely to try a different genre of novel if I’m familiar with the author’s previously published work (if that made sense). I can understand why extraordinarily prolific writers (and their publishers) would create different pen names for different genres, because hundreds of books need some kind of categorization, but I personally like having one author’s name.

    I like your books enough to purchase them for the Kindle, instead of waiting for the monthly Prime lending library, so I definitely would like to know right away when you publish a new book!

  8. Shalora

    Personally, I absolutely would. One of my very favorite authors, for my entire adult life, has been Mercedes Lackey. I suppose you couldn’t really say that she falls into entirely different genres, but she does cover VERY different aspects of the fantasy genre. She creates worlds of her own, and she has series that cover at least 9 (and this number keeps increasing as I write this reply, it began as 6) different worlds that I can think of, all of which have very different aspects, some of which are very much “this is set in the real world except that Elves are real”, all the way through “this is total fantasy and set on an entirely different world, not even on Earth”. To me, those essentially are different genres, though all fall within the realm of “fantasy” (which, in and of itself, is a much broader genre than “mystery”). I was a little dubious the first time I read a book that wasn’t set in Velgarth (where her Heralds of Valdemar books are set, probably her best-known series), but I gave it a try because she’s awesome, and now I’m in love with that series, the 500 Kingdoms, the dragon series (yes, a different one than Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern”, this one is set in a culture very like our ancient Egypt… but with dragons), the Free Bards, the Obsidian Mountain trilogy (haven’t read the other Obsidian Mountain set, just haven’t gotten my hands on it yet), and I could probably list at least 4 others that I adore and eagerly await new titles. I have found that, for me, it’s her *style* that I adore. The way in which she describes things, the kinds of characters she uses (human and flawed, striving to do better – the kind most people can actually relate to), the fact that she uses fantasy to address very real issues… Those things don’t change, even if the trappings of the world she is using do shift. I would happily try anything you put out – and if I don’t like it, I’ll probably still try others in the same style, because sometimes an individual book doesn’t resonate, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect on the author or even on the author in that genre. If two or three in that genre don’t work for me, then I’ll quit that particular series, but I’ll still read other books by that author in the genres where s/he works well.

    So, there’s my 2 cents. 🙂

  9. eden baylee

    Great post, Toby,
    I write under a pen name – erotica anthologies, and I’m moving into my first novel-length mystery at the moment. I don’t intend to change names.

    Readers of my work are familiar with my writing from my blog, where I’ve crossed over to thriller, mystery, flash fiction and other non-erotic pieces. I’ve made connections with so many authors in different genres as eden baylee, that to re-connect under a different name would be more work than I care to entertain.

    Originally, I thought I would have 2 names knowing I would not write erotica forever, however, establishing a different identity will take more time away from writing, and it’s not what I want to do.

    Authors are not one-dimensional. We may have the same name, but can write across genres. How to market will be a matter of connecting with loyal readers , and showing them we are more than just our genre, then it’s a matter of expanding the fan base.

    eden

  10. J.C. Martin

    We had that discussion at a panel at Crimefest this year. I think the best tactic is to write different genres under different variations of your name. That way, there’s a distinction between genres, yet fans will know that your writing style will stay constant across these different books. It also gives readers the choice to “cross over” if they want to. There was an author on the panel who write rather dark crime as Kevin Wignall, but lighter YA horror has K.J. Wignall. Personally, I feel that’s the perfect compromise.

  11. Elyse Salpeter

    What a great post and one I struggle with as well as a writer that is all over the board. I have YA books, some adult thrillers, some horror. I think unless I end up writing Erotica (which I’m pretty sure I won’t) that I’m going to keep my name – I’m spending an awful lot of time trying to brand myself and I can’t see doing a Pen Name just to move from YA to the adult genre. Thanks for the great post.

  12. Jarnine Johnson

    Toby, I would personally prefer that you keep writing under your own name with Hawaii being your brand. I especially enjoy the Lei series but will try anything that you publish, I am a nook owner but have downloaded the Kindle app on my computer and phone just so I can purchase your books as soon as they are released. I really enjoy the depth of your characters and the descriptions of Hawaii take me to places I’ve seen and places I want see one day. Mahalo.

  13. Sylvia Kikuyama

    That’s a very good question. It seems as though using a different pen name for a different genre might be a good idea since readers tend to tag a certain style and topic with a particular writer. Makes for a cozy relationship between the reader and writer. If a writer begins to write books that are completely in a different genre, it throws people –