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”?

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