Genre Hopping–Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

Last night, I picked up a copy of The Writer magazine and read an article advocating that authors dip their toes into different genres. Write a mystery, it said. Write a thriller, a memoir, a science fiction tale. Try some short stories. Feed your muse.

“Yikes,” I thought. “My muse hasn’t even mastered the genre I’ve chosen to BE my genre yet.”

“Yikes,” I thought a few seconds later. “Who the heck has TIME to write in different genres if you’re really trying to make this craft your career?”

Usually, when I think of authors dipping into different genres, I think of someone like Steffie Hall, who wrote category romances for Loveswept for years, but got tired of writing love scenes. She wanted to write more action, more humor. She took 18 months off, thought about what she wanted to do with her writing career, and began writing humorous suspense stories with a dash of romance and a heroine named Stephanie Plum. Oh yeah, and went back to her name: Janet Evanovich. We all know that turned out okay for her.

Or take Jessica Bird, who wrote nice little Silhouette romances for a few years until her career kind of stalled out. She had an idea for a dark story about the last purebred vampire on earth–a far cry from her novels like The Billioinaire Next Door or A Man in a Million. She wrote the first in her proposed series on this vampire, called it Dark Lover, named her band of vampire warriors the Black Dagger Brotherhood, and published them under the name J.R. Ward. She did okay with that, too.

They stayed in romance, but took a wildly different turn. Both of these authors had hit walls in their writing careers, though, and were looking for different genres both for fulfillmenet and, in JR Ward’s case, to revive a career.

That seems to me a different issue than genre hopping as an experiment in writing–or it would have a couple of months ago. My first two books were urban fantasy “with romantic elements” and the one I’m revising is paranormal romance “with urban fantasy elements.” I hardly considered these separate genres until I starting the PNR and realized just how very different they are. The base story stays the same, but the focus shifts big-time.

I think the genre hopping I see most is between high fantasy and urban fantasy. Jim Butcher hit the big time with his (oh-so-fabulous) Harry Dresden series, but he writes the Codex Alexa series in high fantasy. Patricia Briggs, who writes both the Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega urban fantasy series (set in the same world), also writes high fantasy Sianim series. There’s Nora Roberts/JD Robb in the romance/suspense hop. Daniel Abraham/M.L.N. Hanover in the high fantasy/urban fantasy hop. Who else?

Then there’s the whole Young Adult genre, which is smokin’ hot these days. Popular adult urban fantasy authors such as Rachel Caine who completed her popular Weather Warden series for adults earlier this year (a new series starts soon), and just released her ninth in her arguably even more popular YA series, The Morganville Vampires.

Me? If I were to dip a toe outside my urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre, it would be to try my hand at a dystopian sci-fi. 

What do you think? Is genre hopping best for when you’ve established yourself in one genre and have the time and the name recognitioin to hop? Should you use separate names for your separate genres? Or is genre hopping best saved for reviving a stalled-out writing career? Any of you writing in multiple genres?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

4 thoughts on “Genre Hopping–Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

  1. Gosh, the idea of genre hopping as a creative exercise makes sense if you feel like you a) know what you are doing in your current genre and are bored, or b)don’t have a clue what you are doing in your current genre and think maybe you need to change directions. Me, I’m finding that I’m WAY more comfortable writing the scenes in my grown up contemporary romance that are in the POV of the 8-year old daughter of the heroine. Ooops! Gotta send her to stay with Aunt Nancy before we get to the hot and heavy parts, no telling WHAT she’ll make of all that!

  2. I think there can be some cross-over. If you write fantasy why not dabble with urban fantasy? Or fantasy and YA fantasy? Of course you might want to use a pen name if you write horror and MG.

  3. Well genres can be a catch-22. Readers want to reproduce the feelings when they had when they fell in love with a particular kind of story, but one of those feelings was *novelty*. Perhaps the value of genre hopping would be learning to use the conventions of a genre as kind of palette, rather than as a straight jacket.

    I thought the early draft of “Stockholm” had a dark, quirky kind of Stephen King (you’ve got to admire the editor who took a chance on “Carrie”) vibe to it. It’ll be interesting to see whether that’s still there after it fits the market segment profile for PR.

  4. Gosh, another good topic Suz — you’re on fire.

    I genre hope and I didn’t even know it. My first was UF with erotic elements, but not enough romance to be PNR (I understand exactly what you’re going through right now with the revisions – I’m not much of a PNR reader).

    I enjoyed the erotic writing so much I now do some pure erotica stuff. With the same pen name. *wink*

    I’m also doing a MG for my kids, which I have not thought up the pen name yet – but yes, it will be under a new name.

    I’ve also dabbled in a non-fiction blog under yet another pen name. But I’ve been stretched so thin lately with time that project has been neglected.

    Good god, no wonder I needed that vacation.