Toni and I are at a writer's conference in New York (PASIC–the published author chapter of RWA) and one of the great things about this conference is that because we're all published authors, so we tend to talk about issues that we're all grappling with as published authors of all levels, from #1 New York Times Bestsellers to debut authors.
One discussion point that came up several times was writing in two or more genres: when can you do it, how should you do it, does it help or hurt and should you take a pen name.
There are as many opinions as their are authors.
When romance writers are talking about writing in a second genre, it's usually taking a second genre within the broader romance genre. For example, a historical author also writing contemporary romantic suspense. Sometimes, however, it's a contemporary romance writer who decides to write a mystery series.
One of the hurdles we face is the possibility of ticking off our core readers. If we venture too far off the reservation, we risk losing our base. If we lose our base without gaining new readers, we're toast. This is why many authors take a pen name–it's a way of distinguishing between the two "types" of books. Nora Roberts/JD Robb are one in the same, but Nora Roberts is associated with big, meaty, sweeping romances and JD Robb is associated with futuristic romantic mysteries. Jayne Anne Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle are all the same person, but Krentz writes romance/romantic suspense; Amanda Quick historical romance; and Jayne Castle paranormal romance. But we all know it's the same person.
Yet some authors write under one name. Julie Garwood, for example, writes both historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.
But taking two or more names is not limited to romance sub-genres. Thriller writer James Rollins wrote fantasy as James Clemens, publishing simultaneously (one Rollins book, one Clemens book) two books a year. Now, Jim is adding YA adventures (Indiana Jones) under his Rollins name.
Perennial bestseller Dean Koontz wrote under many pen names in multiple genres–romance, supernatural, horror, suspense, science fiction–before writing exclusively under his name and ultimately reissuing most of his previously published books under his own name.
Stephen King wrote books similar to Stephen King under the pen name Richard Bachman primarily because he was so prolific (another reason why Nora Roberts took a pen name–though she also did it because she was writing a series completely different from her trademark romances.)
Janet Evanovich, however, writes both the Stephanie Plum mystery series and her romance/romantic comedy novels under her own name; and James Patterson writes both thrillers and YA supernatural thrillers under his own name. And our own Tess Gerritsen started in romantic suspense, moved into mainstream thrillers, and also wrote a historical mystery/suspense all under her own name.
When I'm done with my current WIP, I'll start my supernatural thriller series. We've already decided that I'll write the series under my name. I've considered the pros and cons of this:
1) I write romantic thrillers. My current readers may be upset because there is not as much romance in the books (those there will be a romance–but it'll be a multi-book romantic arc instead of resolved by the end of book one.)
2) It's a series with the same characters through all seven books (as opposed to creating new characters for each book.) Some readers might now want to get invested in a new series.
3) Some people don't like supernatural elements in their suspense novels–even when the books are grounding in the "real world."
4) Readers might pick up a book with my name thinking they're getting one thing, but disappointed because they get something different.
1) Writers, like readers, often get bored writing the same type of stories. They want to try something a little different (or a lot different) in order to keep themselves fresh and engaged and creative. I'm ready to write something different.
2) When you have a good-sized audience who trusts you to deliver a good-story, they'll mostly follow you anyplace you want to take them. I hope my readers will trust me enough to show them a slightly different world.
3) You already have a name you've built–it would be almost starting at square one to write under a second name (including more time to market, another website, etc.) I don't have the time to manage two names!
One comment from agents and editors at the conference is that they cautioned us to writing a book "like" our last one. One editor said, "You need to deliver another book like the last and give your readers what they expect."
One argument is that you need to give them the same, but different, book. Another romantic suspense. Another cozy mystery. Another western-set historical. Another argument is that it's not the genre, but the feeling the reader has when they read your book that's important. Meaning, if you are known for delivering emotionally-driven stories, then you need to have emotionally-driven stories in all your subgenres. If you are known for your great puzzles in your mysteries, it doesn't matter if you set them in the future, the past, or any time in between.
I'll admit, I'm getting excited about embarking on this new adventure. It's an idea I've had for nearly six years, and I finally get to start writing it. But that doesn't mean I'm not scared of the potential pitfalls!
What about you? Are you willing to go with your favorite authors wherever they want to take you, even if it's a genre you haven't read before?
And because Toni said I had to, I just want to mention that my book SUDDEN DEATH comes out on Tuesday, March 24th. If you like romantic thrillers, I hope you run out to buy it this week. If you don't, I hope you run out and buy it this week . . . for your best friend, mom, dad, spouse, sister, brother, son and (I mean or!) daughter.