James Schannep is an author who has taken “branching out” to the extreme with his branching path Click Your Poison series of interactive novels. The latest, PATHOGENS, puts YOU (the reader) in control of six different characters trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. James can be reached at www.jamesschannep.com or on Facebook and Twitter.James Schannep
“Know Thyself” was the command inscribed at Delphi by the ancient Greeks, who arguably invented the drama and the tragedy.
“Pigeonhole Thyself” is the advice given to today’s dramatic writers, words which some would argue are a tragedy.
The idea is to pick a genre, find a niche, and build yourself a lovely summer home there. But is this advice for good or for ill? Let’s flesh out the pros and cons and find out.
Marketability. Far and away the biggest tally mark in the “pro” category, setting your writing within the confines of a single genre can help make lifelong fans. After all, readers who loved your heartwarming WWII love story might not enjoy your vampire detective novel. But if you’ve got a Civil War love story waiting in the wings? It’s that much easier for them to click the “buy” button on Amazon. It’s the same logic behind the advice, “write a series, not multiple stand-alone novels.” Brands sell. Agents think this way, publishers think this way, so why not writers? You’ll need to wear all three hats if you’re going to make it in the era of self-publishing.
Honing Your Craft. Writing and reading, that’s what will make you a better writer. Lather, rinse, repeat. And guess what? If you write, read, sleep, eat, and excrete RomComs, you’re going to get better and better at that genre.
Be memorable. Stephen King is a name that can give people goosebumps. Why? He’s a master of horror. That’s what he does, and he does it well and consistently. If you want to make a name for yourself, it might be worth doing the same.
Marketability. Yes, it can be marketable both to stick to one genre or to diversify your portfolio. The market is fickle like that. If you write only Sci-Fi novels, a thriller fan might never discover your books. But if you wow him/her with your murder mystery, they might fall in love with your writing style and seek out your other books, regardless of the genre. By casting a wider net, you open up new possibilities. You want readers to fall in love with your writing, not simply to take advantage of the love they already hold for the genre.
Passion. If you love reading children’s books, slasher fiction, and comedies, why can’t you write all three? Although, to avoid angry parents, you might want to do a nom de plume for one of the first two, lest the kiddos accidentally cross over. But the point is—writing should be fun! That’s why we all do it, or at least why we started. Write what you love and love what you write.
I’m bringing it back full circle here. The right answer? “Know Thyself.” Weigh the pros and cons, discover your own motivations, and pick what’s right for you. What motivates you to put butt to chair and fingers to keyboard? The prospect of sales? If so, you might want to take the hardline marketability approach. Or if you have a story that needs to emerge, but it’s not in your usual genre, write the damn thing. A book written with passion is so much more enjoyable to read than a book written out of duty. Your readers will notice the difference.
As for this author? I’ve tried to do a little of both. My Click Your Poison series hops from genre to genre, yet each book “feels” like it’s part of the same series. My goal is to have fans readers pining to read what I want to write, not to be a writer who tries to write what I think readers might like. I love writing my books. That’s the first step in finding fans who love to read them.