I keep hearing one piece of advice, again and again, when it comes to publishing: Don’t change genre. Change your genre at your peril. Abandon hope all ye who enter the territory of mixed genres. Nobody expects the Spanish… no, that’s wrong.
I mean, it makes sense, I guess. People like what they like, and if they find you because you’re writing amazing end-of-the-world thriller books and then you veer off into making books about a friendly unicorn who solves crimes through hugs and cuddles, you’re probably not going to get many readers to follow you down that particular path. I know I wouldn’t.
And hey, it’s not like this is an area without precedence. Authors are always taking on pen names for a different genre. Iain Banks is a very respectable literary fiction type who produces incredibly well thought of literary fiction. Stick an M in the middle and you’ve got a science fiction god. Same dude. But… my god that sounds exhausting.
I love being an indie author, but I’d be lying if I said that the effort that goes into it is commensurate with the reward, at least at this point for me, and if we’re talking in purely monetary terms. On the other hand, yesterday I received three separate emails from readers telling me how much they liked Blood on the Motorway, and let me tell you, that’s how I imagine stuffing your face into a full bag of catnip feels to a cat. Every reader email makes me feel I could go face down the traffic and win. But as someone running a small creative business, there’s a frankly insane amount of admin, promotion, marketing, and other tasks to keep you busy. I can’t even begin to fathom trying to do all that for more than one pen name.
Any yet, I don’t just want to write one thing. I’d get bored. The books would stop being any good. I may be a fan of genre fiction, but not just one genre. All of which provides a bit of a dilemma. Yes, I want to write apocalyptic horror, but I also want to write sci-fi. And vampire books. And straight up literary fiction. And music stuff. And thrillers.
It’s weird to me that people only want to read their authors writing in one genre. We don’t expect that from our filmmakers. If we did, Steven Soderbergh wouldn’t have a career. Stanley Kubrick, either. On the flip side, we hold this rule to our musicians even more strongly than to authors. How dare Opeth graduate slowly from death metal to melodic prog? What do you mean Kiss went disco?
People are weird, and fandom is weird. I say that as someone who has stopped listening to Opeth for the reason listed above. Not out of malice. Their new stuff isn’t my cup of tea. I hate tea. And the new Opeth stuff is weak tea.
But I digress.
As with most things in life, I’ve decided that the only true path is that followed by The King. After all, Stephen King may be thought of as a horror author, but The Shawshank Redemption is literary fiction, The Dark Tower is Urban/Cowboy Fantasy, and the Mr Mercedes trilogy is straight up Crime Fiction.
So, if it’s good enough for The King, it’s good enough for me. Now, this might be ignoring the fact that King earned the right to do whatever the hell he pleases, but I got into this racket to write what I want to write. If I just wanted to make money, this is a pretty stupid way to go about it.
My next book is not apocalyptic horror. It’s a dystopian sci-fi with horror elements, set a hundred years in the future. It’s the start of a nine book series, and it’ll total over a million words by the time it’s done. In that time I’ll also be releasing a vampire series, part urban fantasy, part horror, no glittery vampires in sight.
I really hope my readers will come on these different journeys with me. They are close enough in tone and intent, and they’re still very much in my voice, whatever that is. I don’t know what it is, I just do what it tells me. But if they don’t, that’s okay too. Art lies where the heart is, and I have to be true to that, no matter how much harder I’m making things for myself in the long run.
Paul Stephenson is a writer of horror and science fiction novels. Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining the mailing list or reading along at Wattpad. Oh, and he’s got a Patreon. Sign up for free books, a free weekly short story, and much more.