Pick a Genre. Any Genre.

Mark Paxson

I spent a couple of days at Lake Tahoe this weekend. By myself. Which means I spent a lot of time in my head. On the drive home, I started thinking about our last video chat. At one point Lucinda Clarke commented during that chat that she had screwed up by writing in multiple genres. I responded that I had done the same thing.

A few days after that chat, I met a friend for luinch. I took him a copy of my latest book. Until this book, he hadn’t realized I wrote fiction. We had a lengthy discussion about books and writing. At one point, he asked me what genre I write in. There is no easy answer to that for me. My published works can be broken down this way:

Courtroom drama; young adult, coming of age; quirky, all dialogue oddball of a story; a novella that is the opposite of coming of age — a literary take on a life of loneliness and despair; and dozens of short stories that are all over the place.

My works in progress can be broken down this way:

Dystopian — I have three different WIPs that are variations on a dystopian future (one is a sexy space romp, one is a tale of a President who declares martial law and rules for years afterwards, destroying the country, and the third is something I actually can only dream about — a story told in reverse like the movie Memento). Then there are … a baseball novel; a collection of short stories that interconnet to produce a larger story (actually, I think I have two of these on the drawing board); And a few other things I’ve forgotten at the moment.

Genre? I don’t need no stinking genre!

But what I thought about this morning on the drive home was that maybe Lucinda was right. Maybe it’s a mistake to write stories that are all over the place. I got to thinking about people who might read my latest novel (the YA tale) who then would look at my other books, maybe even buy one, and then be disappointed that nothing else I’ve published is YA.

To some extent, I can’t help myself. This is just who I am. As I’ve said during our video chats, part of writing for me is exploring new ways to tell stories and new stories to tell. I simply don’t think I could have stuck with courtroom dramas for every story I wrote. It would be too stifling for me to stick with one genre — even if that novel was my most successful.

If I’m going to create, I want to keep creating. Which means, to me, spreading out into different genres, different voices, different stories. I guess what fascinates me the most about the art of writing is the ability to tell a story that people want to read. It’s not about the genre. It’s about an idea that comes to me and if it interests me, I’m going to pursue it, and see if I can write a story that is compelling enough and good enough that it gets readers’ attention.

But the question for this post is … in search of a reading audience, does that hurt me? As Lucinda suggested during the chat, does switching genres hamper a writer’s ability to attract and grow a consistent and loyal audience.

I think about when I first started blogging and there were all sorts of experts who counseled that a blog should be on a specific topic. Find a niche — whether it be cooking or traveling or writing or politics — and stick to it. That was the best way to grow an audience for a blog. Well, readers of my blog know that I did not follow that advice. Like my stories, my blog is all over the place. It represents everything in the world that fascinates me — music, politics, current events, cooking, gardening, exercise, writing, and whatever moves me on a day that I decide to write a blog post.

Maybe it’s time to write the next chapter of that courtroom drama. 😉 Maybe not. Because here’s the thing. After I finished that novel, I thought of two more books I could write about the main character, because that’s what mattered the most about that story. Not that it was a courtroom drama. No. What mattered was the characters and I had two ideas for more misadventures that would befall good ol’ Jack McGee. But even Jack couldn’t keep me interested and I ditched those two ideas and moved on to other stories, newer characters. (I’m struggling with the same dynamic with my most recent novel.)

So … let me ask again. Writers and readers out there … should a writer stick with a particular genre or two? Or should a writer write whatever the hell he or she wants and take a chance with each new product? What do you do? Stick with one genre? Go all over the place? What’s your motivation — because at the end of the day, that’s the ultimate reason for what each of us do.


  1. I say write whatever you want. I love it when writers try different things. I’ve written three books that could be considered sci-fi, one that’s essentially a Gothic horror story, and one that’s a mash-up of horror and rom-com. In terms of works in progress, I’ve dabbled in dark comedies, mysteries, and historical fiction. I’ve also been working on a weird western for a long time… I may not ever publish it, but it’s interesting to write all the same.

    Also, writing in different genres can be useful for developing ideas. I know you know the behind-the-scenes story of “The Directorate,” but I like to tell it because it was such a “lightbulb coming on” moment: I wanted to write a sci-fi story, but didn’t know how to start. Then I thought of putting Theresa Gannon, a character from a totally non-sci-fi story I’d been working on, into it. That was the spark I needed. So, you never know what kinds of literary experiments you’ll need to do before you find something that works.

    I guess from a marketing perspective, this isn’t ideal. If, someday, I publish that weird western, maybe some of my readers will say, “What the heck is this? I thought this guy wrote sci-fi!” But I think most readers are more willing to try new stuff than marketing experts give them credit for.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. kingmidget says:

      The world needs that weird western. Or at least, I do.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think if a writer aspires to increase their readership, it’s probably a good idea to stick to whatever genre has been successful for them, even as Lucinda suggested. On the other hand, if one isn’t exactly selling a million books a year (more like a couple dozen), what is there to lose by trying different genres? Especially if sticking to a genre cramps your style. So write whatever excites you.
    And really, it may not be so much the genre that attracts readers, but the writer’s style or narrative voice.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. kingmidget says:

      That’s what I hope … as I skip around and experiment that people will come for the story and how I tell it and ignore that I don’t stick with one particular type of genre. I know … my genre is … storytelling!!!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. chucklitka says:

    While I agree with Berhold and Audrey about pursuing your ideas, at least until you strike gold.

    Still, I wonder if there is a genre in which you could fit all your various story ideas into. How important is the backdrop to your stories in your imagination? For example, set whatever story you can imagine in the future, and you’re writing science fiction. Or perhaps setting them in one locale — a fictional town — that ties the various stories together, perhaps with a common character or two now and again might keep readers coming back.

    Lucinda Clarke was very clear that she was writing to make money. She identified a viable market that she felt she could write in and focused on that market, and was keeping an eye out for other opportunities that may arise. I think that is what you have to do if you want a chance to make money as a writer.

    Oh, and I wish I had so many story ideas — right now, even one. Have fun!

    Liked by 3 people

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