The most successful published authors out there tend to stick to one genre.
If you look at people like James Patterson (thrillers), Dean Koontz (supernatural thrillers), Nicholas Sparks (romance), Stephen King (horror) and George R.R Martin (fantasy), you’ll see that the genre in which these writer become successful is the one that continues to define them, and as a result, they rarely stray from the conventions of that genre. There’s a reason for this.
Writing novels for mass consumption is in many ways like turning your business into a franchise. Walk into any McDonald’s or Starbucks and you’ll be treated to the same atmosphere, menu, and aesthetic scheme that you encountered the last time you entered one of these stores. Authors do something similar when they produce novels in the same genre; after a few books, readers know what to expect and they continue to buy the author’s books in hopes of experiencing the same thrill. A good “genre” author gives them that thrill again and again just as a good franchise offers the same quality of taste and experience customers have come to expect regardless of the store’s physical location.
Because they’re a pretty safe bet for readers, genre authors sell thousands, if not millions, more copies of their books than “literary” novelists who choose to structure each novel according to a different theme or method. When a literary writer chooses to structure her latest novel around the exploration of narcissism in daily suburban life, most people won’t know what to expect story-wise and therefore won’t always take the risk or pay the money to find out. But literary authors also enjoy a special level of prestige and acclaim that can make their path worthwhile, regardless of the hit they take financially.
Ultimately, successful authors–whether their success is financial or critical–tend to stick to the field/genre they’ve chosen. And that’s usually a good thing. It lets them grow better over time and lets you, the reader, feel comfortable buying anything they write as long as you’ve already enjoyed their work in the past.
But regardless of whether you write literary or genre fiction, there’s one mistake all authors should avoid: it’s the mistake of only reading books in your genre. (more…)