3 Things To Think About Before You Write In A New Genre

Most writers read a lot, and many of us read more than one genre.

These days I mainly read suspense, thrillers, and mystery. I used to read a lot of horror and supernatural fiction. And now and then I read mainstream fiction and classics.

Liking to read multiple genres often leads to wanting to write in more than one of them.

But is that a good thing?

Before you switch genres, a few things that are worth thinking about:

Audience Size

At first it seems like a larger audience would be better. I thought so when I switched from supernatural thrillers and horror to suspense/mystery.

But a large audience presents its own challenges.

  • It’s harder to reach a very large audience because there’s no one specific place to go to find them.

Mary Higgins Clark sells a ton of books per year. So does James Patterson. Almost anyone who likes fiction has probably read at least one if not many of their novels.

Which is the problem.

People who love vampire paranormal romance will likely look for more of those types of books. They may join Facebook groups or like pages devoted to that type of fiction. Or search sites like Amazon, Kobo, or Apple Books for “paranormal romance” or vampires.

But a James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark fan, especially one who only reads a few books a year, can simply wait for the next book. They’re bound to hear about it through an ad, a friend, or a physical book in a store window or on a shelf.

  • Lack of common interests, making it harder to engage in content marketing.

Content marketing means creating written content such as articles, blog posts, or short stories that you give away to draw in readers who might also buy your other work. This article, for example, can serve as content marketing for my non-fiction books on writing craft, though it’d be better if I sold marketing books.

But it’s hard to tell what might be a common interest of fans of major bestselling authors. Sure, Patterson fans might like other thrillers. But they also might just like Patterson.

It’s a little easier to guess related interests of people who like more niche genres.

An article about haunted houses or true-to-life spooky stories is likely to draw an audience of readers who like horror fiction.

In contrast, readers who like thrillers don’t necessarily read nonfiction about true crime, law enforcement, or real life suspense stories.

  • Many readers in popular genres only read a few books a year, and voracious readers often already read multiple series.

Readers who read 1-5 books a year probably stick with big names we’ve all heard of. And there are enough of those, at least at the moment, that there’s no need to shop around for a lesser known author.

That’s not to say there aren’t voracious readers in popular genres like mysteries. Many of them, though, already read multiple series by multiple authors. They’ll try a new author, but typically only when they want a break from existing series or if something truly catches their eyes.

In genres with smaller audiences, voracious readers are often more excited to find another author, as they may be having trouble feeding their love of that type of book.

The flipside of all of the above is that if you do get your books to catch on, you can potentially draw in a much wider audience. I gave copies of the first book in my new mystery/suspense series to my dentist, my eye doctor, and my podiatrist (might as well get something more out of breaking my foot this past Spring). They all not only read and loved it but passed it on to other people.

My supernatural thriller series, on the other hand, is one I only promote to people who definitely like that genre because many people simply don’t like that type of book. Giving them a copy is sort of like giving them homework.

So what if you have an existing fan base? Will it help you when you switch genres?

Readers Rarely Cross Genres

In a recent interview on the Science Fiction And Fantasy Marketing Podcast author Tammi LaBrecque talked about genre crossing. She said when she was young she read whatever she could get her hands on because publishers had no way to target readers specifically.

I had the same experience.

My mom had three bookshelves of books she’d bought in the 60s from a book club. They included everything from suspense to historical fiction to humorous essays. I read them all.

In addition, I used to simply wander the stacks in my local library and pull out titles at random that looked interesting. I wasn’t even looking at covers because all I could see were the spines.

Now, though, if you shop on Amazon you’re likely to see books that are similar to ones you’ve already read. Other platforms do the same. Because marketing is so targeted, and so many books are so easily available, fewer people read widely.

I love that books are easy to come by. But it also means your readers may very well not to follow you to a different genre, something I’ve been finding out the hard way this year.

Last year I more than doubled my royalty income from the previous year. I put out the last book in my Awakening Supernatural Thriller series and released two non-fiction books.

This year due to an injury and some other issues I wasn’t as productive. I did, however, put out the first novel in a new genre. It’s a suspense/mystery novel, The Worried Man, and I just released the second book in the series, The Charming Man, this week.

Given that I now have two more books for sale, I would have thought I might at least match last year’s royalties. After all, the previous series is still selling a bit and my email list has grown.

What I discovered, though, is that the readers who eagerly awaited the fourth book in the Awakening Series are not necessarily jumping right into my Q.C. Davis Series. Those who do so far have liked it, but there isn’t the same eagerness as there was for a new book in the past series.

This difference surprised me because I always thought of supernatural thrillers as a subset of suspense, thrillers, and mystery. I figured most people who read the sub-genre would read the larger genre especially from an author they know and like.

But the books are different.

My supernatural thrillers brought in the elements of ancient prophecy and philosophical questions about religion. They also were told from multiple viewpoints, quickly shifting from one to the next.

My suspense series is told in the first person, deep in the point of view of my female private eye type hero, Quille Davis. It’s still suspense and still fast-paced, but it’s a different type of suspense.

Interestingly, I’ve gotten more reader email in the seven months since The Worried Man came out than I did in the first few years with the Awakening Series. But so far it’s a much smaller reader base.

So does all this mean you should stick with your first genre especially if you have built a fan base?

Not necessarily.

Love What You Love

Story expert Lani Diane Rich often says of the fiction we consume that you should not apologize for what you enjoy. Love what you love.

I believe that’s also true with writing. Yes, if we want people to read what we write we do need to think about our readers. But it also matters what we feel excited about writing.

Most of us have or had other jobs that we don’t love the way we do writing. Perhaps we dislike those jobs at times but they pay the bills.

If you’re going to write something you don’t enjoy to pay the bills you need to weigh whether you might be better off doing that other thing for the money.

Of course, it’s not an either/or question.

The best advice I got on this point came from author Steve Barnes in a retreat group he led. He told us to think about writing as concentric circles. One is what we absolutely love to write and really enjoy, shown in the yellow circle above. The other, the green circle, is what is the most marketable. The place to aim for is where the circles overlap.

How seriously you target the overlap depends upon your goals.

If you need your writing to be a significant part of your income, you will probably want to aim for the K and M in the graphic above. If earning a lot and becoming well known is important to you, you’ll probably do your best to write all the time in the green circle.

On the other hand, if you have other sources of income you might inch farther into the yellow circle. And if you write mainly because you simply love writing, you can write anywhere you want.

There is a caveat to this, too. We don’t always know what’s the most marketable. Sometimes we’re surprised.

But if you aim generally for that overlap you can adjust from there depending on your goals.

That’s it for today. Until next Friday —

L.M. Lilly 


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