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Trapped by Genre?

#1
I've long wondered what would happen to my writing career, if any success I had trapped me in a genre. By that, I mean, what if the short ghost stories I've written took off in the public conscious and my literary agent and publisher pressured me for more—even though I wanted to concentrate on my Cornish Detective novels?

It would make sense for me to do so, as a recent report by data analysts Nielsen Bookscan found that crime and thriller novel sales rose by 19% between 2015 and 2017.

Despite this, it feels like authors are treated as circus animals, expected to do a limited repertoire of tricks. As an example, one of my favourite authors, John Connolly recently published an imagined memoir of comedian Stan Laurel, called 'he'. I loved it, and reviews were good, but sales were average, for Connolly is famed for his private investigator novels which feature supernatural elements. He's also published a couple of collections of short stories that step outside the crime genre, as well as a lovely novel The Book of Lost Things that reinterprets fairy tales. I wonder how much arm-twisting he had to do to be allowed to write something different.

Indian author Kiran Manral unwittingly pigeonholed herself, for her first novel was called The Reluctant Detective, so there was opposition to her subsequent work not fitting the crime genre:

https://scroll.in/article/861500/publishers-insist-writers-stick-to-one-genre-but-what-if-they-dont-want-to-be-a-genre-author?

As I've previously observed, we're all librarians, with the world organised by categories so that we can find stuff. At the very least, books need to be shelved, so where do they go? Are they Chick Lit, Science Fiction, Historical or Erotica—and heaven help you, if you've written a genre busting novel that straddles all of these!

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes said: “Don't classify me, read me. I'm a writer, not a genre.” But that doesn't take into account the tactics of book publisher publicity departments trying to market a book.

Writing under a pen name is one way around this problem, with the pseudonym disguising that a beloved author of fantasy novels about a wizard is now penning crime novels. Agatha Christie wrote six romance novels using the pen name Mary Westmacott. Benjamin Franklin, American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, conned a newspaper publisher into printing a series of charming letters seemingly penned by a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood. Michael Crichton was already published under his own name, when he started churning out stories by John Lange, Jeffery Hudson and Michael Douglas. Stephen King was initially held back by his publisher's policy of only releasing one title a year, so he persuaded them to print some of his stories under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. Dean Koontz had a similar problem with his publisher, and has used at least ten pseudonyms.

As a comment on this situation, one of the recurring characters in my Cornish Detective series, a crusty male newspaper journalist called Brian 'Hot' Toddy writes flowery romances under the pen name of Violet Flowerdew.

It's fun to imagine well-known authors attempting to write in another genre. Think what a historical romance, written by Lee Child would read like—would it ring with echoes of his Jack Reacher thrillers? How about a political thriller written by E. L. James?

Do you ever pause to wonder if you've placed all of your eggs in the wrong basket?

 
#2
Iain Banks wrote mainstream fiction under Iain Banks and Science Fiction under Iain M. Banks, I believe specifically to separate the two streams of books.
As you say many writers use pseudonyms when changing genre, although I believe Stephen King also used them as a confidence test to see if his newer writings were good enough to stand on their own rather than depend on his name to sell.
Personally, it is the sort of thing I would do, given that I would write/publish under a pseudonym from the start anyway. I'm not in it for the fame thing. I'd rather keep my private life private.
Besides, some of my books that I would like to see published might cause a little embarrassment for me personally should my identity as the author be widely known.
Going back to your question, your first successful book is always going to dictate what you are "known" for. Using a pseudonym for a different genre sounds like a sensible idea.
 
#3
I've long wondered what would happen to my writing career, if any success I had trapped me in a genre. By that, I mean, what if the short ghost stories I've written took off in the public conscious and my literary agent and publisher pressured me for more—even though I wanted to concentrate on my Cornish Detective novels?
Maybe worry about that when and if it happens. I'm sure it could be worked out. If nothing else, you could choose art over commerce and you'd be right where you are now, no worse for wear.

Despite this, it feels like authors are treated as circus animals, expected to do a limited repertoire of tricks. As an example, one of my favourite authors, John Connolly recently published an imagined memoir of comedian Stan Laurel, called 'he'. I loved it, and reviews were good, but sales were average, for Connolly is famed for his private investigator novels which feature supernatural elements. He's also published a couple of collections of short stories that step outside the crime genre, as well as a lovely novel The Book of Lost Things that reinterprets fairy tales. I wonder how much arm-twisting he had to do to be allowed to write something different.
Don't waste time thrashing about wondering what to do. Publish under a different name. It's not about being treated like a circus animal. It's about honoring your readers. They become loyal and develop expectations. Respecting that they associate a particular name with a particular type of writing doesn't make authors trained monkeys. It means they've done something successfully and if they want to do something else, writing under a different name isn't a big deal. Supporting writing and the arts in general is something everyone benefits from but just as correlation doesn't equal causation two things being associated, support of the arts benefiting everyone and every artist deserving support, aren't logically linked statements. Put more succinctly: No one promised writers a rose garden.

Indian author Kiran Manral unwittingly pigeonholed herself, for her first novel was called The Reluctant Detective, so there was opposition to her subsequent work not fitting the crime genre:

https://scroll.in/article/861500/publishers-insist-writers-stick-to-one-genre-but-what-if-they-dont-want-to-be-a-genre-author?
Awesome. She has eight published novels.

Your links always puzzle me. Honestly I used to ignore them. Since I've started clicking on them I've become increasingly puzzled.

I couldn't find this author on amazon. Of course, the American version is what loads for me. Since I have the google, I searched for her website. She has a wordpress website. The website is in English and clicking on her books takes me to an amazon page where I can buy her books. I think the currency is Rupees. She is based in Mumbai. English is the official language of India. So, actually not surprising the book is in English.

Reading her books might provide me with valuable insight into her perspective, or a perspective, or what it's like to be human in a broader sense. However, there's very little in her experience as an author which you or I would be able to say is analogous. She doesn't write for the UK market or the US market. She isn't published by American publisher or UK publishers. So, what's the point of the link? The markets are vastly different.

Even the article, which is readable enough, doesn't talk about publishers at all. It does bring up some authors who wrote/write cross genre. Everyone one of them might have decided to write a different style of book than they usually do but in every case, they retained their voice and at least the ones I read, explored the same sorts of themes.

Basically all she says is that genre exists in the minds of publishers, book sellers, readers, and authors. Well. Yeah. We knew that. We do indeed like to categorize things. It helps us sort through them more quickly. But we don't need to let it limit us.

As I've previously observed, we're all librarians, with the world organised by categories so that we can find stuff. At the very least, books need to be shelved, so where do they go? Are they Chick Lit, Science Fiction, Historical or Erotica—and heaven help you, if you've written a genre busting novel that straddles all of these!

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes said: “Don't classify me, read me. I'm a writer, not a genre.” But that doesn't take into account the tactics of book publisher publicity departments trying to market a book.
It seems they managed just fine with Carlos Fuentes.

As a comment on this situation, one of the recurring characters in my Cornish Detective series, a crusty male newspaper journalist called Brian 'Hot' Toddy writes flowery romances under the pen name of Violet Flowerdew.
It's a funny name. Do you think romance readers will get the joke? Does your journalist do a lot of research?

It's fun to imagine well-known authors attempting to write in another genre. Think what a historical romance, written by Lee Child would read like—would it ring with echoes of his Jack Reacher thrillers? How about a political thriller written by E. L. James?
E L James can't write. Also, yes. I think a historical romance written by Lee Child would still smell of him.

Do you ever pause to wonder if you've placed all of your eggs in the wrong basket?
Eh. I haven't. I write mostly speculative fiction but I don't feel as though I've put all my eggs in one basket.
 
#4
I write (and mostly read) SF and fantasy, but I'm pretty sure that detective and ghost stories are similar: you can stay inside the genre and still write in a very wide variety of styles, plots, atmospheres and themes. I'm currently working on a fantasy where the hero is a mathematician. This is pretty school-bookish for a fantasy, but it's still within the canon (or at least, I hope so!). I know there have been books featuring mathematicians in science fiction, historical fiction, crime and detective stories and literary fiction, so I'm not really going that far out on a limb here. The point is, staying inside a genre doesn't mean you can't have lots of different "flavors."