Because it’s my personality type and how I approach new subjects, I’ve read a number of books, tons of blog posts, and numerous discussion forums with advice about becoming a writer. I knew that I was more interested in self-publishing, so that made it easy to skip over anything that was focused on finding an agent and submitting to publishers.
One of the pieces of advice that I keep seeing, and continue to disagree with, is that a starting, self-published author should focus on a single genre, with a single work, which is the first book in a series. They should then continue this series before working on anything else and, ideally, never write in another genre or, if they do, use a pen name.
The rationale for this is often that the advice-giving writer tried different genres for their writing, eventually found what resonated with readers, and achieved their success with that work and its follow-up publications. They suggest, instead of searching around, it would be more efficient to go straight to the economically successful work from the start.
This is well-and-good for what it is, but it’s kind of like saying only buy winning lottery tickets. Decisions must be evaluated on the basis of what was known when they were made.
My continuing belief is that exploring the space they were interested in, and writing different things, helped them eventually find success. Far from being a useless distraction, this is an important part of the process and not a waste of time.
The other argument against writing in a variety of genres is that it dilutes your “brand”. If people associate Stephen King with horror, then they will be disappointed if they buy one of his books and it turns out to be fantasy or science-fiction. By using a different pen name in each genre you write in, you’re helping readers understand what to expect from the book they’re considering.
The issue here, of course, is that Stephen King *HAS* written fantasy and science-fiction, and these books were well received by his fans. I’ve also enjoyed other multi-genre authors such as Piers Anthony and Anne McCaffrey.
To be sure, I have read books where a writer departed from the genre they’re known for and was disappointed. John T. Reed writes non-fiction advice books that I love and I was quite disappointed with the debut novel he wrote a few years ago. I love Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell”, but couldn’t get into her “Piranesi”. In both these cases, I didn’t turn on these writers and refuse to read anything else they wrote. I just understood that I like one type of writing they do, but not another.
My opinion, with limited experience but being in the full-time role of a beginner writer, is that trying different things helps you develop your craft and explore readers’ preferences. Each publication is a small bet, which has the potential to resonate and find you an audience.
Having these bets connected to one another, and to your writing name, isn’t the problem many well-meaning advice-givers believe it to be.