Shifting Gears – The Dangers of Being Typecast as a Writer
By JG Faherty
I have been writing fiction professionally for close to 12 years now. During that time, I’ve earned a reputation for being a horror writer. And I’ll be the first to admit most of my works are in that genre, or skirting the edges of it. But that’s not everything I write. I’ve done science fiction, paranormal romances, young adult horror, fantasy – even some paranormal erotica and non-fiction.
In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be a problem. But when it comes to fiction, especially genre fiction, audiences can be a fickle and devoted bunch. Talk to any writer who’s made a name in a specific sub-genre or genre (zombie, apocalyptic, dystopian, cozy mystery, vampire erotica, etc., etc.) and you’ll be surprised at how hard it is to break out of that mold, especially when readers – and by extension, publishers – are clamoring for more of the same.
So, what’s a writer to do?
Well, there are several options:
- Don’t change anything and just keep writing the same plot over and over.
- Write in your main genre, but also write different types of books using a pseudonym.
- Write in your main genre, but also write different books using your same name.
- Say the hell with everyone and just stop writing the old stuff completely.
Now, each of the above has its pros and cons. Writing the same plot again and again will earn you the devotion of fans and the love of your editor, but you’ll probably end up sick of the whole business and start putting out dull, half-assed books. Unless you can do what James Patterson and some others have done, and get junior writers to turn your outlines into stories while you work on other projects. But let’s assume you’re not a billionaire NY Times best seller and move on.
Writing other types of books under a pseudonym gives you some freedom to explore different paths while you still put out enough books in your ‘main’ genre to satisfy the readers. The downside? You’re starting all over again with a fan base of zero. And who knows if the book will catch on. We’ve seen this happen before, and the book languishes until someone – usually the publisher or author – leaks the truth.
Writing different books while using your real name has the immediate advantage of capitalizing on any brand recognition you might have, but that can backfire. Fans can start screaming that you’re a sell out. Reviewers and publishers might compare the new work to your old. Fans might not want to see the King of Zombie Wars or the Queen of Supernatural Mysteries doing something in a genre they don’t enjoy.
Stop writing in your old genre completely – sure, some have done it, with success (I know several of today’s legendary horror writers who began in the science fiction genre way back when). But if you’re going that route, you’d better have some money in the bank!
So, how does this apply to me? As I mentioned, I wrote in multiple genres early on. And I’ve never been burdened with yoke of being a NY Times best selling author. **insert sarcastic emoji of your choice.** But even at my level I’ve had problems selling stories or books that aren’t classically horror.
My solution has always been a combination of #2 and #3; I write some things (fantasy, sci-fi, YA) without a pseudonym, but when I veer further, such as paranormal erotica or non-fiction, I use a pseudonym. I have 3; I’m not giving them away here! But it’s always a game of second guessing, especially when you get a few rejection slips and wonder if you should have used (or not used!) a pen name.
Which is the conundrum I found myself facing with my latest novel, The Changeling. It’s a YA science fiction thriller, and I was at a loss as to where to begin my submission process. I’ve written YA horror, and some YA science fiction short stories, but this was new territory for me.
Luckily, a couple of writer friends suggested I try the Kindle Scout program. This is a relatively new branch of Amazon’s publishing business, where writers post excerpts from their books, and readers get to vote on which ones they’d like to see published. Each month, Amazon chooses a few and offers the writers contracts. The benefit to the readers? Whenever a book they’ve voted on is chosen, they receive a free advance copy of the ebook.
The thing is, the writers have to get readers over to the Kindle Scout site so they can see the books. Which, of course, brings me to the shameless self-promotion part of this blog. Here’s the link to my Kindle Scout page for The Changeling.
And here’s a little peek at the plot to get you interested:
Struck by lightning, developing new superpowers, and pursued by a power-hungry secret military group that wants to use her as a weapon of mass destruction…it’s so not the 18th birthday that high school senior Chloe Olivetti was hoping for.
Now, as I’m writing this, I have no idea what the outcome of this experiment will be. I’m a little less than 3 weeks in. If it works, great. I’ll be a happy camper! If not, then I’ll have already made one decision regarding how I’ll be submitting the book: It will be under my name!
JG Faherty is the the Bram Stoker Award®- and ITW Thriller Award-nominated author of 5 novels, 7 novellas, and more than 50 short stories. He enjoys exploring abandoned buildings, photography, hiking, and playing the guitar. As a child, his favorite playground was a 17th-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or his website.