Switching Genres: Should you do it?

As an aspiring author, my biggest goal is to be traditionally published. I jumped into my first novel with blissful naivete that allowed me to write freely. I wasn’t thinking about popular genres, or how agents would react to my writing. I knew I had a great story and I was excited to tell it.

Fast forward a year later. I’d learned a few lessons:

1. I could not call my novel “chick lit.” This was strictly verboten.

2. The witty women’s fiction I knew and loved was being overshadowed by her younger, sexier sister, YA. The pink sparkle had faded, and publishers didn’t want it anymore.

Still, I gleaned everything I could from industry websites and revised my novel and query letter until they were in top shape. I compiled an excel spreadsheet of agents representing women’s fiction and followed each person’s submission guidelines to a T. Defeated after nine months of querying, I made the decision to set my novel aside. It was time to move on to a second book.

That second book is also women’s fiction and I’m a little bit scared. After reading articles like this one I wonder if I’m making a mistake. If readers truly have fallen out of love with chick lit, I shouldn’t be writing it.  But aren’t we supposed to write from the heart? Nothing else resonates with me like real women’s issues. I’m not talking about stilettos and hangovers, but domestic abuse, motherhood and relationship tensions, as illustrated by Marian Keyes and Jennifer Weiner.

Literary agent Jessica Faust at BookEnds urges against switching genres on her blog. She writes,”While you might find it fun to switch things up from book to book, most readers are fairly loyal to what they read. In other words, few fantasy readers will happily jump to chick lit with enthusiasm. Let’s face it, most readers read within a few specific genres.”

But Jessica is talking about published authors building a platform. What about aspiring authors still trying to get an agent? I know writers so discouraged by the query process, they switched genres hoping for better luck. And I don’t blame them. But I think the most important thing is to write what you’re passionate about. We can’t predict that will become popular next, and shouldn’t try. So I’m going to take the plunge a second time, hoping that just maybe pink  covers will come back in style.

6 thoughts on “Switching Genres: Should you do it?

  1. A lot of it’s to do with branding and reader loyalty. There’s also a supposition, I think, that authors can “only” write one sort of work – that if they pop up doing something else, maybe they’re not good at it. That’s wrong. But it’s why authors such as Margaret Ogden use a couple of pseudonyms – Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm – for books in different genres.

    Good luck with your novel!

    Matthew Wright

    1. Yes, great point! I know that literary agent and writer Mandy Hubbard uses the pseudonym Amanda Grace for her darker work. Branding and reader loyalty are important, so you’re right, authors should establish their genre early on. Thanks for checking out my blog :)

  2. Meredith, do not stop writing great stories. Read everything on these two websites, especially the last two months of their blog entries:
    From where I’m sitting, you’re barking up a tree that can’t, won’t see you. A big house like Macmillan will publish aorund 40 Women’s Fiction titles this year. Read those two websites above and then get back to me with any questions. Cheers, -Steve

  3. Write the story that you are meant to write, and don’t do it with a market in mind! It will influence what you write in a way that you probably don’t want. And can I offer a genre suggestion? Why not think about your novels as literary fiction vs. women’s fiction, or chick lit? I think the term “chick lit” is kind of ridiculous anyway. It sounds like your work is fiction– NOT of the fluffy sort– that simply deals with women characters. So perhaps reframing the way you think about your genre will help you write more freely with less restriction from labels?

    Either way, keep at it! You can do this, whatever genre your work falls into :)

    1. Thanks Kristin! I think the reason I never identify my work as literary fiction is because that’s a style in which prose is more important than plot. Toni Morrison writes what I consider literary fiction, and is part of the literary canon. Though I don’t demean my work, I don’t see it as scholarly either. Some people call their work “upmarket women’s fiction” which is the new term for literary. But yeah, I agree with you- chick lit is kind of derogatory because it’s not all fluff. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Although I am by no means an industry expert I don’t understand the problem with changing genres, even for an author building a platform. You could go with two different names, or (which is what I would do if I were in this situation) have a website with different pages/ sections for different genres. Or different websites all together. The argument is your fantasy readers won’t read your chick lit. But that just means you need to work at getting readers in each genre you publish. Which doesn’t lead me to the conclusion you shouldn’t do it, just that you should realize going in that you will have different genres and therefore different careers almost for each one. I may be totally off base but I say go for it.

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