So which box do you fit into grandad?

It struck me today, as I finished writing a story which is somewhere between a historical horror story and a romance, before moving onto the next in my list – which is Irish fantasy and humor, straight and simple, and getting some edits on the piece before that which was Urban fantasy/humor, and considering that I’ve recently done the edits on a steam-punk/alternate history, and a High Fantasy, and I’m sitting with proposals (which if the publishers don’t jump very smartly, will head their way into being e-books) of everything from 17th century Historical Romance/fantasy,  to humorous Space Opera.  And, yes, almost everything in between.  I’ve written hard sf, sociological sf, fantasy, alternate history, even something that probably qualifies as paranormal romance. You name it… I’ve had a go at it. Okay, I take that back. Modern Literary Fiction I leave to Margret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson. They’re welcome to all of it. Wouldn’t dream of depriving them.  But something us lowbrow types might enjoy… I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Now, this is, according to conventional wisdom, and most agents and all publishers, not a good thing. And maybe it is not. After all, readers wanting 1632 Alternate History and getting Eric’s Joe’s world books might be a bit peeved if they got what they didn’t want. I’m obviously not such a good writer of any one of these sub-genres that it’s made much difference to my numbers… of course, that’s a hard one to judge, because the distribution hasn’t exactly provided what any statistician would call directly comparable numbers.  A MANKIND WITCH  for example beat the rest as hardcover, and was simply out of print before it had a fighting chance. Obviously I’ve had some readers say “I love the Heirs books, but can’t bear Rats Bats and Vats,” and vice versa.  And yet… I’ve got other readers who have inflated my ego to the point where B has to puncture it, by telling me they buy it if I write it. Dean Koontz certainly proved this concept wrong and took his readers with him.  I’d buy a telephone directory if Sir Terry Pratchett wrote it.

It is something I often wonder about: I seriously don’t believe that endless books on one ‘narrow’ canvas are good for the quality of anyone’s output (no matter how the readers want yet another of those beloved characters in the same setting yet again. As a writer you spend a very long intense time in those universes. Maybe where there are spin-offs and alternate characters, this can work. But as a straight sequence… well, I’m actually vaguely glad that I’ve never been that successful early on that I was stuck writing one because that and only that was what publishing would buy.

So what think all of you? Should authors fit in boxes? Should we pen-name our different styles?

Oh BTW – after much HTML heartache… I got my first e-book short story up on Amazon and onto Smashwords (as Barnes and Ig do not deal with us dodgy furrin types, that is my option. Amazon and Smashwords.)
I’ve felt like a poor luddite doing all of this stuff.

21 comments

  1. Boxes? We don’t need no steeenking boxes!

    The nice neat categories the marketing departments like turned into straitjackets a while ago. Me, I see them as tags – and the more of them you can attach the more chance there is someone will find your stuff and like it.

    (And I’m one of those who’d buy your shopping list, given a chance)

    1. Well, they’re useful for burying bodies in :-). But there is no doubt it’s not universally true that all authors write all things equally well. Look at Georgette Heyer – Her Regencies are head and shoulders above her mysteries, and I’ve never found person to disagree on that one.

      1. Well, yes, for burying bodies boxes can be useful. Preferably multiple small boxes scattered around the countryside so… Oh, never mind.

        And yes, some authors have strong strengths in one area where others can genre-hop, or at least category-hop.

        Personally, I write the story that insists on being written, then figure out what genre tags best describe it. That usually means all over the place, although so far romance and contemporary are safe from me. Everything I write twists.

        (Yes, Georgette Heyer’s Regencies far outshine her mysteries, and her later Regencies leave the earlier ones in the dust, apart from one or two missteps).

  2. Put me into the “read anything you write” box, if you want things in boxes. 🙂

    Honestly do not think I have read something of yours that I have not enjoyed, although I have not read either Karres book for some reason. I am sure I would enjoy those too.

    Even your children’s stuff is good. _Wild and Rolling Lands_ was excellent, as was _The Tomato Sauce Monster_, although that may have been your reading of it as well. 😉

    I really am giving Barbara a large target now though….

    1. I’d forgotten the tomato-sauce monster… well, I’ll have to invest in some double doors, if Barbs doesn’t get here with that pin soon.

  3. Dave, the only box I want to be in is the one filled with your books and short stories. As far as pen names are concerned, I can see where it isn’t as needed now as it used to be. After all, it was usually publishers who wanted the pen names so you didn’t “dilute” your brand or anger any of them because you also wrote, gasp, sf/f. Now, I’m not so sure they are required unless you write erotica AND christian fic, for example. That said, I have only one other comment: I wants more books by Dave, I does 😉

    1. Um… I’m putting my juvenilia up under a thinly veiled pen name. It’s “okay” but not to my level now. Will probably sell, but not to the same public that buys my stuff now. Also, romance will go under a pen name. Because my sf/f readers would have a heart attack — I almost did — when they pull up the romance I’d forgotten (completely) I ever wrote. Let’s put it this way — medieval romance with tons of sex (what?) I think I wrote it while I was concussed. So that goes under a pen name.

    2. Well, I’ve not got around to writing something I am ashamed of (dissatisfied with, most of the time), so at the moment I think stick to being me.

  4. I think single genre sells big time- Louis Lamour, Larry Niven, Harry Harrison, Bujold etc so maybe single story line universes work- for bread and butter. I also dearly love the different stuff that comes out of the change of scene and these may lead to other ‘series’. Many readers will read the blurb and decide if they like the universe, but I agree most will buy by author.

    1. Hmm. I think where it gets tricky is where the author changes style as well as sub-genre (or genre). But I enjoyed L’amour’s historicals as much as his Westerns.

      1. I think the trick is not getting your readers so attached to your first series that they flounce off furious, when you write something else. I know I was horrified when Lois abandoned Miles for a _fantasy_! And then I loved the fantasies. I guess if you’re going to switch sub or even whole genres, you’d best do a really good job of it.

        Or start off with non-series, so the early books are all sorts. Or is that how to not expand a readership? One hears so much about sales going down with every sequel, except the few really successful ones . . . or is that perhaps an effect (defect) of the usual business models of publisher and book store mega chain?

        1. I’m not sure if it is a store effect or a buy-back effect. For example, every book I’ve had come out in the heirs series has bumped the sales of the first – which they restock. The same would apply to A MANKIND WITCH, but they did a very small run and never reprinted. The same happened with the Wizard of Karres. When a new book in the series comes out, the rest of the series need to be there. Yes, you lose some readers, but you also gain some readers of earlier books – which then looks, cumulatively, as if you’re going down

        2. Ah, where I picked up the first Bujold fantasy I saw on the strength of her name alone, and bought it. Then I was hooked, and bought everything – even the series more romance than fantasy. So I’m backwards to you – rather than horrified, I was curious and willing to pay hard-earned cash on blind faith that I like her writing. I’d do the same in a heartbeat for a telephone directory by Prachett, because he’s earned this reader’s trust.

          I disagree with pen names, because they make it harder for me to find and buy everything by an author I like. Although, I will concede for genres where you expect no overlap to outright hostility among reader groups, to use a pen name.

  5. Hi doc,

    It depends on the writer. Some writers I’ll read anything they write, they’re always good reads (you and Eric Flint are good examples of this). With other writers I’ve to be more careful.

    Is there any chance that the gypsies book is in your to be written list? From the bit you posted in Baen’s Bar a few years ago it seemed lots of fun. But then gypsies from Atlantis roaming the spaceways in wood ships is a fun idea. :0)

    Regards,
    Rui Jorge

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