I was talking to my friend Sunny Frazier, acquisitions editor at Oak Tree Press the other day, asking about a friend of hers who has a mystery novel coming out soon. I asked if her friend was working on another book, and she said "Yes, but it's erotica and Oak Tree doesn't publish that."
I think a lot of people fall prey to a couple different idea. One is that they should write whatever they want. And while that is true I think it's followed by the assumption that whatever self-indulgence we write will be published. Especially if we are already published.
The second idea is that we SHOULD be writing in a wide variety of genres, either for the purpose of sowing our writing wild oats, or the idea that if we throw enough out there eventually something will stick. I'll never forget being at some writing thing and someone asked a man "What do you write?" his answer was "I write everything, from splatter-punk to children's books." And in my head I was thinking "Whaaaat? Are you insane?"
Bear with me while I dissect each idea.The problem with idea number one is that while the market is wide open, especially if you're looking for a smaller independent publisher, you need to consider the sellability of each book you embark on. If you have a publisher who publishes primarily X-Genre and you write a book in Y-Genre which your publisher doesn't publish, then you are left to start over. Find a new publisher in Y-Genre and try to get the book out there somewhere. This is a process which may take years to complete IF the book ever comes out at all. Doesn't it make more sense to write something at least vaguely in the same genre, or in another genre that your publisher already publishes?
Now, we all want to try new things, stretch our wings a bit. But, how badly do you want to start over? A lot of authors establish themselves in one genre and then branch out. Some continue to write in one genre their entire careers. Neither option is better or worse than any other. The thing is that when starting out if you're all over the map, the likelihood of anything you write getting published is lower than if you keep a narrower focus.
I know a lot of people who also don't want to be pigeonholed as JUST a mystery author, or JUST a fantasy author. But, I'm not sure why it's so bad to be thought of as JUST anything. I want to be known as a fantasy author, because even though I may be writing adult fantasy like my novel Tea Times Three, I also have children's fantasy like my WIP The Bird Fairies. There is a lot more leeway within genre than people think too. Mystery has a myriad of sub-genres, all of which cross-over with one another and allow exploration.
Now for idea number two. My big problem when I heard the guy say I write everything from splatter-punk to children's books was this: My first thought was, "Well how appropriate are your children's books?" That may not be a fair thought but it was the first one I had. If you're an author known for scorching erotica how easy a sale is a children's book going to be? When the agent or publisher asks about your prior experience and you list Naughty Nuns will the next publisher- the NEW publisher-- who doesn't know you- give you a fair shake?
Also there is no opportunity to cross market such works. You can't say to people "Well if you like my Teddy Bear series you should check out Naughty Nuns." That isn't going to work. Same in the other direction. If your known as a children's author it's hard to recommend your violent spy thriller to your fans who are ten years old.
Does that mean you can't build a fan base in multiple genres? No, not at all. It just means that you need to be careful, and considerate especially early on. You can follow your passions, but follow them wisely. I think those who want to be known for everything are in reality known for nothing.