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Genre-Jumping: Because It's Not As Fun To Stick With One!

Reading the latest Sarah Dessen or John Green novel is a lot like ordering a new dish at a favorite restaurant -- one that has never let you down. These talented authors have built very district brands, and enjoy a huge following as a result. We know what to expect with every book they write.

As writers, this is something to think about when considering a career beyond our first books. Typically, if fans adore book one, they'll expect something similar with book two – or at the very least, a story in the same genre.

But what happens when you've written a book in one genre, and then a different genre sneaks up and whacks you over the head with a Great Idea?

Young adult authors do have some extra flexibility when it comes to switching between genres. While adult readers often stick to a genre of choice, the majority of teen readers devour a vast range of books, hopping from Graceling to Paranormalcy, Hunger Games to Jellicoe Road. And although many bookstores divide YA bookshelves between realistic and fantasy/SF, generally, they're all shelved in the same place—unlike adult books, with genres spanning the store.

Still, there is a risk when switching genres on your readers, especially early in your publishing journey. The hope is to take fans with you, instead of leaving them behind.

This is something I've been thinking about a ton. My debut, Like Mandarin, is contemporary. My second book, Wanderlove, is also contemporary, but is still extremely different from my first – for starters, it has an 18-year-old protagonist (LM's is fourteen), and is set in Central America (LM is set in small-town Wyoming). Yet those differences pale when compared to my third book: A super-dark blend of paranormal, fantasy and horror. Where the heck did it come from? Beats me, but it's a story I knew I needed to write.

That's what I encourage the most: writing the story you're in love with, the story you need to tell. Build a brand through your writing -- so when you follow up that quiet ghost story with a post-apocalyptic mermaid epic, your fans will read it anyway because it's by you.

Here are a few amazing authors who've bridged genres successfully:

Lauren Oliver
Lauren Oliver's widely celebrated debut, Before I Fall, is contemporary with a twist—its protagonist must relive the day of her death seven times. But Lauren's follow-up, Delirium, is dystopian.

Markus Zusak
Markus Zusak's first few books were contemporary, but I Am The Messenger could be considered magical realism. His haunting, historical tour de force The Book Thief is almost a genre of its own.

Laurie Halse Anderson While Laurie Halse Anderson writes realistic fiction, not all her books are contemporary. Her passion for revolution-era American history blooms in Fever 1793, Chains and Forge.

Elizabeth Scott
Elizabeth Scott had a couple light-hearted contemporary novels under her belt when she stunned everyone with Living Dead Girl – still contemporary, but a million miles deeper on the darkness spectrum. Her latest book, Grace, is dystopian. And after that? Another contemporary, Between Here and Forever.

Melina Marchetta
After writing two successful contemporaries, Melina Marchetta added a touch of magical realism to Jellicoe Road. Still, no one was prepared for the curveball she threw with Finnikin of the Rock—a brilliant epic fantasy.

Other genre-jumping authors include Lisa Schroeder, Meg Rosoff, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Mandy Hubbard, Meg Cabot, John Marsden and Lois Lowry.

Do you write in different genres? What do you think of authors who do?
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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23 comments:

  1. I'm currently working on a steampunk upper YA/adultish novel for this month and next month for NaNoWriMo, I plan to finish this contemporary YA, then after that I have a plan for a dystopian and I'm supposed to be working on a dystopian/urban fantasy with my co-author/friend. I plan on adapting a story into a graphic novel too. I like authors who brand themselves on their diversity of genres, it's cool to know that good writing can span across genres.

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  2. I like to swap about a bit too, it's refreshing. Mostly I write mysteries but also wrote fantasy and next I'll be working on a supernatural thriller. I also jump ages for my markets. I had read writers should build their brand in one market, but lately I've met many inspirational and successful writers who jump genres and ages for their books.

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  3. I really needed this post since I've been stressing over my genre jumping lately.
    My last three projects (all YA) are: a gothic-inspired mystery (with a dash of paranormal), a contemporary romance, and a psychological thriller.

    Great post!!

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  4. Ive been thinking about this a lot lately because I always always thought I'd only EVER write in one genre and every idea I had was for that genre, but lately all of my ideas are all over the place and they are WAY more exciting than my single genre ideas, so I'm kind of playing with 3 WIPS--1 in my usual genre and two outside. It's refreshing and I think it stops you from feeling formulaic--even if you are only following a formula of your creation. Though I have to say, I do love that I KNOW without fail I will enjoy the new Sarah Dessen!

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  5. I do because I have a dark side and a light side to what I read and that shows through with my writing! Can't help it.

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  6. So all of the books you mentioned YA readers jumping between I have either read or they are in my to be read category.

    I think Melina Marchetta's genre jumping is brilliant. Jellicoe Road and Finnikan of the Rock are both SO different and so good. Someone asked me what kind of books MM writes on goodreads and I was like...um...brilliant ones.


    I used to pretty much read YA fantasy. But now I'm YA fantasy, YA dystopian, YA realistic, a little dash of sci-fi, a little dash of steampunk (adult - Souless/Changeless/Blameless), some urban fantasy (Dresden Files, October Daye), some paranormal, then some that are convenient at the library (audiobooks normally).

    I'm not sure if I can even define what I normally read now. Variety is the spice of life.

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  7. Great post! I'm thinking about switching genres, and I do enjoy the freedom in YA. It's not too much of a shock when we try different things, and we have a real supportive community. :)

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  8. great topic. I'm finishing up my contemp WIP and I've got an idea for a horror/supernatural/contempy book next.

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  9. So glad to hear from fellow genre-jumpers!

    In general, I think it helps if there's some sort of segue in age group, tone or setting. I hope my second book will serve as a sort of bridge to my third. I'd say Markus Zusak and Melina Marchetta both did that with I Am the Messenger before the Book Thief and Jellicoe Road before Finnikin -- although the latter two were still colossal jumps.

    "Someone asked me what kind of books MM writes on goodreads and I was like...um...brilliant ones."

    YES.

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  10. Awesome post Kirsten!

    I haven't genre jumped much yet, but it is a goal of mine. The trouble is, you do have the issue of branding. I know some agents/publishers want an author to at least have a few books in one genre under their belt before they take the leap (kind of like Elizabeth Scott has). But it is totes possible.

    Yet another reason to love YA!

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  11. I started out 100% in Urban Fantasy. Loved it, thought I'd always write it. Wrote 4 full length novels, and then the idea for a contemporary fell into my lap. Out of freakin nowhere.

    It was actually tough for me, and I talked with my agent about making such a dramatic 180. What if the contemp sells first? Am I locking myself into that box now?

    I'm glad I'm a YA writer, as it seems there is more "tolerance" of genre hopping than in the adult writing world. Unless you want to have ten different pen names. Which some adult writers I know do!

    I have a hard enough time just keeping track of myself!

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  12. Love this post. I am always thinking about the genre-jumping issue, because I do it. It's definitely one of the things I like about YA, is that you DO have more freedom. My ideas tend to be all over the speculative fiction spectrum; I need the variety to keep myself interested in writing!

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  13. I've run the gamut in genres...everything from suspense to dystopian to paranormal to romantic comedy, but for me the one that I gravitate toward most is literary. My creative brain just loves tragedy. What can I say? :)

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  14. Thank you so much for this post, I was just asking about this on Absolute Write because I, for one, have a ton of different ideas floating around in my head. Right now I'm writing (all YA) contemporary edgy, while researching for contemporary about an MC w/ Williams Syndrome, and the "Ideas" file includes dystopian, a time-traveler, assisted suicide courtroom drama, and two different stories set in a women's/juvi facility and a mental health facility, respectively. I think I'd rather be known for having unique and strong MCs no matter what genre situation they're put in.

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  15. "I think I'd rather be known for having unique and strong MCs no matter what genre situation they're put in."

    LOVE this. me too.

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  16. Great post, Kir. I'll add that when you're querying, make sure to discuss this with every agent who offers rep. I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to be pigeon holed into only YA contemporary or only YA paranormal, and the philosophies I heard varied widely.

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  17. Kate that's a really excellent point. I brought this subject up with my agent before signing, because I wanted to make sure that if I said, "hey, here's a high fantasy! Enjoy!" she wouldn't say, "ummm...put that away, what are you doing??"

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  18. I'm guilty. I've had two YA novels published and will have a romantic suspense come out next spring. I like swapping between the two. I think it helps to keep my writing fresh. I might be crazy, but it works for me. =]

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  19. I was lucky enough to get ahold of an arc of DELIRIUM and let me tell you, it's awesome! But so different from BEFORE I FALL. It's not just the content/genre that's different, but the writing style also. Both are unique in their own ways.

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  20. Rachele -- I'm jealous, DELIRIUM looks fantastic and I wanna read it~~!

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  21. I wish I had one of these mats! I'd have my students blindly jump and then write whatever genre they landed on...I love it when authors surprise me by writing in another genre.

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  22. I love genre-jumping because it lets you explore so many different elements without really leaving the realm of YA. My YA urban fantasy explores a lot about what it means to be human - and I don't think you could capture that theme quite the same way in a contemp.

    Great post, Kirsten!

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  23. I tend to jump around a lot with what I'm interested in anyway, even when all I wrote were contemporary short stories for adults, I played around in the speculative sandbox every now and then. I always thought the first novel I completed would be YA contemporary, but some dystopian YA just snuck up on me. So my first book is dystopian, and there will hopefully be a sequel. It's with an agent right now after I did a revise and resubmit *fingers crossed*

    But now that I'm playing the waiting game, some YA contemporary has appeared out of nowhere. I'm about a third through a first draft. Even the narrator is a different gender. I think it keeps things interesting, especially since I don't know yet which will be the book that will get me published. May as well experiment.

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Item Reviewed: Genre-Jumping: Because It's Not As Fun To Stick With One! Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard