Friday, November 7, 2014

How’s that pigeonhole working out for you? The pros and cons of genre-hopping.


How does your pigeonhole feel?  Nice and cozy?  Warm and safe?

Yeah, okay, I’ll admit it.  I don’t like being in pigeonholes.  Maybe you don’t either.

I like to stretch my wings, kick my legs, and fly free, as the mood strikes.  Isn’t that what makes what we do art instead of just churning out ad copy (though there’s definitely an art to that as well).

There are two schools of thought when it comes to “genre-hopping.”  

Maybe you write board books for toddlers and funny poetry for kids and short stories for adults.  One school of thought says that if you do all that under your real name, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  The other says you’re diversifying, and cultivating your audience of true followers – people who will love your words no matter where they find them.

I’m firmly with the second group, in case you haven’t noticed.

Since I came to children’s writing from freelance journalism and serious editing, I guess you could say I’ve been hopping since the start.  I don’t mind.  I love it.

Think about it:  do you read only one kind of book?  Only romance novels, say, or science-based nonfiction?  I love both of those things, on different days, at different times… and the same goes for what I write.

Still, the first group – the folks who think I’m shooting myself in the foot – would probably suggest that if you can’t be stopped from flitting around, then at the very least, you should have the decency to use a pseudonym. 

I do agree, when it comes to writing pornography and very strong language where kids might come across it.  As Self-Publishing Podcast’s Sean Platt said in this exclusive WriteKidsBooks interview, about why he uses a pseudonym for his kids’ stories: “I'm always concerned that someone who shouldn't be reading my adult stories will find them, but I can't let that impede me from creating my best work.”

But if it’s all decent stuff, I honestly don’t see a reason why you can’t do it in your own name.  That’s just me, though.  Every writer will have to make that call for themselves.

To help you decide, here’s a list of a few pros and cons of going freestyle – breaking free from the pigeonhole and branching out into a variety of genres.


  • Creative expression & freedom
  • Fun, the excitement of walking a tightrope
  • Learning something new, expanding your own horizons
  • May broaden your revenues – you won’t have all your eggs in one basket
  • May encourage major publisher interest – they’ll know you’re not just a “one-trick pony”


  • Confusing / annoying your readers
  • Limits repeat readership and loyalty
  • Frightening, trying new things and not knowing if you’ll succeed
  • May hinder your revenues – readers don’t want to buy books from someone “untested”
  • May deter major publisher interest – they may feel you’re not a good bet if they don’t know what you’re going to do next

Whatever you decide to do, whether you stay in one genre or branch out into board books or nonfiction or adult romance novels (maybe consider a pseudonym), don’t make a move based on what you think will sell.  Just because vampire novels are popular, or semi-ironic urban-baby board books, doesn’t mean that’s what you should write.

In the business world, “go where the money is” may be solid advice, but when it comes to writing, or any other art form, if you go somewhere your heart isn’t inclined to, your end product will be lackluster and… blah.

You’ll know it.  Your readers will know it.  Even the pigeons will know it, it’s that obvious when a writer is doing it for money or some misguided idea of what will sell instead of what he or she absolutely loves to write.

But if you, too, are feeling stifled and hoping to fly free… don’t be afraid to spread your wings and leave that pigeonhole far, far behind.


(Photo credit:  Pigeons-in-holes.jpg by en:User:BenFrantzDale; this image by en:User:McKay via Wikimedia)


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