Authors as Diversified Conglomerates

I have an agent; his name is Dan. Dan doesn’t represent romance, but every now and again I receive an email from authors asking how I like him (well done, with lava

fava beans and a nice chianti!). I’ve received more of these sorts of queries lately (which I absolutely don’t mind) and I noticed a strange trend among those asking.

Seems several authors are looking quietly for new representation because they want to branch into other genres, and their agents say no. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

In the contracting publishing market and the Is-the-recession-over economy, shouldn’t an author be, to use business terms, as diversified as possible? Shouldn’t an author’s business be a conglomerate of strong writing in potentially more than one genre? Why should an author limit herself to one subgenre of romance when she has an idea for a historical or has a proposal for a suspense series, and her prior work is not in those fields?

I’m completely baffled by the number of authors who have emailed me to say they were ready to rock the socks of more than one romance subgenera and were stymied by their agents unwillingness or disinterest in shopping them to publishing houses.

So in an environment where folks like the Waxman agency are going to start digital publishing projects for fiction from their authors, how does it make sense that at the same time other agents (note: none of the authors who wrote to me were represented by Waxman to my knowledge) are discouraging authors from expanding with a new genre or project?

Now, I don’t know as much about the publishing industry between agents and editors (oh, mercy, pass the chianti) so I thought I’d ask y’all what you thought. Would diversification be a strength?

Readers, do you dislike when an author writes in a new genre, under their own name or a new pseudonym? Will you follow an author to a new genre you might not have tried before?

Authors, do you want to add another subgenre to your business? Have you met resistance for that one? And agents, what reasons might someone have to encourage an author not to branch outside their published genre?

Now, I generally don’t encourage anonymous comments, but if you want to comment anonymously you can do so by entering a nonsense@blitheringyaddayadda.net email address. I’m honestly befuddled and would love to learn more.

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Stephanie says:

    I will definitely follow an author I like to another genre.  That said, I generally only give them one chance in their new field.  If I don’t like their new stuff, I tend to disregard everything after that they publish.

  2. 2
    Nadia says:

    As a reader, I’d have to say “sometimes.”  JAK rocks the spectrum, and I enjoy reading her past, present, future.  Anne Stuart moves back and forth from historicals to contemporaries, Karen Robards did some paperback historicals a while back, KMM moved from historical paranormal to urban fantasy, Teresa Medieros did a couple time-travels – and I read them all.  Trying on the genre du-jour or just mixing it up to keep from getting stale, I can definitely see the appeal to the author. 

    Sometimes, though, the author loses me on the move from historical to contemporary and/or paranormal – Dodd, Garwood, Putney, St. Giles.  I just don’t like their new voice as well as I did their historical voice.  And other authors who rocked at romance make me sad that they moved toward mainstream or more plot-driven fiction.  Lowell and Hoag, I still read, still enjoy, but miss the more romantic sensibility of their older works.  Lowell used to write sex scenes that lasted ten pages, LOL, and they were hawt!  Now her main characters rarely have internal conflict toward their growing attraction because they are so busy with the suspense/mystery, so the payoff when they hook up isn’t as satisfying. 

    I’m sure the author would like to take their name recognition with them to the new genre, and in most cases, that’s fine because we readers would like to find you.  I would say a pseudonym over their regular author name is a better idea, though if the genre switch moves to a much steamier level.  Readers who buy on name won’t be happy if their “at the bedroom door” Regency fave was all of a sudden wall-banging erotic paranormal.  Better in that case to write the new line under a new name.

  3. 3
    Nancy says:

    I will follow someone to a different genre.  If they’re good, it’s worth a shot.  Lisa Kleypas is at least as good, if not better, when she writes contemporaries.  However, it drives me nuts when a successful author completely defects to suspense or mystery.  I always feel like they care more about write more “respectable” books than about giving me the books I want from them.  Elizabeth Lowell is the perfect example- I occasionally read her new stuff, but I’m not rushing out to buy them like I was her romances.  And I just don’t like mysteries at all.

  4. 4
    AgTigress says:

    On the whole, it is an author’s voice that captivates me, not the precise genre in which she is writing.  JAK is a good example—and interestingly, I was already keeping her categories written under two different names in the early 80s before I even noticed that they were the same person!
     
    Another example is Crusie:  while I do have strong views about some of the twists and turns of her career (I disliked the first collaboration with Bob Mayer so much that I have not read the two subsequent ones), the thing that keeps her many admirers hooked is simply her own take on life and the way she expresses it in her writing, whether she is writing a novel, a non-fiction piece, or her blog.

    I will read almost anything, fact or fiction, written by a writer whose style and voice appeal to me, and I suspect there are many other readers who feel the same way.  If so, agents and publishers are making a real mistake in trying to confine their authors into little sealed boxes with genre labels.  No doubt a major change, say from traditional Regency to no-holds-barred erotica, will lose some readers, but it will probably gain others, so the overall reader numbers should not be seriously affected. 

    The genre obsession comes of seeing books as ‘products’, and thinking that they must to be standardised and ‘measurable’ as far as possible.  This may appear to make sense to some of the people in publishing, but it is simply mistaken.  None of the best things in life can be reduced to simple, standardised rules.

  5. 5
    Lil' Deviant says:

    Oh YEA!  If I like an author then of course I will give her new ideas a go.  I agree with Stephanie if I don’t find them entertaining I won’t go that direction again.  I will stick with the books I like.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    @AgTigress: I really liked “Agnes and the Hitman,” though I was not crazy about the first one. You might enjoy it, though I don’t know how well our reading tastes match.

  7. 7
    EmmyTie says:

    As much as I’m not fond of pseudonyms, I can actually see why authors use them (or are encouraged to use them). A friend of mine is in a book club (she is not a romance reader and is unlikely to ever become one) and they decided to read JD Robb’s newest. They had no clue they were written by Nora Roberts and if they had known, the book probably wouldn’t have been chosen. None of the people in that club responded well to the sex, but that’s ten new readers that wouldn’t have read a book because they would have thought that it was too fantastical and focused on emotion.

    But I would think this would be more a story about how it’s good that an author writes in more than one genre from a business point of view. Just with a pseudonym.

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    It’s not just the reader’s perspective I’m curious about. Why from a business perspective is it a bad idea, such that agents would discourage clients from selling in more than one genre, or that publishers might not be interested? Must crossing genres require a pseudonym? I am so confused at the idea that selling in more than one subgenre would be a bad idea.

  9. 9
    Rachel Aaron says:

    I can actually understand the agent’s reluctance if they’re thinking of the author as a brand. I write funny, action fantasy (http://www.orbitbooks.net/2010/04/26/cover-launch-the-legend-of-eli-monpress/), but say I wanted to write a romance. If a reader liked my current book, they might pick up my romance and be horribly disappointed that there was say, steamy luuuuuuve rather than sword fights (though I don’t know why I wouldn’t have sword fights too, but for the sake of argument…). Said reader might not pick up my books again, even my fantasy ones.

    You can get around this by simply using a different name (Rachel Aaron for fantasy, Anastasia Von Swansong-Swoon for my Russian Empire Epic Romance or whatever), but you’d dilute your brand because you’d essentially be starting over from book 1 yet again.

    There are plenty of authors that do this very successfully, but agents also play to niches. I don’t even think my agent reps Romance, so if I suddenly started writing categories, he’d be flying blind (of course, knowing my agent, he’d probably still knock it out of the park, but I am very lucky). This may be the reason they don’t want you to switch if they don’t know anyone in your new genre and don’t know where to submit your work to get you the best match.

    I would think this would be a bigger problem for authors taking a huge leap, though. Say going from Regencies to Tom Clancy style thrillers. I wouldn’t think moving between Romance categories would be an issue, but then I don’t know Romance publishing very well. Maybe things are very compartmentalized?

    Just a thought on why this may be happening. Love the post!
    -Rachel

  10. 10
    Ken Houghton says:

    “well done, with lava beans and a nice chianti”

    Fava beans, no?  (And, really, well done?  Haven’t you read the worst Romance novel of the past ten years, Kitchen Confidential?)

  11. 11
    Cassie says:

    Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville urban fantasy series) wrote a really interesting post about just this at Genreality. She left her previous publisher because they didn’t want her to publish books in another genre/series/storyline under her own name. The comments are really interesting, and include some from publishing perspectives as well.

    Here’s the link: http://www.genreality.net/breaking-up-is-hard-to-do-choosing-to-leave-a-publisher

  12. 12
    Andrea says:

    I don’t mind if an author tries a new genre.  If it sounds interesting, I’ll try it but if it is a genre that doesn’t interest me at all, even if I really like the author’s other stuff, I won’t.  I actually prefer it if they use a pseudonym because then I won’t have to check every time a new book comes out what genre it is – BUT I want to know about the author writing under another name so that I have the chance to pick up the new books.

    And other authors who rocked at romance make me sad that they moved toward mainstream or more plot-driven fiction.

    Yep, completely agree there! Still read Lowell but might not get them as soon as they come out.
    So, basically, I don’t mind if they try something new as long as it is some subgenre of romance. ;-)

  13. 13
    Laurel says:

    I can’t figure out if this is dinosaur syndrome or sound business tactic.

    Everyone, not just in publishing, likes to stay in their comfort zone. So I get that an agent and author have built a brand together, things are rolling along, and the agent figures, why rock the boat?  The other thing to consider is if the author has moved into a genre the agent doesn’t deal with. The network of editors is totally different and the agent doesn’t necessarily know who to shop the MS to or have any street cred with the right people. Plus, the agent knows that the author will now be taking time away from a proven money earner to experiment with an unproven commodity. I guess it’s kind of like an actor cutting an album or Darius Rucker going country. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.

  14. 14
    SB Sarah says:

    What’s wrong with lava beans? They’re really good! *HAHAHA*

  15. 15

    Why from a business perspective is it a bad idea, such that agents would discourage clients from selling in more than one genre, or that publishers might not be interested?

    In my case, I jumped a fast bus to Insecurity when my series didn’t rocket into the stratosphere on the first couple of books. I put in a suspense proposal, thinking I needed a backup plan.

    My agent was willing to support me if I wanted to write in both genres, but the publisher said ‘We believe in you and the series. Let’s hold off on this and focus on what we’ve got cooking already.”

    So I sucked it up and worked on making book four the best f-ing book I had ever written. It’s only been out for a few weeks, but it’s had the best sales of the series so far, and my shelf space at B&N/Borders tripled practically overnight.

    The moral?? In my case, the publisher’s reluctance to see me branch off into another genre was because they thought I was pulling the OMG WTF Help! trigger too early. And they were right.

    YMMV!

  16. 16
    Henofthewoods says:

    1. I like when authors move to new challenges.
    2. A few authors I like have pseudonyms or slight changes to their names for their YA books, and that seems like a good decision, just to keep parents from having heart attacks.
    3. Slight name changes work better for me than full on pseudonyms I have to keep track of year after year. S J Viehl to Lynn Viehl (I am about to try out some sample chapters of SJ after reading most of Lynn) or Jayne Castle (maiden name) to Jayne Anne Krentz, Lilith Saintcrow’s new YA name was close to Lilith Saintcrow. JAK to Amanda Quick and Barbara Michaels to Elizabeth Peters leave me more room to make a mistake and get a book that is not theirs or miss one of theirs. (Of course, with both JAK/AQ and BM/EP – I am going to check the books at least a little and remember their names because I have enjoyed some so much. Other authors may not have that advantage when I go shopping.)

    my word today is feel44 – but I am only 41, I swear.

  17. 17
    DianeN says:

    What’s interesting is that apparently some writers are actually encouraged to move away from their usual subgenre. I corresponded with an author whose romantic suspense series I really enjoyed for the first several books, and she told me that she was being required to up the suspense and tone down the romance in order to appeal to a wider audience. I have to say that I don’t enjoy her books as much as I did when the romance and the suspense were equally important. This makes me wonder if sometimes it’s not the author herself who wants to change subgenres—maybe she’s been encouraged to try something new, possibly by dangling the possibility of moving to hardcover?

  18. 18
    Christina B. says:

    A couple years ago, I read a post by agent Nathan Bransford and it really stuck with me: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/12/genre-hopping.html

    I generally work within a handful of sub/genres and yes, I do it to have fun. But I also have a pretty high yearly word count, and I think moving from, say, a romantic suspense project to a YA romance keeps me fresh, keeps my writing pace moving. And I also feel like I can cultivate more than one brand at the same time. Maybe this isn’t the best way to work it, but I couldn’t imagine any other way for me.

    I also think the best way for an author to approach crossing genres is to use different pseudonyms, but keep them transparent to a certain extent so as not to dilute the brand but to also allow readers to follow the author to a different genre if they want.

  19. 19
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Why from a business perspective is it a bad idea, such that agents would discourage clients from selling in more than one genre, or that publishers might not be interested?

    It’s a bad idea when you A) haven’t established yourself yet in your first genre and/or B) can’t write enough books a year to support multiple genres. Basically, if you spread yourself too thin you risk losing momentum and losing readers.

  20. 20
    Beth says:

    I think it’s awesome when authors write in different genres. I don’t have much experience with this, but I think KMM’s urban fantasy is better than her paranormal romance, and I’m really glad she had the opportunity to let her storyline and characters evolve in that way.
    Also, I don’t find it confusing or annoying when authors use pseudonyms. Finding out two authors you like are actually the same person is a fun surprise. Like when you find out Chipotle is owned by McDonalds. They are both so different but so good.
    Which leads me to my next thought. I understand the thing about and author as a brand, but only to a certain extent. I mean, a good book is a good book whether it is a romance, or a mystery, or a paranormal, etc.

    spamword: that69 hehe :D

  21. 21
    joykenn says:

    Ok, I’m of two minds on this.  It is disconcerting to pick up a book by a familiar author to get something unexpected.  BUT, though this is heresy to say it, I was burned out on Nora Roberts and picked up the JD Robb series and loved it.  In fact, it brought me BACK to Nora.  If I like a writer’s style I will generally like them in other persona. 

    Then there is Charlaine Harris…I had read one or two of her books but wasn’t a fan of all her series.  The Shakespeare series has a serious tone and not much romance since the heroine is the survivor of a truly awful rape experience.  Very well written so I searched them all out.  I picked up her Stackhouse series without connecting her with her other series.  Somehow the idea of Southern Vampire Mysteries appealed to me.  Now I’ve gone back to connect with other series of hers.  I’ve come to appreciate her and even the less “serious” series have a subtle appeal now that I recognize more of her “voice”. 

    I guess the answer is…it depends.  A familiar name might make me pick up an unrelated book as long as it was REALLY clear with cover art and book blurb that this was a different experience.  I like Carrie Vaughan and will probably give her a try in a different, non-series mode.  Certainly the inability of her publisher to even consider her doing something different would be a major reason to leave them.  A publishing contract shouldn’t be a reason for locking away her creativity.  Now, if they wind up being really not very good, she might have wished she’d stayed.  We’ll see.

  22. 22
    Joy says:

    I have followed some authors to different sub-genres and been quite happy with it.  I tried a Western by Jo Goodman (was OK) and contemporaries by Lisa Kleypas and Julia London (were fabulous). I followed Bujold from sf to fantasy/romance.

    I am slightly less likely to follow an author into mysteries, but I followed Diana Norman’s straight historical fiction to Ariana Franklin’s historical mysteries (notice different pen names) with great pleasure—but I only did that when I learned that Franklin was Norman because I looooooooooved Norman’s work.

    There are certain genres/subgenres I will almost never touch; I like Carolyn Jewel’s historicals but I will probably not touch her paranormals because paranormals do nothing for me.

  23. 23
    Jodane says:

    Absolutely! I think the whole genre-labeling system is one of the worst things ever, even though I completely understand that is how the market works (simplification, pigeonholing, simplification!) and it couldn’t work any other way.  If authors want to branch out, more power to them, and if they’re good, of course I will follow them over. 

    The whole “branding debate” drives me a little nuts; I even feel it as a book reviewer, since I am like a literary magpie and I can’t just say “Oh, I review YA” or “Oh, I review fantasy” or “I review literary fiction.”  How do you brand that? It’s always refreshing to see the take of someone who comes from a different discipline. I’m always going to be encouraging interdisciplinary experimentation, because I think it’s awesome and there’s enough systematic stifling of it already.

  24. 24
    JewelTones says:

    Funny JAK was mentioned here.  She does cross genre lines (historical, contemporary, futuristic, paranormal), and she was the first author I ever heard say that getting readers to cross genre lines is very, very hard (which is why I think her current Arcane Society “gimmick” is freaking brilliant!).  I was surprised because I’ll follow a good writer pretty much anywhere.  But she mentioned at an RWA convention a few years ago that a ton of her readers won’t/don’t do that.  They like the one type of book and won’t cross over into the others—whether that’s from now knowing she is all those other names or just a dislike of that particular subgenre, I don’t know.  But I gather it is quite the problem.

    A couple other romance writers who voyaged into paranormal have run into the same problem from other comments I’ve heard.  I guess a majority of readers just don’t like change. 

    JT

  25. 25
    JewelTones says:

    oh darn it.  Typo.  Sorry.  That’s supposed to be:

    They like the one type of book and won’t cross over into the others—whether that’s from not knowing she is all those other names or just a dislike of that particular subgenre, I don’t know.

    JT

  26. 26
    Karen H says:

    I started reading only historical romances (which are still my first love).  It wasn’t until I discovered that one of my favorites, Amanda Quick, was really Jayne Ann Krentz who wrote contemporaries, that I tried my first contemporary.  I mostly associated contemporaries with Danielle Steel, whose books don’t appeal to me particularly.  Then I found out JAK was Jayne Castle who wrote paranormals and I got into another genre.  Now I read a good author, no matter what genre is involved.  And several of my favorites do write in several genres.  So, definitely, I will follow an author most anywhere she wants to go as long as I like her writing.

  27. 27
    Becca says:

    Hm. Writing this, looking at favorite authors, I seem to like it when they change names for different genres. I guess I treat different nyms as separate “people”.

    I really like JAK and Jayne Castle books, but don’t care for Stephanie James or Amanda Quick (although I will read the new Amanda Quick Arcane Society book because it’s part of a trilogy). AQ books are just too mannered and precious for my taste, I guess.

    I love Nora Roberts in all her guises – she successfully kept the NR “brand” with contemp romances, paranormal romances, and romantic suspense. I also love that she writes in a slightly different style as JD Robb (Remember When is one of my favorites, because it has both styles).

    I like the more recent Kay Hooper books (except her last two, which were too much same-old same-old) than I liked her straight romances.

    I read Elizabeth Peters but don’t care as much for Barbara Michaels.

  28. 28
    Kristina says:

    I have and will follow authors that I love to new genre’s.  Julie Garwood is a good example in my list of must read authors.  When she made the jump from sweet historicals to modern suspense with a dash of romance I jumped on that band wagon and picked up a trumpet.   

    What I don’t care for is when an author that I love suddenly disappears with no explanation and then a couple years later after no new book I learn they’ve been writing something unique to them under a different name.  Ummmm hello????  You have a fan base?  Did you NOT want to use them as leverage into a new area?  Makes no sense to me.

  29. 29
    Typ0 says:

    I think the problem with genre changes comes when authors don’t make it clear to their fan base what’s going on.  For example, Karen Marie Moning’s Fae series receives a lot of flack from her fans for “not being romance.”  She, on the other hand, says it was never intended to be: it’s an urban fantasy.  But her fans didn’t realize that and initially felt duped.  For this reason, i feel pseudonyms are a better bet when an author is trying to genre jump.

  30. 30
    TKF says:

    Funny JAK was mentioned here.  She does cross genre lines (historical, contemporary, futuristic, paranormal), and she was the first author I ever heard say that getting readers to cross genre lines is very, very hard

    I’m one who didn’t follow her, and I loved her historicals. In fact, she lost me entirely when all her “historicals” became all about her made up, magical, kung-fu secret society. They just weren’t HISTORICAL anymore.

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