Sunday, July 10, 2005

Cross-Genre Writing

A while back I mentioned that a successful science fiction author generally has a hard time selling books in any other category. The assumption seems to be that people don't generally read much outside of their chosen primary genre, so an author's fans won't look for him in any other section, and fans of the other genre don't know the author as an established writer. I'd like to think that readers are not quite so narrow-minded -- at worst, the author should be no worse off than a new writer would be in the other genre -- but I can certainly see publishers taking this attitude. Look at television and movies, for example. How often does anything truly new and unique come out of Hollywood? Every once and a while, you'll find something new, but once that new show or film has proven its success (Survivor on TV and the current rush of comic book movies in film, for example), then for a year or more, you see nothing but a raging torrent of copycat productions. Producers have to invest a lot of money into these shows, so very few seem to be willing to risk money on anything that hasn't already been tried and proven.

Publishing houses, I can imagine, work much the same way and for the same reasons. Publishing is not quite as chancy as filmmaking, but there is significant risk involved. As understanding as I am about their need to make a profit (if they don't make a profit, they won't pay us writers to create new works), I still find myself wondering why more companies aren't willing to take a chance on cross-genre authors. After all, they are certainly no worse than first-novel authors, and unlike the newbies, they've proven they can make sales. If the risks are high with new talent, aren't they somewhat lower with existing talent? Or is it that the reason new talent is published at all is that they are hoping for the next Harry Potter?

I've recently had some ideas for some stories outside of science fiction. I've also been told that I have a talent for writing young adult (YA) stories (which isn't too surprising, considering my education background). But if I write a successful YA novel, will I be disdained in the adult SF realm? I have seen ruminations that I will. And not only that, I'm also planning on writing non-fiction articles to help pay the bills. I don't think this will "ghetto-ize" me as much as writing YA fiction, but the effect is still there.

I could write under a pseudonym, of course, but should I achieve fame and fortune, I'd really rather do it under my own name. I realize there is a long and honored tradition of writing under a pseudonym, and I've heard from Harlan Ellison that if your first three novels tank, you've got no choice but to start over with a new name anyway. Still, the idea just leaves a bad taste in my mouth...

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