As a matter of fact the problem is that the question is ill-posed. The right one would be: should an author change their genre?
And here the matter becomes more complex. You have to take into account the external consequences, if an author writes and publishes books of different genres, but also the internal ones, i.e. the pleasure that the author may have in changing genre and the effect of this on the quality of their writing.
I like to read books of almost any genre (except classic fantasy) and, like me, I think there are many authors with various literary tastes. It is normal that they want to experience their ability sneaking in different genres, because, if they like a certain type of stories, it is normal they want to invent some of them.
Theoretically no one prevents them from doing so (of course). I myself have so far published books of very different genres (apparently). “La morte è soltanto il principio” is an action/fantasy fan fiction with an ancient Egyptian topic, “Deserto rosso” (
, which will be translated and
published in English next year) is a hard
science fiction/space exploration serialised novel, with elements of
introspection. The first one is full of
irony and supernatural elements; the second one is dramatic and scientific. After this description these books seem
poles apart, but those who have read both of them have often said: “It’s evident that you have written both of
them.” Red Desert
This statement of course makes me feel proud, considering that twelve years have passed between the writing of the first and the second one (although then I have published them during a little more than a year). Twelve years is a long time, in the meantime, my tastes have evolved or simply have changed, and it is this change which partly explains the different genre. But what has not changed is my approach to each new story, that one is mine and remains so in a long time, even if my style has grown, has matured.
More recently I’ve also written a crime thriller (still unpublished) and though its plot is very different from the sci-fi series, the main themes of it are not.
I must also say that the thriller element is always present in my stories, even if in very different contexts
The truth is that when writing a book I start with an idea and from my point of view this is not always easy to label within a genre. In addition, in the development of the stories, often quite unintentionally I refer to recurrent themes, often controversial ones, because I like to create contrasts, interpreted differently according to the type of story, but still recognizable as mine.
The genre labels help to distinguish in broad terms where a certain story does fit, but for the writer it often has little importance. For the writer there is just their way of writing, feeling, narrating. In fact, each writer tends over time to create a genre of their own, which is defined voice of the author. It is something unique and recognizable, and this is what often their readers seek in their stories. They know that, whatever the genre, the author will face it with their own voice.
For this reason there are many writers who engage in different genres (perhaps related, but different), especially very famous writers; e.g. think about King, Grisham, the late Crichton, just to name a few. We tend to define their books as “King’s genre” or “Grisham’s genre” or “Crichton’s genre” rather than using a usual genre label.
By the way, some readers of mine even told me I fit in the latter; because they think sci-fi is not enough accurate (actually I think this is not completely correct as I have a much more emotional approach in dealing with the characters).
Of course, it is said that Grisham has invented legal thrillers, but the truth is that many of Grisham’s books are legal, not all of these are thrillers, and many others are literary fiction, even if in reading all them you realize that he writes exactly the same way regardless of the supposed genre. This is because Grisham is a great storyteller of ordinary life, the thriller or legal part is often just an excuse to tell great stories of ordinary people.
However, we are talking about great writers, who do not normally fear to see their book rejected by a publisher or that nobody buys it.
The situation is quite different for a less known writer, whether they are published or self-published. The one with a publisher, when suggesting a book in a genre different from the previous ones, can risk receiving a rejection. There is no problem for the independent author, but the latter is facing the same issues of the above-mentioned publisher: the reaction of the readers.
As I said, I read almost all genres, but not all readers are like me, indeed the opposite is often true.
Who writes a book in a well-defined literary genre usually targets the promotion of this book in order to reach specific readers of the genre, who, in turn, often, would not read their book if it had been of a different genre. For this reason, if, in the next book, the author switches to another genre, these readers may feel betrayed at the very least, lose confidence in the author and ultimately not buy the book.
At this point, all the work done to make themselves known for the previous book would have been lost forever; the author should start all over again.
Quite discouraging, isn’t it?
This is definitely a big problem, but in my opinion there is something more important to consider: does the author really feel to be able to write a book in another genre?
If the answer is yes, then I think that they should do it.
We cannot force ourselves to write a certain kind of books, only to avoid disappointing readers or publishers. Writing does not work that way. Writing is an artistic creation, and to create a valuable product it needs the passion from the writer’s side. The latter will write much more and much better if they do it following their rules, if they have fun doing it. If they lose readers, they probably will find others.
Or maybe their old readers will realize that the author is not changing at all “their own” genre and that they love to read those books, because of the way they are written and not only because of the subject they deal with.
I’m aware this is just a simplification and things are much more complicated. The point is I like to see the change of genre like a challenge to show your readers (and yourself) you are a good writer, that you can write good stories in other genres and all the same win their appreciation.
And what about you? Have you written stories in different genres? What about the reaction of your readers?