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Friday, November 14, 2014

Does the Market Readily Accept Genre Change?

1st edition
1st edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


         Recently there have been some author bloggers who have wondered how their image and book sales might be impacted if they changed genres.  For example I recall one author who had been writing romance who was considering writing something in a fantasy genre.  Some of those who responded to her post indicated that they had done so with no appreciable impact while others said they had toyed with the idea of a genre switch but were concerned about how well it would be accepted by their usual audience.   How devastating can change be from an economic perspective?

         J.K. Rowling jumped from the most successful kid lit series of all time to risk a foray into adult literature and she didn't do too badly with that change.  It remains to be seen if she will hold her adult audience.  The creator of the James Bond adult series didn't do too badly when he switched to children's literature when he published Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.   Many authors have made the leap from one genre to something completely different with no adverse effect on their careers.   Good writing is not dependent on the genre being written.

         There are undoubtedly many examples that you can come up with of writers who went off of their normal path to publish something that was rejected by the general public.  One that I ran across was McKenzie Devlin who jumped from romance to zombies with an outcome of what she calls "experimental failure".  As Devlin states on her blog, "...the moral of the story isn’t to stop experimenting, just be ultra careful with switching genres if you have established readers that love you."        
         
          Genre hopping has been fairly common in the music industry.   Some of you might recall when Bob Dylan switched from his acoustic folk style to having an electrified rock band backing him up.   Many fans were outraged, but in the end as we know Dylan's career became even bigger.  Likewise I can think of a number of artists who pulled the old switcheroo on the public with great success.   For example the Bee Gees went from vocal harmony pop to disco, Fleetwood Mac turned their backs on their blues roots to record mainstream pop rock, and Kenny Rogers moved on from the psychedelic rock that brought him to the public eye to record country music.   In all of these cases the genre change made these acts more successful than they had previously been.

         Changing horses sometimes hasn't gone over so well with an artist's fans.   In my upcoming Battle of the Bands post (coming tomorrow Saturday November 15th), one of the featured artists, a singer with a long respected career, recorded an album in 1969 that was somewhat different than all of his previously recordings.  Everything from the album packaging to the way the tracks were recorded was a change for this artist.

         Though in actuality the artist's sound was not really all that different than his usual work, it was apparently enough to turn off the usual buyers of his product.  Or was it merely the perception of change?  It could even have been a matter of the timing of the release since this artist was probably losing his fan base due to age or even the events of that year.   Most likely there was a combination of factors that caused the album to either get lost in all of the other releases at the time or to be avoided by a public who weren't ready for a new approach from this artist.

          Please visit my post tomorrow for the Battle of the Bands post that will look at a good song by a good artist from an album most people don't even know exists.   You can listen and give us your opinions.

           Do you avoid an author's newer works if they are a drastic change from previous ones?    Can you think of an author or other artist who changed genres with negative consequences?    Any guesses about the song I'll be using in the Battle of the Bands post or the artist and album?



16 comments:

  1. I don't have a problem with an author changing genres.
    Kenny Rogers used to sing psychedelic rock music? I really can't picture that. I know that's what Genesis used to sing before switching to pop and hitting it big.

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  2. I admit I have no interest in JK Rowling's work beyond Harry Potter. I want her to write more Potter books. I remember when I was a kid I was obsessed with the Narnia books. Then I tried to read CS Lewis' Space Trilogy and I didn't like it one bit.

    I can't think of an artist off the top of my head that changed genres with negative consequences, other than when bands released more pop and mainstream music which I didn't care for...like when the Clash totally sold out with 'Combat Rock', and the Grateful Dead hit the big time with 'Touch of Grey' which opened up a whole host of problems at shows b/c it got too big.

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  3. It's not that the market won't accept genre change. It's that if you're switching genres you're basically starting all over again finding an audience. Genres exist because most readers are looking for a certain type of experience in their reading. Most readers won't read a book in a genre they don't like just because a writer they like started writing books in it.

    Some genres have a good deal of overlap in readership, like fantasy and science fiction. The experiences given by fantasy and sci fi are very similar. So you could probably switch between the two and maintain a good portion of your fanbase.

    But others will have practically no overlap, like romance and thriller. So if you're writing romance and develop a good fan base and then switch to writing thrillers, you have to accept that very, very few readers are going to follow you to the new genre. It just doesn't give them the reading experience they want and came to enjoy your books for. So your thriller books are hitting the market as books from a brand new author essentially. Thriller readers don't know who you are, to them you're an unknown quantity. So your books are going to rise or fall on their own merits. You can't count on your fans to buy them.

    You can probably move around between different sub-genres fairly safely or between genres that provide a similar experience. But, yeah, be wary if switching around between very dissimilar genres. At least don't take it for granted that if you do well in one genre that means you'll do well in a different one.

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  4. In the past I have read different genres by a favorite author. It's not always my cup of tea, but I still try. Example: I like Stephen King's horror stuff (go figure, because I'm such a wuss when it comes to scary stuff), and have also read some of his non-horror stuff as well. I don't enjoy the non-horror as much, but if something sounds interesting, I'll attempt a read.
    Looking forward to Battle of the Bands!
    ~Katie

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  5. I wouldn't say Rowling has found success away from Harry Potter. In fact, she has met with so much difficulty that she's going back to Potter.

    I think the challenge is to establish early on that you are not just "this" type of writer and that you are also "that" type of writer and maybe even "that other" type of writer. Once you allow your "fans" to lock you into something, they'll never let you out (just ask Kevin Smith). At that point, it's a matter of escape.

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  6. People worry too much. What is life without a little risk? One already is taking a risk creating something since the arts area is either starve or fortune in so many ways. I never knew Ian Fleming did Chitty and yet I read the book and i read You Only Live twice when I was in grade 6! I remember being confused but that hasn't changed with me. I say-more power to you if you change genres, write what you wish and one has to try not to care what people like. Hell if I went by what people like, i would be a basket case(no words here and don't send me a basket). I am waiting to find out tomorrow and wonder if you have Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra doing something wild and wooly

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  7. I've read a few authors who write different genres and enjoy them. I write in two different genres. My romance books are enjoying success but I haven't found a huge following for my epic fantasy though it's what I love to write the most.

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  8. Alex-- but are you willing to switch from Space Opera to something else? Kenny Rogers first hit was "Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition Was In"--not wild out there psychedelia, but it was a bit out there.

    JoJo-- I think you've expressed what the general public often feels. They have a loyalty to the created work and not so much to the artist who did the creating.

    Sarah-- I think you've made the point that the existing market may not be ready to accept change so that an author has to develop a new market. The market is open to those who have talent and the push behind them, but they may be starting over.

    Katie-- Yep! You are another good example of an artist losing fanbase for the out of expected genre works.

    Andrew -- Most people who bought Rowling's adult book probably did so mostly out of curiosity. I'm sure her sales would go down for the next unless it's exceptionally good. I agree that we can get caught in the trap of genre if we don't embark on the journey as an eclectic artist. Stereotyping can be a blessing to some, but it can also be a box from which escape is difficult.

    Birgit-- I guess I you look at the economics, risk can be a dangerous thing as far as the next paycheck goes. It's probably difficult to say what we would do if in a similar case, but I wouldn't mind knowing. Excellent guess on the artist!

    Lee




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  9. Susan GK-- Have you done any research to figure out why the discrepancy between the two sales figures?

    Lee

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  10. I don't mind a writer having books in more than just one genre, though I'd probably wonder what was up if someone constantly jumped from genre to genre, like mystery, high fantasy, horror, contemporary, sci-fi, and picture book. A really talented, capable person could pull that off, but it usually seems like such a person just can't make up his or her mind about which genres s/he loves most.

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  11. I'm prolific. So I would get bored if I couldn't genre jump.

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  12. It is quite adventurous and a leap of faith to change from one thing to another. House to house, genre to genre, church to church, etc. It takes courage.

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  13. Carrie-Anne -- I think being a good writer can overcome genre-hopping, maybe not helping get more book sales, but retaining respect from the industry.

    Shelly -- I get that.

    Susan Kane-- I'm not too excited about moving to a new house--it's a lot of work. I happy in the church I attend so I don't go to others unless I'm out of town. But I wouldn't want to eat in the same restaurant every day or watch the same kind of movies all of the time. Same with writing. Now if the money were good enough maybe I'd just stick to one genre if I had to.

    Lee

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  14. I'm not sure if the desire for better sales or a fresh new image would be effective long-term motivators for authors who want to try a different genre. That said, I think it's fine for an author to change genres if they're evolving as artists and want to continue experimenting with their craft.

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  15. Most things and people change eventually, so why should we worry.

    Yvonne.

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  16. I did not know that Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

    I don't if I've come across anyone who has made me avoid simply because they changed genres.

    Personally, I think if one changes genres its a great way to pick up new readers. For example, I recently discovered/got into Walter Mosley a few months ago from reading one of his new stand alone fiction novel. I've also discovered he's a great mystery writer as well.

    As for JK Rowling, while I've never read Harry Potter, I might be more willing to check out her adult fiction.

    Father Nature's Corner

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Lee