What’s Your Genre-Identity?

January 9, 2012

Some writers are immediately and exclusively identifiable with one genre. You can’t imagine that author writing anything else. Agatha Christie writing a picture book? Mo Willems writing suspense?

For those of us, like me, who are just starting out in our writing careers, our genre-identity is perhaps more fluid, not yet obvious. Or perhaps, like me, there is a desire to write in more than one genre.

Much of the ‘common wisdom’ trotted out for aspiring writers says “brand yourself, establish yourself in one genre before branching out into other genres.” That may be good advice for someone who is getting into writing while in his or her twenties or thirties. Frankly, at fifty-five, I’m not willing to take a decade or two to establish myself in the picture book realm before venturing into another genre.

The truth is, while I’ve been concentrating on picture books for the last year and a half, there’s a possibility that at least a few of the ideas I’ll be working on for 12 x 12 in 2012 (12 picture book draft manuscripts in 12 months) might better be expressed as chapter books for kids aged 6 to 8 instead of picture books for the same age bracket. In fact, I’m planning to try a few of them in both formats, to see which works best.

I also have a middle grade novel in the works – the first draft is completed, and I’ve started revisions. I’m hoping/planning to learn more about writing for middle graders from Kate McMullan at the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Conference this summer.

I also write for adults. Not just the hymn texts that I’ve had published, but adult fiction.

My genre-identity covers a broad spectrum. There’s one genre that isn’t on that spectrum, though. While I admire writers like Libba Bray and Patricia McCormick, who write so skillfully for and about teens, I have no desire to go deep enough into the teen psyche to be able to write YA. There are many writers who are meant to write YA. I’m not one of them.

An author who writes YA very well, and crafts believable, “real” characters, is Beverley Brenna. If you read my blog post yesterday, you’ll know that one of Bev’s YA novels, Waiting for No One, has won the Dolly Gray Award.   To celebrate that award, I’m having a giveaway. Anyone over the age of 14 who comments on this Monday Musings post, yesterday’s award post, or next week’s  Monday Musings post will be entered in the draw (done through random.org). The person whose name is chosen will receive a copy of Waiting for No One. If you comment on more than one post, your name will be entered as many times as you comment.

Now, what’s your genre-identity? What genre do you prefer to write/illustrate? Do you ever try writing outside your comfort zone?

43 People reacted on this

  1. At this point, I really do have a preference for picture books and that will be my focus for this year as I start seeking agent representation. However, like you, Beth, I feel sure I have other genres within me. I have started writing chapter books and poetry and have some MG and YA plots/pots on the back burner. No desire to enter the realm of adults at all.

    As I mentioned on FB, I am thrilled for Bev and see the award as a well deserved tribute to her writing skill. I have so enjoyed following Taylor’s progress and can’t wait for #3!

    1. Although I haven’t read any of your picture book manuscripts, I know that they will be strong candidates as you seek an agent this year. I’m also very sure that you will do well in the field of MG and YA. To your success as you head into the seeking-an-agent phase!

      I, too, can’t wait for #3 in the Taylor saga!

  2. It is interesting you mention this. I’ve done something in a much different genre, It was a nice experiment but it certainly didn’t hold me the way YA fiction does. I suppose it is nice to have this genre-identity-fluidity now.

    But I wouldn’t blame you for taking the bulls by the horn and establishing yourself in more than one. You have the ideas and the best way to tell the story, go for it.

    1. Thanks, Angela. I’m grateful to the people who write YA and write it well.

      I think I’ll have to be careful not to seem scattered and unfocused in my pursuit of different genres, but there are “so many songs I want to sing” to use a metaphor from the arts.

  3. I am with you on the genre confusion! I’ve published MG novels and poetry for adults and children… and also piddle with adult fiction and memoir AND am stealing your 12 x 12 idea for picture books this year! It’s a tough road when your muse takes you all over the map. But what can you do, except follow? Good luck on your journey!

    1. Thank you, Irene. Glad to have a companion on the genre-confusion road!

      By the way, 12 x 12 isn’t my idea, it’s the brainchild of Julie Foster Hedlund. I’ll get the information to you — there’s still time to officially sign up.

  4. This is my question too for the beginning of the year but have decided I’d like to concentrate on revising a MG WIP I’ve left languishing for years. Thought if I try to track progress on my blog, I might manage to get somewhere this year.
    But my problem too is that I flitter from genre to genre–love mysteries and suspense, but not settling well to finishing anything.

    1. And therein lies the rub — flitting from flower to flower, but not getting deeply enough into anything to finish any one project.

      I wish you well with your MG WIP. I’ll be watching your blog for developments!

  5. II admire you and those who venture into a variety of genres. For now, I am staying with picture books, improving my craft and querying agents. I have a memoir in me, but am not sure it is something I want to write. I started it many years ago, but felt I needed more time.

    Again, I am very happy for Bev!

    1. Thanks, Pat. I admire those who can stick to one genre and do a wonderful job with it, as I know you will. I’m eager to read your picture books, having had a taste of your facility with writing through your blog (and even before that, I know I was impressed with your comments and progress in the Just Write for Kids course, which you did just before I did.) To your success, as well, in the craft-honing and agent-querying!

    1. You’re doing well in picture books, I can vouch for that. I haven’t seen your early readers. I’ll have to watch for them. I have no doubt that you can figure out the added steps in writing the longer, more detailed books!

  6. I’m like you, Beth – not content to stick with one genre. I started off writing picture book texts when my kids were younger. Since then I’ve had two short romance stories published for adult readers and I’m nearing completion of my adult novel (contemporary fiction). I also need to complete a three-part short story for adults (also contemporary fiction) that I started a few years ago, and like you, I’m doing the 12 x 12 picture book challenge this year. I enjoy reading YA fiction and adult mysteries, and would like to try my hand at both sometime. Eclectic to the max!

  7. Hi Beth! Nice post! When I started writing stories, I always thought I’d only write picture books. During my time at VCFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts), I learned to explore different genres and take risks. Now I enjoy writing for young adults (fiction, short stories, and fantasy). My favorite is fantasy. I may try to write a middle-grade novel someday. You’ll never know what you’re good at until you try. It’s wonderful that you’ve learned to write across genres.

    1. Thanks, Blessy! “Exploring different genres and taking risks” — what valuable lessons. Best of everything as you continue to pursue your writing, and thanks for visiting my blog! Hope to see you again!

    1. I think those are two excellent things to write about, Erik! Tomorrow I’m going to be talking about writing funny things, so be sure to check out tomorrow’s post, and add to the discussion.

  8. Hi Beth,
    I’m definitely in the “fluid” genre-identity category. I started out writing newspaper and magazine articles for adults (and still do occasionally), then switched to writing for kids. My first love was picture books, but I haven’t found a publisher for any of those manuscripts yet. My published work for young readers includes poems for middle grade and YA, a middle-grade novel, and a middle-grade short story. I’m currently working on a YA historical, so I’m all over the place. I do feel “scattered” at times, but I have to follow the muse.
    P.S. Thanks for stopping by our TeachingAuthors blog. I’m way behind in my Comment Challenge posting. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for returning the visit, Carmela! You’re right, you have to follow the muse — and it looks as though your muse has led you into some good places! All the best with your writing! (and with the Comment Challenge)

  9. Beth,
    My manuscripts are usually picture books. I too, want to step of the my box see what else is in me. I have not really found that one genre that lights my fire, but I do love to write in rhyme. I am a 12x12x12 participant too. I think this challenge will be a lot of fun. Good Luck.

    1. Thanks, Cheryl. Have you seen the middle grade and YA novels that are written in verse? Not usually rhyming verse, but still…

      I think 12 x 12 is going to be great. It already is! All the best to you, as well.

  10. It is interesting that we expect most writers to pick one genre. It would be difficult to pick just one genre that I love to read – how do authors choose just one to write? Although I suppose that with the writing the more you work on one genre the better you will become and thus the more difficult to venture out to a new genre. Good luck on your 12 x 12 challenge this year!

    1. What an excellent point, Camille. You’re right, I love to read many different genres, why wouldn’t I want to write many different genres as well?

      Thank you for visiting! All the best to you in your endeavors, as well!

  11. I don’t like the idea of being labled to one genre. I know there are authors out there who write in several, even if they use a different name. I have, however, narrowed my target section to those under 20. That’s about as far as I’ve allowed myself to be boxed in. I’m sure eventually, I’ll find a nitch I fit well into. For now, I’m still searching.

    1. Thanks, Jackie. It sounds as though you’re doing well in your search for where you belong — if you want to write picture books to YA, more power to you! All the best in your search, and your writing!

  12. I’m a writer, not an illustrator… and I write both for adults and children. I can’t seem to settle in one spot… I have too many stories in my head wanting to get out!

  13. Like Joanna I am more focused on picture books with the 12×12 but I have also started revising my YA this year. Have titles and plots outlines for chapter/MG books but will leave those for later. Also thoughts on a memoir in the distant future.

    1. Good that you’re keeping that YA in your sights. Each project will help you hone your craft, which of course needs to be our focus with every project — making each piece of writing the very best it can be.

  14. Well, Beth, I don’t write or illustrate books for babes or kids or tweens or teens, but I sure do love to write *about* them! My favorite genre to read is clever, funny fantasy – you know, the ones with smart-talking cats who help clueless wizards understand the puns that turn the dragons into coffeecakes and it’s easy to keep the characters’ names straight.

    Not many of those around, so I make-do by reading and recommending alternate history with teen protagonists and realistic YA fiction with beads of hope peeking through the usual teen angst and paranormal fiction where the not-exactly-human beasties have a conscience. In other words, all the things that teens feel happening to them – life taking unexpected turns, dark nights and brilliant moments, being different from everyone else in the whole world. And some non-formulaic middle grade books…and some stellar picture books….

    I’m so glad that some writers and illustrators go from strength to strength in their favorite genre, while others tread new ground with every work. My to-be-read pile grows higher each day…

    1. Writers would be nowhere without readers. Some suggestions for your reading:

      Bruce Coville’s “The Unicorn Chronicles” (quite likely you’ve read these)

      for realistic YA, Beverley Brenna’s “Wild Orchid” and “Waiting for No One”.

      non-formulaic MG, Beverley Brenna’s “The Moon Children” (not what it sounds, it’s not a fantasy about kids on the moon!)

      have you read any of Canadian author Kit Pearson? I think you’d like her books.

  15. Hi Beth,
    This is a very interesting post. I’m having a bit of a genre identity crisis. I’ve been writing only picture book texts for the last three years but I recently started to write a chapter book for (9 to 12 year old boys) with my dad. This came about just by chance. I never thought that I would co-write with someone and it’s the first time I’ve written a story ‘just because’ without really considering the market. We wrote it for us – published or not.

    Thank you also for visiting my blog. It’s great to be involved with Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 challenge.

    1. Thanks for responding, Renee! Great things can happen when you just write for you, not worrying about the market. That’s so especially when we consider that anything we write today, even if accepted by a publisher immediately, will still be nearly two years in the process before it is released, and by then who knows what will be popular?

      I will be back to your blog — it definitely wasn’t just a one-time visit. All the best with your blog and with 12 x 12!

  16. What a great post.

    I’ll admit that when I started writing, my first novels were fantasy. It wasn’t until my 3rd that I had an idea for a YA story and started writing and… felt like I was home. It’s all I’ve written since.

    I’d love to write a MG at some point but an idea never sticks with me.

    I think we’re all just Prince Charmings, hoping to find a perfect fit for the shoe we’ve found. It’s the lucky ones who find more than one match.

    1. How wonderful that you’ve found your “match”. Good analogy, to liken us to Prince Charmings. Sometimes we have to try our shoe on a lot of different genres before we find the right one, the one with which we can live happily ever after. Thank you for that. (And thank you for visiting!)

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