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Should a writer aim to be a genre specialist?

Writer as a genre specialist header image

In my day job, my team and I are encouraged to be generalists. We are told that the best way to be able to deal with the different jobs that we do during the working week. It also prepares us for roles in the future. This week though, I started thinking – should writers be generalists? Or is it better to be a genre specialist to allow us to succeed?

The case for specialising

I remember being told a lot of times that I should find my genre and stick to it. I think that’s seen as a general rule for a lot of writers. By specializing in one genre, or one type of writing, we are told that we will:

  • Improve our technique in our chosen genre
  • Build an audience quickly, and reach more fans who know what to expect
  • Make it easier to create a writer ‘brand’
  • Allow our brains to stay in an area – which leads to better ideas

All these are great benefits. However, it does mean that we can get bored a little more easily. If you’re only writing one thing, in one style, we might find that we’re looking for other things, wondering how we can do. That can be distracting at best. And the more distracted we are the more likely procrastination is likely to slip in.

man making a choice
Choose something new? Or stay the same?

The case for generalising

Generalist writers will jump from genre to genre, and writing type to type. For example, one week they might be putting together a script for a science fiction short film, and the next they’ll be putting together a romance novella. It can be difficult to keep track of what they’re working on, but they seem to be getting better at everything. 

Generalising gives us some great benefits:

  • Lots of experience with lots of different styles.
  • Use lessons learnt from different areas to solve problems with anything
  • Easier to grow networks of writers (as we’re talking to more people)

However, sometimes generalists find it difficult to build a reputation for a specific type of story. Fans can be put off by not knowing which type of story their going to get from a writer. This can make it difficult for us to build an audience who will buy every book.

So which one is best?

It’s difficult to give a definitive answer here as it depends on the type of writer that we want to be. A genre specialist will allow an audience to build up more quickly, but may not give the widest range of experience. If you’re looking to build a career writing, this is the best place to start. A generalist will get a lot of problem solving expertise, but then may struggle to sell a lot of books.

 choosing too many hats

Whichever you want to be, remember that just as important as what you’re writing is how you’re writing. Make sure that you’re writing, and you’re enjoying it. Then, you’ll make a decision on whether you’re going to be a genre specialist, or try a little of everything.

2 thoughts on “Should a writer aim to be a genre specialist?”

  1. Hi Phil, interesting post. I write Sci-fi and Steampunk adventures, which I guess are pretty genre related. But I also write Agatha Raisin style crime. I sometimes wonder if it fragments my audience, or whether it helps them cross genres and read what they might not otherwise try. I get reviews that suggest that might be the case. In the end, the trouble is that I can only write what comes into my head.

  2. phil@philhurstwriter.co.uk

    Thanks Richard, I stick far too much to sci-fi, I know, but I try and read a variety of types of writing, hoping that one day I’ll feel the need to try something different.

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