How difficult is it to get published in more than one genre?


Well-Known Member
Jul 26, 2021
Okay, had this stupid question stuck inside my head and I need to get it out at the very least to try to clear my head!

For those of you who have managed to get published, how difficult, if at all, has it been to get another work published if it's not in the same genre?

My thinking here is some authors are known for "just" writing in one genre, Stephen King in Horror, G.R.R. Martin in Fantasy, Roald Dahl wrote a lot of Children's books (but started off writing a lot of short stories before that) while Lee Childs writes Thrillers and so on. True or not there's at least a perception that certain writers just write in the one genre and I'm wondering if there is any truth to that and if any one here has encountered an attitude of "But you're an X writer, not a Y writer" from an agent of publisher. And if so, what was done to work around it?
This is what pen names are for.(y)
My short stories (widely varied subjects) have been published (6 of them so far) under my real name. I don't have any reputation so I don't think it affected the editors decisions.
I will be publishing the two SF novels soon and am working on a suitable pen name because my own name is too Welsh and not SF'ish in character at all ! :(
My spy and political thrillers will be going out as Robert Stratton

We discussed the pen name thing a bit here:
My only personal experience is being rejected across genres, which, it turns out, is a skill at which I'm pretty talented!

That said, the Kameron Hurley episode of Publishing Rodeo talks about that a bunch. (spotify link below)

I am aware of authors who've had publishers tell them "you're an X author". Mike Brooks had an epic fantasy rejected because publishers saw him as a sci-fi author. I believe Adrian Tchaikovsky's and Yoon Ha Lee's publishers lean on both to be sci-fi author.

However, the knowledgeable will note Brooks has had epic fantasy published, and Tchaikovsky and Lee have both published fantasy, in Tchaikovsky's case by the bushel load.

The number of authors who've published in multiple genres under their own name, especially when playing the shared waters of fantastika, are large. Lewis, Le Guin, Zelazny, Delany, Anderson, Moore, Kuttner, Leiber, Cherryh, Bujold, Martin, King, the other King, Elliott, Moorcock, to name just a few very big hitters beyond those mentioned. More midlist contemporary writers do it too. LR Lam does it, Aliette de Bodard does it. The aforementioned. Ditto Hurley.

Are there obstacles? Probably, and I imagine some here would know a lot better than me. But it's clearly doable. Some of Tchaikovsky's fantasy comes out from smaller publishers than his sci-fi, but it still comes out.

Writing fantastika/specfic and wholly other genres under one's own name is rare. Moorcock did it (I think). Jen Williams does it, Susannah Clarke does it... oh, Tade Thompson. Iain Banks did it under the thinnest possible pseudonym, as does RJ Barker now. Guy Gavriel Kay got a volume of poetry that may or may not be specific published. But while marketability surely plays into that, I wonder how many authors are interested in that.
Have you been published in even one genre? More than once?

A published author has considerably more access to publishers than a first time author. How do you compare the relative difficulty of changing genre to getting a foot in the door?
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But while marketability surely plays into that, I wonder how many authors are interested in that.
Most (if not all) authors are interested in marketability, or they wouldn't be publishing. But are they interested to the same extent as the publisher? And what is the author's definition of marketable? Those are the questions. An author might be content if the book can be marketed to a small niche audience and makes a modest number of sales, because they love the book and want to see it in the hands of the readers who will most enjoy it. (Hence they might self-publish or go with a smaller publisher for that book, under their own name or a pseudonym, while still writing more marketable books in the genre they are already known for. ) But the folks in sales and marketing at the big publishers must necessarily regard the matter differently. Their job, what they are paid to do, is to think big numbers.

The days when a Stanley Unwin could permit his son to publish The Lord of the Rings presumably at a loss, just because he believed the book deserved to be published, are long past.
I’ve been published in two genres (time travel adventure & SF YA), but both by the same small publisher.

Despite that, I am having difficulty getting agents to read my two other completed novels (crime thriller & literary/humour). My WIP is a religious thriller.

I’m not sure if the change of genres from my published work has contributed to the disinterest, or whether other factors are involved (query letter, crap writing etc), but the feedback from the few agents who have read the books does not give me any clues. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t found the right agent.

I’ll keep going, of course, and as I don’t have a favourite writing genre (I love ‘me all) I happy to be stuck in any if I crack the big time.

right agent
Ah, I could have expressed that clearer -

While marketability will play into publishers' decision to publish non-fantastika content from fantastika authors, I do also wonder just how many fantastika fans want to write non-fantastika in the first place. Yes, most of us do read outside that set of genres, but we're generally people who think why not add a dragon or spaceship to the murder mystery/romance/literary fiction.
Some years back when I was actively hawking my books around, the big message was "author brand." Moving outside genre, even slipping aside from soft SF to fantasy, was seen as polluting that brand. Having said that, my then agent wasn't at all fazed when I said my third book was fantasy, but then, as he hadn't managed to sell my SFs, it really didn't affect my non-existent brand!

If you're writing for yourself and/or self-publishing, do whatever you want and to hell with branding. If you want to be published by a big publisher, concentrate on your best book no matter the genre, and if you manage to get your foot in the door, then you can talk to your agent about perhaps dipping your toe into another genre pool. (Sorry, mixed metaphors there!) But much will depend on how well you sell -- sell by the bucketload and you'll get leeway, sell only moderately and it will be harder unless the book in the new genre is far better than the earlier ones, in which case they could pivot away and rebrand you with or without a pen name.

But really, you need to stop worrying about things which aren't in your control at this point. Just write the best book you can and take it from there.

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