Background: I'm planning on writing an extensive series of fantasy books. I plan on writing quite a few of these books, and while they'll all be set on the same planet, I intend them to center on different characters, countries, and cultures, and not stick to any one. Disregard for now the logistics of pulling off such a feat.

Question: I intend these books to be traditional fantasy (with a few alterations to make it less cliche). I don't want to limit myself to any one sub-genre (here meaning 'plot genres' like romance, dystopian, mystery; as opposed to 'setting genres' like historical, fantasy, sci-fi, etc.). However, this doesn't mean I won't create novels in those genres. It just means I will create other novels which are in different genres as well.

How can I prepare my readers for this?

If, for example, I open my series with five novels set in a dystopian country, and follow the general plot of dystopian novels, how can I convey to my reader that these are primarily FANTASY novels, and really only a small portion of them will happen to be DYSTOPIAN also? How can I write my novels so that the reader doesn't expect any one genre? I'm trying to avoid jarring or surprising readers when, after a five-book dystopian story, I suddenly switch to a mystery series. And then a romance series. Followed by a coming of age story.

How can I keep my reader from expecting any one genre?

  • By "dystopian" you mean sci-fi dystopian? Many authors successfully mixed sci-fi and fantasy, that is not a problem. Do you want to write different books set in your world in different genres, like one is a mystery, another is a romance? This also had been done, but the scope is typically small, ex. an author has big, epic novels and then some novella or a short story that takes a look at the world from a different perspective. – Alexander Aug 9 at 17:46
  • I want to write different books set in my world in different genres, like you said. The scope, however, will be anything but small if all goes according to plan. – Thomas Myron Aug 9 at 19:02
  • Then I would second Amadeus' advice and wish you to be successful in any genre that you try. – Alexander Aug 9 at 19:07
  • 1
    @can-ned_food I have no plans involving other authors. – Thomas Myron Aug 10 at 5:39
  • 1
    If you have a consistent writing style and a clear voice, the sub-genre really doesn't matter. Have you read the discworld books? They are very similar to what you're describing – Dhara Aug 10 at 7:29
up vote 19 down vote accepted

Other than an explicit "disclaimer" in an author's note or something, I really don't think you can. If I buy five books set in a dystopian fantasy (I might), I will be disappointed if the sixth book is a romantic comedy.

My best suggestion would be to be explicit in a sub-title or something, and call it out. Call this the "XYZ Worlds" series and in the sub-title say "A Romantic Comedy in the XYZ Worlds", "A Dystopian Adventure in the XYZ Words", "A Murder Mystery in the XYZ Worlds".

Your better bet is to listen to Trout and Ries (Marketing Consultants for Fortune 500 companies) and not try to pile everything on one Brand, and thus make that Brand meaningless. Focus on one brand, this dystopian fantasy, and get published there, then invent again. Make a different world with with different rules, and write a story in it. Your NAME, as the author, will get your dystopian readers to try your new world with a new name without any expectations of dystopia, just because they like your writing.

Make a separate brand for each genre you want to write, just like Pepsi or Coke make a separate brand with its own artwork, music, commercials, websites and demographic targets for each product they sell. You can still see who owns the copyrights; but instead of just trying the easy way out by riding one brand name for everything and thus diluting the power of the Brand, they let each Brand acquire its own following. It's a winning strategy that broadens the market.

  • For thematic reasons the world must stay the same. HOWEVER, I think I could still effectively apply this advice by just writing separate trilogies (or whatever the number happens to be), labeling them as such, and having everything else aside from the planet and the fantasy atmosphere be different. Then I could successfully have a 'zombie-fantasy' series, and a 'dystopian-fantasy' series. I think the different series titles would alert the reader that SOMETHING is different. Do you think that would be enough? – Thomas Myron Aug 9 at 19:11
  • Yes, probably. Since you are talking about a PLANET, you might also distinguish them by the COUNTRY within the planet. By analogy Russia is your dystopia, the UK is zombie land, Spain is for romance, etc. But your own country names; of course. And as I said for a different question; your cover art, titles, subtitles and endorsement blurbs on the back cover can all be crafted to clue the reader to the genre-difference, I think different genres vary distinctly in cover art; romance is always a "tender moment", etc. So that might help your different audiences notice the difference too. – Amadeus Aug 9 at 19:44
  • 10
    Consider the Discworld series. I expect a very different book if I open a Rincewind novel versus a City Watch novel. – Ethan Aug 9 at 20:44
  • 4
    Another pre-existing writer/series to look up is Brandon Sanderson and his Mistborn series. All books take place in the same fantasy setting, but the first trilogy is obvious epic fantasy and the next few books are Wild West action. (The next books are slated to be spy thriller, and then full-on sci-fi-fantasy mashup.) There's no obvious disclaimer anywhere, but if you've gone far enough to read the epic fantasy books, you're invested enough in the world to appreciate it under a different genre. – Andrey Aug 10 at 12:59
  • 1
    Consider also the Warhammer Fantasy franchise, They have every kind of story, all set in the same overarching world. I've read stories about ragtag bands of adventurers, war stories, dark gritty gothic horror and high fantasy with elves and dwarves as main characters. Warhammer as a world is very much a Literary Kludge, they have direct homages and pastiches and derivations of just about every major franchise I can think of. So correspondingly they have a lot of flexibility in the stories they can tell. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 10 at 14:37

It's hard to build a recognizable identity while genre-hopping. The more successful you are with any one style or genre, the more both readers and publishers are going to demand more of the same. Based on my observations of writers in the wild, however, there are several potentially successful strategies for mitigating this.

  1. Be insanely prolific: Stephen King is known for horror. Isaac Asimov was known for classic SF. But both have written widely across any number of genres. Both wrote enough, and successfully enough in their home genre to get carte blanche from both fans and publishers to at least try other things.

  2. Be insanely successful: JK Rowling could probably write a telephone book and get it published. She's such a successful writer that people are at least willing to roll the dice on anything she wants to write (which is apparently unexceptional mysteries).

  3. Have a unique voice, approach, or characteristic themes. Samuel Delany has written across a wide variety of genres (SF, Fantasy, Non-Fiction, Erotica) but he has such a distinctive voice and perspective that people seek him out for that, rather than the specifics of a particular book. Neal Stephenson is similar --his books are all very different, but they are nearly all intellectually and philosophically adventurous meditations on the intersection between human beings and technology. Several other answers have mentioned Terry Pratchett's Discworld series --I'd also put him in this category. The subgenres may vary but a Pratchett/Discworld book is a reliable brand as a whole.

So to summarize, either you play the "one for you, one for me" strategy of giving people enough of what they want from you to buy indulgence for your passion projects, or you make genre-hopping your brand, by producing books in each genre that couldn't have been written by anyone other than you.

  • 3
    Adding to this, some authors use variations (eg Iain Banks) or completely different names (eg Anne Rice/Rampling) for writing in different genres to minimize expectations. – Gary Myers Aug 10 at 2:35

Being honest, I think the best way to be detached from a specific genre is by writing the story you want to write, as opposed to writing a scifi, dystopia, et cetera. I know it's a wooey answer, and being honest Amadeus has covered the meat of the topic pretty well.

I'm in the same position; I have a fantasy world I've created (with the help of a co-writer) and I fully intend to keep the world itself genre-agnostic; the book I'm currently writing is a adventure/coming-of-age story, while a book I intend to write as a direct sequel is going to be a political rise-and-fall tragedy, et cetera, et cetera.

As long as you've established there's something bigger than the story itself within your first book, then readers who soldier through your first book and notice a second book set in the world should be open to a different experience; after all, the real world is full of stories, none of which adhere to any one genre. I think Discworld is the best popular example I can think of this being pulled off.

Great question! Don't worry too much, genres that we read are just an extension of how we feel about our history our future, and our day to day experiences. It furthers the mood of what you are reading, but does not define it.

  1. Determine what the genre says about your story - does the genre highlight character emotion, or our feelings about a period in time.
  2. Make sure you stay true to the elements that make your world. If you change the rules in your world, you have to have a solid reason that makes sense or you'll lose your audience.
  3. If you're planning on be flexible, be flexible now. Incorporate the magical with the scientific if you plan to go sci-fi. Bring your characters into situations that force them into romantic, comedic or tragic moments.

You don't have to be campy to thrust your characters into a new scenario. I always suggest putting your characters in an unpublished short story. Take them somewhere you'd never put them and see how they would act in that setting. Doing this a few times should loosing you up and make your writing sound more natural when moving from genre to genre.

If your “series” is one story told in parts, then the answer should be obvious.

You, however, are telling multiple stories set in one world. Here is what you need to keep in mind:

  • If you do not make clear the fact that the stories are mostly stand–alone, then your readers will think otherwise when they see the same headliner on the cover.
    • Choose your first five stories to be ones which are distinctive as possible. The first one can be that coming–of–age, melodramatically tragi-comedy. The second can be an espionage thriller. The third is a wild adventure and the introduction of the recurring maverick rogue. Et cetera.
      Do not publish in any chronological sequence — either make them simultaneous or select stories which occur at scattered points in the history of the world.
    • Optionally: Do not emphasize the shared world anywhere in the titles. Maybe you can let the publisher add that somewhere on the jacket flaps or small print on the paperback's aft cover.
  • These stories, though they share the same world, will appeal to different people. Some readers will not like some of them.
    Separate the stories as much as the plots allow. Reward your dedicated readers with inside jokes and the sense of a rich world demonstrated by thorough continuity and crossovers — but, allow each story to stand alone well enough. You don't need to do it quite like television — and probably shouldn't, because by that I mean insular stories with same theme, genre, and characters.
  • Cover art: it goes a long way towards informing prospective readers as to the theme of a story. Use it to emphasize the distinctions between books.

If all else fails, then
• use the other authors to write or co-write the stories of widely differing genre. Put their name above yours if the two of you wish to share credit.

Allude to the other stories as you go.

Today, we are telling the story of [dystopian country]. It is not a particular happy country, not like we were talking about [utopian country] where they had a functional, working government. That's another story. Here, the government...

You can then explain why this country is dystopian. And you could likely get more poetic in your description of the utopian country, but I didn't want to try to make real prose for this. The basic idea is "That's another story."

Now, when you subtitle a book, "A Tale of [utopian country]," people will be expecting it to be utopian because you set your expectations properly.

A similar approach can help with romances. I'm not telling a romantic story today, but someday I may tell you about...

Also consider embedding other genres in your story. For example, your protagonist may leave the dystopian country and spend a chapter or two in the utopian country. Write that as if it were a short story, with a different feel. Perhaps have the protagonist participate in a farce or a mystery. Then, when your story is genre switching, it won't be a surprise. Establishing this early is better.

Incidentally, particularly in the earlier departures, try to stick to the cliches. Your dystopia can transcend cliches as the main story. These departures want to clearly set a different tone. Sticking to the cliches can help that. Later, when you are writing books in the alternate genres, you can have the books transcend the cliches. So save your cliche transcending ideas for those books. Write them down, but outside your stories. Because you can pick the best for your books, that will make the books stronger. The short departures can handle relative weakness.

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.