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Seeking Opinions: Reading by Author or by Genre

Figured I might as well poll the Vocalites

By Stephen A. RoddewigPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - October 2023
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Seeking Opinions: Reading by Author or by Genre
Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash

It’s a question that’s been bothering me a great deal recently.

To preface it, let me present two scenarios:

Scenario A

I, a reader, like this author. I read most books or pieces that they publish, regardless of genre. Horror? Action/adventure? Sci-Fi? Bring it on.

Scenario B

I, a reader, like this genre. I read a lot of horror, regardless of the author. Stephen King? Poe? Lovecraft? Bring it on.

The Question

Now, I know that most anyone on here is a writer and a reader, so this feels like a unique audience to pose this question to. So, without any more preamble:

As an author starting to gain some momentum, am I better off striving for a unity of genre or a wide portfolio of stories?

I really can’t decide, since there is a compelling argument for either approach:

Find Your Niche

I publish exclusively dark fiction and horror stories (what I consider my main genre). A reader who likes horror and likes one of my stories will then find a cornucopia of other spooky stories to satiate themselves without having to look all that far.

In this case, I would describe my niche as dark fiction set in lighthouses. It’s not everything I write. But it was, for a bit, the only thing I seemed to be able to publish. And I believe I have a higher frequency of this specific tale versus most other writers today. So, a niche.

Cast a Wide Net

I publish additional pieces outside the horror world: literary fiction, action/adventure, even a pirate story. For those who don’t like horror or dark fiction, there’s still something in my portfolio to reach them.

And that’s just what I’ve gotten in print. Don’t even get me started on the medley that’s now available on Vocal thanks to many challenges over the years.

The Answer(?)

Man, a lot of subheadings in this article.

Anyhow, I think a lot of conventional wisdom out there is to focus your scope on one genre and even sub-genre to attract and build a following. After all, the person who likes my pirate story would be disappointed to find that’s the only one at present. Perhaps ever.

Still, if they liked my writing style and enjoy other genres, then it could be a way to reach a reader I might not otherwise attract.

Like most parts of life, I realize that it’s likely not as black and white as I’ve posed here, and the best approach lies somewhere in the middle. Still, I think it’s worth choosing one approach as the main focus as I start to think a bit more strategically about the future of my writing brand.

Up to now, it’s been about exposure, damn the cost and damn the genre.

But I think it’s worth being a bit more methodical and strategic now that I have a decent backlist.

If you haven’t guessed yet, this isn’t an article that poses a question and then lands on one definitive answer.

That’s where you come in.

The Vocal Community Talks Back

I welcome any opinion you might have, whether it’s based on your experiences as a reader or as a writer. Maybe you’ve asked yourself the same question. Maybe you’ve chosen one of these directions and now can speak to that experience.

Or maybe you’ve found yourself reading across genres or seeking out works by specific authors.

Heck, maybe you can only speak to this question hypothetically. I’m not picky.

Help me.

Please.

Reality Check

All of the debate I’ve presented up to now has ignored one stark reality: I write across genres. It’s part of what brings me joy, and the lessons I learn from an action/adventure piece can then be used to enrich a horror piece, for example. Say, a hand-to-hand struggle with a giant eel atop a lighthouse catwalk as lightning splits the sky.

Real ones will recognize the story I’m referencing 😎

And that’s to say nothing about cross-genre pieces, like the horror-themed comedy story I’m currently drafting in a separate doc.

Plus, horror is HARD. It takes a lot of intention, language tactics, and fresh ideas to achieve the proper atmosphere. Horror movies have the benefit of video and audio to immerse and surprise the audience. Imagine reading a jump scare. No way it translates as well to paper.

I need to write in other genres to recharge the batteries.

So why waste your time with this question if I’m going to continue with the “cast a wide net” approach?

Well, Lamar, I’m glad you asked.

I may continue writing whatever idea catches my fancy, genre be damned, but I do plan to invest more time in the selected area of focus should I be convinced I need to double down on the central genre.

My hope is to blend a larger strategy with the reasons I keep coming back to my keyboard. That, and honor the time invested into ideating, drafting, editing, submitting, and, at long last, publishing by ensuring that the content delivered fits into the overall plan.

In other words, I want to go from…

to…

So, please, help me build the plan and decide the next step of the journey.

~~~~~~

Update: Well, this post really blew up. I asked the many writers on here to share your thoughts and insights, and y'all delivered. I'm incredibly grateful. Rest assured, I'm seeing your comments as they come in, but it may take me a bit to respond. I always want to honor a thoughtful comment with a thoughtful reply, and (spoiler alert) that takes time.

This article making it to the homepage right before I went to a Doobie Brothers concert didn't help, either 😅

Thanks for bearing with me!

PublishingProcessAdvice
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About the Creator

Stephen A. Roddewig

Writing the adventures of Dick Winchester, a modern gangland comedy set just across the river from Washington D.C.

Keep an eye out for A Bloody Business, a Martin Williams novel!

Vocal chapter president for the Horror Writers Association 🐦‍⬛

Reader insights

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Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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Comments (29)

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  • HandsomelouiiThePoet (Lonzo ward)5 months ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story🎉📝👍I Read anything if the Title lures me in… Mainly, I write Poetry❗

  • Naveed 5 months ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story

  • Heidi McCloskey5 months ago

    Very interesting questions. As far as reading, I flip flop between genres and authors. If I find an author I like I will read as much as I can from that author until I get bored and want to read something else. I have also in the past liked a book so much that I have googled “books like (insert author or title here)” and have found some great books that way. As far as writing. I am still getting used to writing again so I have really enjoyed the challenges because they force me to exercise my imagination. I started writing a suspense/horror book not too long ago and scared the shit out of myself so I had to put it on a shelf for a bit lol. I love horror books, but oh boy can they seep into your dreams.

  • JBaz5 months ago

    I like this question. First off I read fantasy, end of the world books when I was younger, fell into mystery/ thriller and historical fiction. But I wrote in Canadian story telling style literature. It seems my brain works that way. I loved trying different genres , as you mentioned it broadens the mind. However IF you have a following write to that style other wise it may confuse the reader. IF you want to write in a different genre perhaps a ‘pen name’ might work for you. congratulations

  • Kelsey Clarey5 months ago

    Congrats on the top story! This was a very thought-provoking piece to read. As both a reader and a writer, I think I tend to go through a wide variety of genres. I'll pretty avidly read anything I think seems interesting and will read things from my favourite authors in pretty much any genre. As a writer -- while I tend to favour things like fantasy, romance, or fairy tale type stories -- I like to challenge myself to go outside my comfort zone and explore what I can do with other genres and prompt. And, most importantly, I just want to write what interests me and makes me happy, regardless of genre. The right people will hopefully find it!

  • Grz Colm5 months ago

    Nice job on Top story Stephen!

  • Mariann Carroll5 months ago

    First congratulations on Top Story 🎊🏆This story is engaging. If I did not try something new like doing interviews, which I love. I would never receive more top stories as I do and get to know more of our fellow creators as well and get them more reads in the process💕. I love writing romance fiction but , it does not seem to get vocal attention but they certainly get enjoyed by my Vocal creators friends.

  • Scott Christenson5 months ago

    Even though it's not considered very 'literary', I do find Horror the hardest genre to write, agree with you. I write randomly in every genre as the ideas arrive. UNFORTUNATELY, to be a successful commercial author one really needs to stick to a single genre. So eventually we may need to decide what works best for us.

  • Shirley Belk5 months ago

    I personally have no plan except to write from my heart and personal experiences. I challenge myself occasionally to get out of my box. Best of luck to fitting in exactly where you get your goals met.

  • Lamar Wiggins5 months ago

    I think it all starts with passion. And soon that passion discovers other universes that can be found in the variety of genres. There is a multitude of creative ideas that inspire us. Why we gravitate to certain genres says a lot about our interest level. My biggest weakness is romance. I believe any writer can write about love and relationships. It just doesn't interest me when there are so many other interesting topics to explore. I like the idea of horror/comedy. That, my friend is a challenge, good luck with it! And how did you know that was going to be my question 😅? Am I that predictable? You have a complex structure to your thought processes. Perfect for a writer. Thanks for sharing this and hope you get the feedback you're looking for.

  • Tressa Rose5 months ago

    Write what you feel like writing, what you connect with, the readers will naturally follow. That's just my opinion, anyways, nice piece!

  • Mattie :)5 months ago

    I've never liked how writers get put into a genre box. Like there maybe certain genres we write better in, yet that doesn't mean we always have to write from that one specific genre constantly. Great post Stephen!

  • Carminum5 months ago

    I definitely go more by author than by general category, and the writers I like the most tend to be their own genres, sui generis. As for myself (outside Vocal), I prefer to write in multiple different categories, styles, and moods; my ideal is to turn the pen into a Swiss army knife. One benefit I see in a diverse approach is that the different strengths thus gained soon converge: writing essays can help deepen the thinking you express in poetry; poetry can make your prose descriptions more evocative, etc. (Or as you put it: “the lessons I learn from an action/adventure piece can then be used to enrich a horror piece, for example.”) Another benefit is that variety makes writing as a pursuit more stimulating (and perhaps more challenging); and whenever you feel uninspired in one area, you can switch to another. Even if in this way one ends up being all over the place, it is a pleasant place to be all over in.

  • StoryholicFinds5 months ago

    great story, congrats ❤️

  • Kendall Defoe 5 months ago

    Simple answer: YOU ARE BETTER OFF WRITING WHAT YOU LOVE, AND SHIFTING TO OTHER INTERESTS AS YOU FIND THEM! No great author sticks with just one genre or form (even Stephen King stepped away from horror - The Green Mile, Shawshank, etc.) You will find what you need to do when you are honest with yourself! Good luck... ;)

  • Madoka Mori5 months ago

    I want to read a writer at the top of their game, enthusiastic and engaged with their work. That sounds like A to me. Perhaps lots of writers are only interested in and enthusiastic about one genre. That's fine! But I wouldn't want them to avoid writing in a genre they found interesting so that they could stay 'on-brand'. Because I'm nice? No! Because I — selfishly — don't want to read passionless prose. Readers can smell that a mile away. Sounds like you don't want to be Stephen King or Raymond Chandler, so be China Mieville or Nick Harkaway instead.

  • Yes, this is a great question! Okay, my thoughts, and I apologize ahead of time for any rambling. When I read, I would likely have favorite genres first. However, if I find a writer of a specific genre... or of a few genres... I might say, "Hell, I'd read anything by them." For instance, say I heard Stephen King wrote a comedy, I'd think, "That must be some dark comedy. I got to see what he wrote about." I don't know if he ever did, it was just a thought that came to mind. So, I think if someone likes enough of your work, your tone and voice would intrigue them no matter the story. However, they likely fell in love with your writing because of the types of things you write. Advice that was given to me by that competition I entered was to share more work similar to the work that did well in the competition. They said, later in life you'd want to show you can do anything, but earlier in your writing life, show you can be a specialist. However, that's not to say only write one main thing. I think what they further explained was... maybe early in your writing career, try to be able to link your work together through some means. If you have a lot of horror, maybe some fantasy and sci-fi stories feel related if they have darker elements, maybe a crime story fits too... also with dark elements. My feeling is, cast a wide net, write whatever comes to mind. But at the same time, do some "specializing" in certain genres. Also, I kind of love how speculative is a type. Because that means so many things. That can be horror or fantasy or sci-fi or whatever. It's basically, as long as this is something that people have probably not experienced in real life, then it is speculative. So, I feel like, maybe write whatever you desire. Have all types of things available. But maybe the "other" things constitute 30% of your work, as a rough percentage to throw out there. And 70% is a lot of your niche work or works in similar genres. So then you have that ability to attract other types of readers... but you got your main portion to all those readers who love your usual work... and plenty of it. That is kind of how I work. I write whatever. But speculative fiction constitutes the bulk of my work I'd say. I like your thinking of, have some options, in case someone reads that pirate story and wants another adventurous tale. I think that's good to keep in mind. All in all, I'd say if you write something and your passionate about it, it's going to come through in the writing. But my thinking is, I cast a wide net, but within the net, I do a good deal of "specializing." And I tend to focus more on that, but not exclusively. Hopefully that helps! Hey, I didn't ramble as much as I thought I would.

  • Alex H Mittelman 5 months ago

    Good questions! I like both options A and B! So not sure myself what to decide! Also, congrats on top story!

  • Judah LoVato5 months ago

    If I'm looking for new things to read, I'll usually start with a known author then find new authors near them. In a brick and mortar store, this ends up being by genre; and online this ends up being by the 'related readings' after the post.

  • Heather Hubler5 months ago

    I read by both...genre and author. If I like an author's style or just even know that I'm in good hands, I'll generally read whatever they write and seek it out. If I a genre, I'll poke around and look for new authors. As an author, I write what I'm passionate about and that tends to change. I think if you write what you're passionate about, it will get the right attention. My advice, do what you want :) Congrats on Top Story!

  • Rachel Deeming5 months ago

    I am an eclectic reader and as a result, I am an eclectic writer. I don't think that I could just write in one genre, except for big money! No, I'm kidding. Or maybe not...Although like JK Rowling, I think it would be difficult to be successful to an enormous extent in one genre and then switch after having established a loyal audience. Personally, I will continue to write whatever I like because it brings me joy. I don't have designs to be famous so I'll just keep doing what I'm doing.

  • Bri Craig5 months ago

    This is a fascinating question to pose to readers and writers alike - as someone who has trouble "sticking to a lane" I've always wondered if my inconsistency with genre has helped or hurt me as a writer on the whole. Because when I read other authors, I am usually seeking a specific genre (e.g., thrillers, murder mysteries). However, for the few authors I am a die hard for, I think i would still attempt to read their other stuff if they had it.

  • Caroline Jane5 months ago

    I need to write in other genres to recharge the batteries. 👆👆👆This. It's necessary and healthy for me. If it's branding you are worried about.. pen names perhaps?

  • Onah chidera5 months ago

    Nice work ❤️ I hope I am okay cause the stories I write are starting to scar me 😪

  • My plan is not to restrict myself to one but to write whatever it is that intrigues me & then focus on completing it rather than merely starting something over & over again.

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