riters are told to specialize, which makes sense. Producing quality work in one genre consistently builds a brand, so readers know what to expect. It’s easier to sell our work, whether we are pitching to agents and editors or self-publishing.
The journey becomes more challenging if we want to create something different from what readers anticipate. However, it’s possible to write amazing books and screenplays in a variety of genres.
I mainly create romantic comedies, but I’ve written a supernatural short story and co-created a fantasy/action series and an action-comedy screenplay. I’m also working on a thriller. Stretching our creative muscles this way also helps us craft more engaging work in our main genres.
So, I talked to eight accomplished multi-genre authors with diverse backgrounds on how they pull it off, from the initial inspiration to write different genres to pitching and promotion.
Inspiration for Different Genres
I’ve mostly penned romantic comedies or dramas because I’m a romantic who consumes a ton of romance content. But I’m also into crime, thrillers, and sci-fi. I’m fascinated by their original plots and twists. I get inspired by memes, my consumption of these genres, and my wacky dreams—some of which provide coherent plots.
What about these other talented authors?
Lucy V. Hay, also known as Bang2write, is a script editor, author, and blogger who helps writers. Lucy is the script editor and advisor on numerous UK features and shorts. She’s also been a script reader for over fifteen years. She started writing young adult (YA) novels when her agent suggested she write about teenage pregnancy and parenthood. She was a teen mom herself, sick of the stereotyping and false assumptions about this group. She was encouraged to write books on craft by her blog readers. Since she loved to read crime, namely psychological thrillers/domestic noir, she penned the crime novel, The Other Twin, followed by two other crime novels. Her dystopian thriller, The Coven, was recently released from Sphere Books (Little, Brown Book Group).
Daniella Levy is the author of Disengagement, By Light of Hidden Candles, and Letters to Josep. Her prose and poetry have been published in three languages, and she’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her short fiction. She was born in the USA, later immigrating to Israel with her family as a child. According to Daniella, writing in different genres wasn’t an active decision. “I write what comes to me, what interests me, what speaks to me. Sometimes, I’m rather dismayed to find myself in unfamiliar waters—it took me a while to come to terms with the idea of writing historical fiction, and there’s a fantasy project in my drafts folder that I’ve been too intimidated to take any further.”
Fiona Leitch is a British novelist and screenwriter living in New Zealand. She has written for magazines, been a DJ at raves, and starred in TV commercials. Her debut novel, Dead in Venice, was an Audible Crime Grant finalist. Fiona believes variety is the spice of life. Since she loves reading and watching different genres, she writes the same way. “Most of my favorite books and movies do still have that thread of humor in them.”
German novelist and screenwriter Carmen Radtke lives in the UK. She’s published several historical mystery novels, such as The Case of the Missing Bride, Glittering Death, and the Jack and Frances mystery series. She’s penned screenplays in various genres from romcom to thriller, which have been shortlisted for several competitions. Carmen grew up reading mysteries, but she has an eclectic taste in literature, film, and TV, which is reflected in her writing. “It helps that I used to be a reporter for a local newspaper, where I could cover almost every subject under the sun.”
Women’s fiction and domestic thriller author Julie Clark was born in Santa Monica. Her debut novel, The Ones We Choose, was optioned for television, and her novel, The Last Flight, was an instant New York Times, USA Today, and international bestseller. Her forthcoming novel, The Lies I Tell, will publish in June. Julie’s ideas have always been the driving force for what genre she writes in. “I know there’s a school of thought that says it’s important to build a readership in one genre before switching to another one, and I don’t disagree with that. I’m fortunate that my agent has always supported whatever I want to write, telling me to write the book and let her worry about selling it. It can be a pretty wide lane because both of my books focus on women, on their emotional journeys, character development—all of the things typically associated with women’s fiction. I think the readership for both books will definitely overlap.”
Currently residing in the Netherlands, author and blogger Karien van Ditzhuijzen writes both for children and adults. She’s also created and edited an anthology of real-life stories written by migrant domestic workers in Singapore. Her first novel, A Yellow House, was inspired by interactions with domestic workers and the issues they faced.
British novelist and screenwriter Helen Black read a lot of crime fiction and used to be a lawyer working in the care system. Unsurprisingly, her first novel was a crime novel about a northern lawyer working in the care system. More crime novels followed. “Then a couple of years ago, I decided to write a TV script. Again, I had no experience or expectations but had a few weeks of free time. And I’ve been writing for TV ever since. My own TV stuff tends to have a crime/legal side to it, but I’m always open to other things. I’m currently writing a single for the BBC that has nothing to do with crime or legal really. It’s just an issue I’m passionate about.”
Leigh Camacho Rourks is an award-winning Cuban-American author who lives in Central Florida, where she is an assistant professor of English and humanities at Beacon College. Her fiction, poems, and essays have appeared in several journals. She loved reading sci-fi, fantasy, and crime, especially sci-fi/fantasy humor; but when she took creative writing classes, the rule was no genre work. “I understood the logic (though I don’t teach that way), so I didn’t fight it. Instead, I found my own voice over the years by tapping into the voices in my communities, so there I was a writer of the working-class Gulf Coast. As I stretched into that working-class, Gulf Coast, South voice, I found that I was leaning heavier and heavier towards crime fiction. And then people started talking about the magical or mythic quality in my work, and I realized that genres didn’t have to be straight lines between things.”
Now that you decided to switch up your genres, how do you find the idea?
Fiona Leitch uses the same idea generators regardless of the genre. “I’ll listen to music. In my younger days, I really wanted to make music videos, as I could always visualize a story or a setting when I heard a piece of music. I’ll see a story in the news and think: how can I twist that? I’ll listen to people talk (in real life or on social media). Quite often, I’ll come up with a line of dialogue or even a title that I absolutely love, and I’ll go over and over it until I come up with an idea that it would fit into.”
Among other genres, Carmen Radtke has written historical murder mysteries. “A great way to come up with historical stuff is reading period newspapers, especially for the ads. It’s amazing what you can learn.” But whatever genre you are working on, Carmen reminds us of the importance of taking notes. “Because ideas can be sparked by anything, from a random snippet of conversation to something I see or read or the absence of seeing or hearing something, I always have copious amounts of notes literally lying around everywhere.”
Julie Clark gets one idea at a time. “The idea for my next book usually shows up about midway through drafting the book before it. I just let it sit there for a while; I think about it a lot when I’m driving or walking the dog. It’s usually a ‘what if’ scenario or something inspired by a podcast or news story. And I generally come up with the ‘what if’ and my main character at the same time.”
Leigh Camacho Rourks’s stories usually come from a voice or a character, but occasionally, she will use dreams as writing prompts when she is working in flash fiction: “Which is to say, I am not writing a dream (dream logic is not story logic), but letting a dream be a starting place.”
For Karien van Ditzhuijzen, it’s the same whether she writes for kids or adults. “I get inspired by people I meet and places I visit. My plots usually start by putting together two very different people and seeing what happens when they interact. In A Yellow House, it was the girl and her helper; my new adult novel explores the relationship between a Dutch expat and a Singaporean Malay woman. My kids’ work-in-progress features a little girl versus a troupe of monkeys taking over her garden and is inspired by a real experience at a house we lived in.”
Ideas come easily to Lucy V. Hay, though finding the right one is hard. “I rely on my gut as well as research into the marketplace. I never write solely for the marketplace though; I have to have passion for the story, too. I would never be a hack. I use the same process for everything I write. I always write what I call a ‘baseline’ first: a short pitch or logline as a kind of foundation for my draft. From there, I’ll usually write a short outline of about a page or so (though sometimes I get carried away and write three to ten pages!). Then I’ll send it to friends and trusted beta readers as well as my agent. I call this process ‘road testing the concept.’”
Deciding on the Genre
To me, and most of the authors I talked to, the idea and genre come together.
Daniella Levy writes what comes to her. “No story I’ve ever written would have worked in a different genre. Occasionally, I’ve tried to ‘cheat’ and choose a different setting that might be easier to write about, but it never works!”
Leigh Camacho Rourks generally knows what genre her story will be in at the start but is flexible. “One of the large projects I am working on started as a Southern grit lit novel with a wink at magical realism, then turned into Southern grit magical realism. (Is that even a thing? Does it even matter if it is a thing?) But now, I am not sure whether it just needs to be reined in a bit.”
Karien van Ditzhuijzen’s novel A Yellow House started with a ten-year-old girl and her domestic worker from Indonesia. But things changed, as she progressed with the story. “I thought it would be a children’s book because of the protagonist’s age until I realized the themes I wanted to address were too heavy for that age.”
Julie Clark doesn’t worry too much about genre when she writes. “I know I'll be writing about women; I know there will be some elements of suspense, whether it's more domestic or thriller, depends on the story.”
As a script reader, Lucy V. Hay had to learn the importance of genre. “It’s how audiences understand what your story is about, how they find you. I also only write in genres I would personally read or watch. So, I decided from the offset to write YA, crime, dystopian. That said, I did ‘find’ I wanted to write crime organically: I was outlining another YA story and got stuck. As time went on, I realized the story I really wanted to tell was not the one I was writing. This is how The Other Twin came to be.”
Fiona Leitch might come up with a character, maybe a few set pieces or even bits of dialogue. So by the time she starts writing, the genre is clear.
Helen Black pitches her ideas to editors and producers in the same way. They have to be highly personal to her. “I need a reason to write them, and I need authority in the subject. I get really pissed off by a lack of authenticity. I regularly turn down work because I don’t think I’m the best person to tell the story.”
Fiona Leitch pitches her novels to her agent first. For screenplays, she picks producers who are looking for that particular genre and pays attention to the tone. “If I’m pitching comedy, then it has to be funny. Sci-fi has to be more serious—you need to sound like you’ve done your research, so the technology/science in your story comes across as plausible rather than complete fantasy.”
Daniella Levy believes when pitching fiction, there’s not really a difference between genres. “A query letter is a query letter, and the main point of it is to show the agent what’s appealing about the story, regardless of genre. Nonfiction is a different story. I dipped my toes into pitching a nonfiction project last year but abandoned it pretty quickly because I don't think I have what agents are looking for when it comes to nonfiction—a large platform and lots of credentials.”
Karien van Ditzhuijzen’s looking for an agent for her second adult novel, and she pitches it on its own. “I do try to query agents that represent both genres, and they can see I also write for children from my bio and list of publications.”
Carmen Radtke varies the pitch because it should always reflect the tone and genre: “The things that should not be changed are clarity, simplicity, and passion—why did I write this story and what makes it important/fun/relevant? That’s why mastering the art of the logline is an incredible skill.”
Using Pen Names
Many of these writers don’t use a pen name. As Daniella Levy puts it, “They’re [The books in different genres are] all connected and an expression of who I am as a writer. Why differentiate?”
Helen Black is the pen name given to the author by her editor, and she uses it for all her work.
Lucy V. Hay has written under variations of her name. “Lucy V. Hay, L. V. Hay for YA, nonfiction, and crime fiction.” Her publisher wanted her to pick a pseudonym for The Coven because it’s pretty different from what she wrote before. It’s under Lizzie Fry, her old freelance writing name.
Julie Clark hasn’t used a pen name, as there is a lot of crossover between her two books.
Promoting Different Genres
Helen Black doesn’t do much promotion. “I have a piss-poor social media presence, and I’ll tweet when I have a new book out, etc. But the majority of promotion is done by my publishers who know far more than me how to make it work. I don’t really promote myself for TV. I have a fantastic agent who organizes for me to meet producers, and from there, I can only let the work itself speak for me and my work ethic; I’m a proper grafter. I don’t think you really need a social media presence to be a TV writer, but you do need a great agent.”
Karien van Ditzhuijzen visits schools, teaches workshops, and does talks there, where she focuses on her work for children. “For my adult work, I visit book clubs; I have spoken at literary festivals and such. You need to go places where your target audience is, of course, so there is a difference. But there is also a grey area. Parents like to hear about children’s books, and I do also go to schools to speak about A Yellow House—but secondary rather than primary students.”
Since she’s traditionally published, Julie Clark’s promotion is completely dependent on the publisher. “I can do what I do on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, but that’s pretty small compared to what a publisher can do. And what a publisher decides to do for a book depends on so many internal factors that are completely outside the power of the author. All I can do is write the best book I can, and let my publisher fall in love with it.”
So far, Fiona Leitch only had to promote her romcom/crime novels. “I concentrated on the humor in them, so I’ve made my adverts funny in themselves. It’s also always good to quote any great reviews you’ve had from readers, and that, of course, works for whatever genre you’re promoting.”
Starting a Writing Career
Your age and background shouldn’t prevent you from forging your writing career in the genre(s) of your choice.
If anything, who you are will make your work more interesting. I’ve been creating stories since I was six.
Lucy V. Hay also started writing as a child, though she didn’t realize writing could be a career then.
Daniella Levy’s been writing ever since she could hold a pencil. However, her debut novel was published when she was thirty.
Fiona Leitch has written on and off all her life, though she’s been writing continually for the last seven years.
Carmen Radtke created poems and short stories as a kid, but she’s been writing continually since 2011.
Leigh Camacho Rourks wrote her first poem in third grade but didn’t do it seriously until her MFA.
Helen Black wrote a novel for fun fifteen years ago.
Julie Clark didn’t write seriously for publication until her mid-forties.
Karien van Ditzhuijzen started during her first maternity leave.
There are writers who started much later. It’s never too early or too late to write or give different genres a go.
As writers, we have different backgrounds, writing habits, and genre preferences. These prepare us for writing the stories only we can craft.
Whatever aspect of writing we are dealing with when we are trying a new genre, we do what works for us. But one thing remains the same: We shouldn’t be afraid to try new things!
Pinar Tarhan is a freelance writer, screenwriter, novelist and blogger. Her bylines include The Washington Post, Popsugar, The Billfold, Horkey Handbook, and WOW! Women on Writing among others. She’s the author of the romantic comedy novels Making A Difference (M.A.D.) and A Change Would Do You Good; and two books on writing romance: How To Write An Amazing Romance Novel and Writing the Ultimate Non-Tragic Romance. You can follow her on Twitter @zoeyclark. Visit her website at writing.pinartarhan.com.