By Stephanie Guerra
Writing in a new genre after successfully publishing a book (or books) can be intimidating; why change what works? Some agents and publishers actively discourage genre-hopping, while others are interested in quality rather than consistency or brand-building.
I debuted in 2012 as a YA author of realistic fiction (Torn) and followed up in 2013 with a 90-degree turn to humorous, heavily-illustrated middle grade: Billy the Kid is Not Crazy. I have two more YA coming out next year and I’m finishing a picture book.
If you’re a writer drawn to similar genre shifts, I encourage you to follow your gut. The process can be both freeing and useful in developing range. You may have to rebuild your audience from scratch, which is intimidating. But you’ll end up with a broader audience, a reward in itself.
You’ll also need to adjust your voice and mentality for your new audience. Transitioning from YA to MG, I had to get in touch with my booger-fart-joke side (it wasn’t that hard) and cut all edge out of my writing (a touch harder). Again, the work builds its own reward: increased range.
But I want to focus a spotlight on the positives, which I believe are the real essence of shifting genres. It’s a form of creative stretching, a way to access a different age or voice inside you, and a way to reengage with the “play” of writing. A YA author may discover a new sense of fun in MG or picture books. An MG author may find freedom in exploring the romance or more mature content possible in YA. A picture book author used to practicing economy with words may relish stretching out into a luxurious novel.
Consider one of the most beloved Latin@ authors of our times, Gary Soto. He’s produced excellent picture books, poetry, middle grade and YA novels, short stories, and adult works. Pam Muñoz Ryan, another Latin@ star, has ranged from picture books to award-winning YA. Jack Gantos, my personal hero, has created picture books, delightful middle-grade (Joey Pigza!), adult novels, and urban memoir.
Some other marvelous children’s authors who’ve changed genres: Madeleine L’Engle, Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, and Laurie Halse Anderson. Literary superheroes like E. B. White jumped from Charlotte’s Web to One Man’s Meat. Roald Dahl dabbled in memoir, adult short stories, suspense, erotica, and of course, children’s fiction. And C. S. Lewis wrote everything short of picture books. What better models could we have?
I like to view jumping genres, too, as an act of defiance to The Market. Conventional wisdom has it that it’s savvy to develop a brand and stick with it, to build an audience and churn out book-clones at the rate of one per year. Many authors do this very successfully, and there’s nothing wrong with it, if it’s fulfilling to the artist in question. But I’m unsettled by branding as a lens for the arts and as a concept imposed on authors by publishers. Branding seems to compete with the essence of what art is or should be. So I advocate stretching the brand. Or better yet, losing the term altogether.
I’d like to share a short (30 second) video of a really articulate 11-year-old reviewing my MG. Thank you, Garrison. Your review gives me confidence that jumping genres was the right choice.