Today we have a guest post by the superb Alex MacKenzie!
Alexandra ("Alex") MacKenzie is an author and illustrator from Seattle, WA. She illustrated In My Nature: A Birder's Year at the Montlake Fill (www.constancypress.com), published in November 2009, and she wrote the fantasy novel Immortal Quest: The Trouble with Mages (www.edgewebsite.com), published by Edge SF (Canada) in September 2010. She supports herself as an academic counselor at the University of Washington, where she works down a lengthy hallway from a certain Mr. Scott Bailey.
Many years ago, I wrote a fantasy novel. Many years later, it was published (yay!). That was the culmination of a lifelong dream. But (there is always a “but”), many years ago I also wrote a mystery novel. It has not been published. And herein lies the gist of this post: am I a box of Rice Chex attempting to become a box of Quaker Oats?
My publisher only publishes SF/Fantasy, and has the rights to my next work IF it is SF/F. It’s not. Who do I sell it to? (I don’t have an agent.) Will editors/publishers be put off because I’m switching horses midstream? Will they have no clue how to reach my “market”, such as it is, since the only readers I have so far are all expecting a fantasy novel sequel much the same as the first book?
Now, as a reader, I kind of understand this whole marketing/ branding notion. I have favorite authors who I won’t even jump within genres for – an example is Lindsey Davis, who writes a mystery series set in ancient Rome and who also writes standalone novels. I love the series. I won’t go anywhere near the standalones. Now, I do read quite widely in both fiction and nonfiction, yet when I find an author doing something I enjoy, all I want is for them to keep doing that one thing that I enjoy and not go off experimenting with something different. (Scott, do I hear you groaning down the hallway?)
So, is this more prevalent in mysteries, SF/F et cetera rather than in mainstream/literary fiction? Can the literary fiction folks get away with writing more than one type of novel, or do they, too, lose readers if they vary too much from what the audience has come to expect from them?
One solution often used in mystery and SF/F fiction is for an author to use a pseudonym when trying something new (cite: Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb), though generally they need to be well-established already for this to fly with a publisher, and often the “secret identity” is not so terribly secret.
Your turn: comment on the above, or for an exercise, imagine you sold a horror novel and it did quite well, and your publisher wants another one, but your next book is a cozy mystery. The publisher will give you a nice advance for a horror novel, but won’t even consider the mystery. What do you do? You can be true to your art, though realistically, you also have bills to pay.
And thank you kindly, Literary Lab, for allowing me to play here today!
-Alexandra (“Alex”) MacKenzie, aka mizmak