I finally created a Goodreads account a few weeks ago. You would think that, as such a prolific book reader, I would have set one up long ago, but apparently I’m a little slow to catch on. Oh well, one social network at a time.
As I was adding books I had previously read, I realized two things. First, I’ve read way too many books in my life to possibly add them all to my Goodreads account. We’re talking thousands. I could probably build a small house with all the books I’ve read. If I added up all the time I’ve spent with my nose in a book, I think it might be a little scary. The second thing I realized is how varied my book tastes have been throughout the years. I’ve read everything from romance to horror, sci-fi to chick lit, and every fantasy realm imaginable in between. Hmm…I’m starting to think I have book ADD.
I go through what can best be described as ‘genre phases’. When I find a book I really like, I will continue to read similar books for a period of time, until something new grabs my interest. I may still read books from that genre, but not to the extent that I did when I first started reading it. I do the same thing with authors as well. There was a period in my life when I read nothing but Stephen King, then Dean Koontz, Patricia Cornwell, and so on.
That leads me to my first question. Why? What is it about particular genres or stories that speak to me? Is there a correlation between what I am reading and what is happening in my life at the time? Looking back at some of my past reading choices, I certainly hope not. Or is it because the genre is shiny and new, and once I can predict the story line with uncanny accuracy, I get bored and move on? In my house, this is known as “Ooh, shiny!” disease, after my daughter’s ability to move from one thing to the next with incredible speed. She obviously gets that from me.
All I know for sure is that there are certain stories that stick with me long after I have put the book down. I have even gone so far as to reread certain books, not just once, but multiple times. I am slightly embarrassed to admit I have read Stephen King’s It twelve times. I won’t even mention how many times I have read Dean Koontz’s Twilight Eyes or Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books. *cringe* If I am being honest, however, I have to admit that there is something about those stories that struck a chord with me. I returned to them like you would to an old friend, one with whom you were once very familiar, but fell out of touch with over time. Something about the characters and the settings made me look forward to returning to the world they inhabited and reliving their story, getting to know them again.
My next question is this. Since I have read and enjoyed so many genres over the years, how do I decide what to pursue as a writer? I currently have two works in progress. One is a fantasy, the other is a character-driven YA fiction piece. I enjoy working on both, but how do I decide which one to focus my attentions on professionally?
Many writers, once started down the path of a certain genre, continue to write the same type of stories again and again. Is it because that is what they enjoy, or do they get pigeon-holed into them because that is what they excel at or what is popular? Once on that path, how do you change without losing readers? I know I have found it difficult to follow an author who has made the transition from one type of story to another. Take Stephen King, for instance. When he started The Dark Tower series, it was so wildly different from what I had come to expect from him that I just couldn’t get into them. I still read them, but I didn’t get the satisfaction from them that I got from his other works. He must have enjoyed writing them, though, because he continued to write the series even though I could not have been the only reader that had a problem with that change. I am sure he gained a whole new realm of readers in the process, as well.
Is that the key? Write in a genre as long as you enjoy it and then move on, knowing that you may lose readers in the process, but gain new ones. Or write in the genre you are most familiar with and stay there. Either way, I know I want to write a story that sticks with people long after they set it down because those are the ones I love.
But I have to ask, is it possible to have a successful career in more than one genre? If not, which one do I choose?