Adventures in Publishing – the Danger of Switching Genres

Once upon a time I wrote a little fantasy trilogy called The Ties that Bind (TTtB). This story I penned did quite well. It sold a lot of copies, it got a lot of attention, and for a while it even hung around in the top spot with the big boys (there was a point where only GRRM kept me from the number 1 epic fantasy spot on Kindle).

I received plenty of praise for my trilogy along with plenty of hate (and I do mean hate). Along with the comments of folk calling me one of their new favourite authors I received others calling me an Abercrombie clone; I was attacked with accusations of writing pornographic rape scenes; one email I received actually threatened me with bodily harm for the fate of their favourite character. While I received far more positive comments than negative, the negatives always seemed more vehement, always attacking me rather than my work. I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t suffered from a few sofa days due to some of the negatives.

Towards the end of writing TTtB I had an idea for a very different story. This new tale would still be set in a fantasy world but one with a much lighter tone. Instead of grim bastards, psychopathic witch hunters, and murderous whores; this new story would have wise-cracking thieves, duplicitous aristocrats, airships, and loveable Oozes.

After the success of TTtB I took my writing career full time. I knuckled down and, despite the many calls for a follow up to my debut trilogy, I wrote a stand alone novel set in this new, lighter world. I called the book The Northern Sunrise (TNS) (The book has since had a name change and is now called It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise) and released it into the world with high hopes. TNS, while still fantasy, had a very steampunk feel to it (I like to call it Alchemypunk); it was definitely a change of genre. I did not use a pseudonym because I felt my name was known to some and it may help sales (also I’m a bit narcissistic and I love seeing my name on things). This was apparently a mistake.

To date, the majority of negative reviews (and there haven’t been all that many) have not been because of the story, or plot, or characters, or world, or even the writing; they have been because it was not more of TTtB. It seems many of my readers who enjoyed my trilogy expected TNS to be more of the grim, dirty, sordid feel. I actually received an email from one person who claimed I had tricked them into buying my new book simply by writing something so different.

I felt hurt. I know we authors shouldn’t take negative reviews too much to heart (an early lesson for me was that I can’t please everyone), but to have people who loved my debut trilogy slate the new book because it wasn’t what they were expecting… well that knocked me down a peg or two. I didn’t think I had tricked anyone, I had stated quite clearly that TNS was an entirely different type of book set in an entirely different world with an entirely different feel.

It took a while for me to pick myself back up after some of the comments I received but I did. I started writing a follow up to TTtB, not because it was what people wanted but because it was what I wanted. After finishing my debut trilogy I felt I needed a break from the darkness of that world and I had taken that break, but there was still a story to be told so I dove back in. I’d be lying if I said the experience hadn’t taken a bit of shine away from the dream.

So what did I learn? Well before I would never have used a pseudonym but now… now I think I would have. Switching genres is a dangerous game because the fan base you build for one piece of work may not be interested in the new genre. I suppose I should actually feel grateful that, despite the negative comments, some of the fans I gained from writing TTtB liked my work so much that, even though I stated quite firmly that TNS was a different book, they were still willing to pick it up and give it a read.

I bring this up now because, after almost one year of release, I will soon be taking The Northern Sunrise down. I’m going to relaunch it with a new cover and a new title, It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise. Whether or not I decide to relaunch it with a pseudonym, I will also state quite clearly that it is a relaunch of The Northern Sunrise because the last thing I want is to trick people into buying it twice.

3 Comments

  1. Reply

    Excellent article, Rob. Personally, I hope you continue writing under your own name. Fans are a strange breed but Dawn Cook/Kim Harrison followed the same advice, being a children's author who switched to a sexy urban fantasy series under a new name. Fan's response? ANGER AND OUTRAGE she'd use a pen name! Which teaches me one thing: You can't please any of the people any of the time for long. 🙂

  2. Reply

    I bought all the TTTB books, and wondered why I hadn't got Northern Sunrise when you mentioned it about. Having investigated, I realise that I've checked it out several times on Goodreads or Amazon, and somehow the blurb didn't make me click on Buy. I don't know why that is. It might be the reference to alchemy-punk… But re-writing the blurb would probably draw me in.

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: