Be Prepared to Change Lanes
This blog post is not going to be popular writing advice, but the truth never is.
The big advice in indie land right now seems to be to find a niche genre and then stay in your lane. This means writing one kind of book, nothing else, and never branching out. I think this is the biggest mistake (that most writers won’t know they’re making until 4-5 years from now) and I’ll tell you why. Been there – done that – and have several t-shirts.
It’s great to write nothing but [insert a single, niche genre here] but at some point, that hot genre you’re writing in is going to die a horrible death unless you’re just writing in contemporary HEA romance or some other evergreen genre. Readers will finally reach their fill and be sick to death of it, and everyone will move along. Your once decent income will plummet and you’ll be back at square one. I had this happen to me when I was writing contemporary BDSM thrillers BEFORE 50 Shades of Grey came out. I started writing in the genre just before it got popular and I rode that wave for 6-7 years. Then – after Fifty Shades of Gray wore everyone out — the larger audience got sick of BDSM and moved on. That’s not to say there isn’t a market for BDSM, but it’s much smaller these days. I see the same thing happening with reverse harem and academy (moreso with academy). It’s just a trend, and like all trends, it will eventually die.
I had a friend who, in the 80’s, wrote best selling supernatural horror full of Satanists, witches, and demons. It was great fun and coincided with the Satanic Panic. She was making bank. You could find her books in supermarkets. By the time the mid nineties rolled around – everyone had their fill and had moved on, and supernatural horror was no longer the hungry beast it once was. She struggled to make even a fraction of the sales she was making before. As she neared the end of her life – most readers had forgotten her pen name.
Right now there are plenty of popular niche genres. Ones that I see more and more writers entering include time travel and K9 mystery/thrillers. But it makes one wonder – for how long? Are these fly-by-night popular genres? Or will they have staying power like witchy mysteries which are a bit evergreen? It’s great you’ve made a career of one specific genre — for now. What happens when the readers, who are starting to tire of the same stories over and over again, get bored and move on? Where does it leave you and your once popular pen name? The sad fact is that you basically have to either take on a new pen name, or switch over to a more popular genre with the existing pen name and start from square one – AGAIN.
That’s why I tell new writers that this is one of the few careers where you can reach the top, only to have it all slowly fade like a dream. And you’re back to square one. The actual number of writers who can write the same books over and over again in a single genre and make a lifelong career of it are smaller. A lot of the writers teaching this “stay in your lane” philosophy either haven’t hit the end of their lane yet (and will), or did hit the end of their lane and now make their money teaching people to stay in their lane as I suspect the writing income has dried up a bit.
Don’t get me wrong — I still sell plenty of BDSM books each month, but it’s nothing like it was back in 2010-2012 and even through to 2016. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stay in a lane if it’s particularly profitable for you. For example — if your witchy mysteries are hot – run with it. Focus on those witchy mysteries because those are the books paying the bills. I mean – in that instance – staying in the profitable lane is your best bet. Especially if there are no potholes in that lane. Just know that eventually, you WILL need to change lanes. It’s the nature of the beast (and only a small percentage of writers will have a different experience).
Even popular writers like Stephen King don’t stay in their lane. Instead – they stay on a ROAD. Authors like Nora Roberts and JK Rowling are outliers (even though both have other pen names writing in other popular genres). It’s the same in indie land. Yes, you do have popular indies whose work was famous for a hot minute. But a lot of them are teaching writing bootcamps and charging speaking fees now.
This is why if you’re going to adhere to the idea of staying in your lane – I propose you look for recurring THEMES (ROADS) in your stories and market yourself based on theme rather than niche genre. Roads rather than lanes. On a road, you can easily switch lanes if one lane is suddenly (or gradually) closed off. Make it to where you can follow the market more easily without becoming obsolete the minute your niche genre is no longer popular. Take this writing advice or leave it. All I know is it’s served me well for over a decade now, and kept me earning a living wage from my writing since 2010.
Roads, not lanes, is where it’s at. Because once you find the right road – the less likely you will have to continually reinvent yourself.