Thursday, July 30, 2009


I'm sitting here waiting for my mom. We're going to drive to Brigham City so we can eat lunch at Maddox. That's how much she and I care about these things. We'll get in a car and drive far distances to eat fried chicken, whereas I really cannot be bothered to go to a life-saving doctor's appointment if it's south of 21st South here in Salt Lake. There's something kinda sick about this, I think.

Anyway, I'm also thinking about a conversation I had last night with the luminous Carol Williams. Carol made the observation that most people who've been successful in the world of kid lit have tended to focus on a genre rather than being all over the place. There are notable exceptions, of course. But even people like Cynthia Rylant have focused on one genre at a time during their careers, even if they write everything from picture books to YA.

This has made me wonder about my own career. I've tried a lot of different things--sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I don't regret it, and really part of the reason I've tried different things is that I couldn't sell a YA novel for awhile, even though that was my first love.

I have to say I think Carol's right, though. Most people with splendid careers seem to have an identifiable focus. Am I right about this? Are there obvious exceptions I'm forgetting? Your thoughts, please.


Lisa B. said...

what an interesting insight. I am going to think about this with respect to my little corner of the world.

LucindaF said...

Making me think here.
What is the measure of success?
For some, getting ANYTHING published is a grand achievement.

You've had a series of Pirate Picture books. You've had a number of YA novels, and you write a weekly column for adults.

Maybe others stay with one niche because it takes so long for them to master it. Or editors are like casting directors, and once you're a character in a Disney show, you can't be taken seriously anywhere else.

There is I'm sure, a lot of truth to what Carol says for many reasons, mainly because I like her so I'm just going to take her at face value.

I think if you're good enough, you can do anything.

Kerry said...

Well, the first counter example that pops to my mind is Madeleine L'Engle. She published in several genres--more diversely *after* she was successful, of course, but her first books were adult books. Then she won the Newbery for Wrinkle, which is fairly middle grade, and a Newbery honor for Ring of Endless light, which is YA. Toward the end of her life she mainly wrote nonfiction and poetry. I'm pretty sure if I had five more minutes I could think of a whole lot of others like her.

Maybe people who write in one genre alone have a real *love* for that genre, which is probably more important than which genre it is or their consistency in it. If you don't like writing all your books in one category, I don't think limiting yourself to that category is going end up producing better books. Writing what you love to write--wherever that takes you--seems like it'd give you a much better chance to produce something great.

Short version: not sure I agree with Carol, though I love her madly. I think everyone's path is a little different. Success seems to me to be more of just *continuing to do stuff* than anything else. But I guess it depends on how you define success.

Kerry said...


(drawing from my book study now)

what publishing all your books in a single genre *does* do is to give all of your *new* books the chance to borrow the marketing efforts of *previous* books--in essence multiplying the marketing presence by the total number of books you've published in that genre. This correlation can be quite strong--about a 70% advantage, we found.

doesn't say anything about the quality of the writing, though. just the size of sales, which goes right back to your definition of success.


Randi said...

I just read the Maddox part and started salivating... mmmmmm.... Also, thank you soooo much for your help yesterday! We really really appreciate how willing you were (and quinton too!) We love you and can't thank you enough!

BBB said...

The first author I think of that has jumped genre's is Jane Yolen.

I also think Shannon Hale has tried to do with her adult novels, but not very successfully.

I agree that it's not a common thing for an author to be successful with different genre's. I mostly think it's because of what Kerry says in her second post.

My husband was telling me about a radio program he heard with Brandon Sanderson about how successful people and companies get 'branded'. Once you're branded as a certain thing, it's hard for your following to see you as anything else but that.

Like Nike, did you know they make dress shoes? They do. But when would I ever buy Nike dress shoes? They know how to do athletics like nobody's business, but if I'm gonna get dress shoes, I'm going to find someone who does dress shoes like nobody's business.

The J.K. Rowlings of the world might as well publish under a pseudonym if they want to be successful in anything other than what they've always done.

Kerry said...

speaking of pseudonyms, I was thinking about pseudonyms this morning and I realized that a lot of successful authors we think of as publishing in a single genre are actually publishing in multiple genres under different names. Dean Koontz does that, for example, and he's like a gazillionaire or something. xo