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I read somewhere that one should choose ones genre carefully, as it is hard to change later. Although there are exceptions, most writers, even established ones, find it hard to change genre, and have to use a pen name if they want to.

Is this really true? Does one really get stuck in whatever genre you chose for your first book?

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It is true, to a degree, that it's difficult. The central "problem", if you can call it that, is that when you become published, and start building an audience, both your audience and your publisher begin to expect you to do things in a similar vein as what you've done before because it's easier to market work to an established audience. If your first novel was a science fiction story, and suddenly you write a historical Victorian romance novel, you can see how the marketability of your book would suddenly be difficult, since it would be almost as if you're getting published again for the first time. You also wouldn't want to alienate your existing audience who see your name, and read your book, expecting the same.

That's not to say it can't be done. Once you become "established", it is possible to use your status to explore other avenues. For example, Iain Banks wrote three or four novels before he published his science fiction work Consider Phlebas under the name Iain M. Banks. Providing a clear delineation between your different genres in this fashion can be useful, because it provides clear markers to readers that "this is this", and "this is that".

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The publisher obviously being the bigger problem here (you refer to "easier to market" more than once). Not that audience expectations don't factor in here, but they are minor compared to publishers' inertia. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 2 '11 at 19:28
    
That should be "Iain". :) –  Zayne S Halsall Jun 3 '11 at 17:36
    
@Zayne - Doh! Thanks, always forget. –  Craig Sefton Jun 3 '11 at 18:06
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While it is true that in the past it was hard to change genres, I believe that in the present it is much easier and more widely accepted. In the past, publishers had to figure out a game plan for how to promote their authors. It was a lot easier for them to do this if they could target a specific audience and go after them. They discouraged authors from crossing over into other genres because they were concerned with alienating the original fan base or confusing new fans.

Today, especially with the new prevalence of self-published e-books, it is much easier for an author to get away with this, especially if you are the one doing the promoting. Most promotion done by self-published authors is done through social media, and it is a lot easier to find and identify a target audience for a specific genre. One a fan finds you, they will continue to look for more work in the genres they prefer, but if you write well enough they are more willing to consider looking at other work as well.

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According to my experience, genre emerges from story. The bad news is that many attempts to follow genre are ending as total failure to write a viable story.

For instance, sir Golding's "Lord of Flies" can be considered as soft sci-fi, post apocalyptic fiction, psychological thriller or (as officially stated) allegory. However, his "Spire", "Pincher Martin" or "The Inheritors" do are not suitable for most of genres mentioned above.

Homer's Illias and Odyssey can be considerd as historical fiction or even fantasy genres.

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Homer's "Illias"? Really? The Iliad and The Odyssey are epic poems, and existed long before any notion of literary genre even existed. They were not even considered fiction in their day, but a grand account of noble deeds, i.e., a history. –  Robusto Jun 2 '11 at 11:23
    
@Robusto: Exactly. Genre is just an artificial label invented to categorise existing works. –  Nerevar Jun 2 '11 at 13:04
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In modern terms, I'd consider The Illiad as historical fiction with a mythological bent, considering that Troy itself really did exist, and at least one iteration of the city was indeed destroyed due to war. –  JAB Jun 2 '11 at 14:27
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