Another panel from World Fantasy 2008

Genre Hopping – panelists – Barbara Hambly, Jo Beverly, Karen Dudley, Jean Marie Ward

This panel’s topic question was “Mystery to History, Romance to Elvish Dance. After writing in one genre, what tools do you take with you when moving on to another?”

The panel focused on the prohibitions coming from publishers, agents, critics, and fans that deterred writers from genre hopping, rather than the question about what was transferrable. With an industry holding the shibboleth of ‘branding’ they spoke more on overcoming the resistance to writing in different genres than any commonalities – although they seemed to regard the techniques and crafts used to be more or less universal.

Branding regards any move away from strict conformity with what one has produced in the past to be a dilution of the author’s marketability. Barbara Hambly, who has written in many genres, was foremost in denouncing this idea as nonsense – however she did caution that the most fanatical purists were often one’s existing fans. A writer hopping to a different genre, or to a cross genre that strayed beyond the works they were known for, had better make plain – on cover blurb, fan site, or bookstore poster where this novel differed from those a fan may have read before. Fans can be the the most inflexible of all. For example, the devotee of erotic romances would be disgusted to find no eroticism in a new title of romantic fantasy.

The electronic spying mechanism, where sales of individual titles in specific venues are recorded in publishers’ databases – the big brother of IT – are relatively easy to fool by the use of an open pseudonym. “Jane Doe writing as Hortense Wickersnif” is enough to keep poorer sales of a series yet to catch on away from one’s bread and butter titles and prevent the bean-counters from labeling the author as failing or going down in popularity. This subterfuge is essential to avoid the next novel’s advance from being reduced by waning expectations. The fans understand and accept the reason for the different mask.

That gave rise to a question from the audience about other reasons for hiding one’s identity behind a pseudonym – academics writing fiction were given as an example. The panel agreed that an academic writing anything but scholarly tomes had better be very careful when venturing into fiction. Not just a professor of divinity writing erotic romance – if such an author exists – but any academic required to present a sober face to the world would need to hide the fact that they also wrote fantasy. The answer is the closed pseudonym, where every measure is taken to ensure only the principals at the publishing house know who Hortense Wickersnif actually is.

The other aspect of genre hopping is the novel that contains aspects of two or more accepted genres that have never been partnered before. This is where erotic romance stood when the first author bridged the genres. Barbara Hambly suggested that no one knows what is possible and can become sought after until someone succeeds at it. When both the writing and the selling make a splash then plenty of other writers eagerly jump on the bandwagon.


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One Response to “Another panel from World Fantasy 2008”

  1. joylene Says:

    Drats, I had this brilliant retort and I accidentally erased it. Suffice to say, I worried about this when I switched from suspense thriller to political thriller, then from Prince George to Russia. But in the end, if it’s a good story, shouldn’t my efforts be appreciated regardless? I hope so.

    It’s report that Mario Puzo was embarrassed by his The Godfather Triologies because they weren’t “literary”. Sounds crazy to me, but I guess if you’re striving for something & you feel as if you copped out, I suppose there would be some self-doubt going on.

    Maybe it’s all to do with how you see yourself.

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