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September 26, 2012

            As a music lover, I would discover a new band and be blown away by one of their albums. Then I’d find either their second album or another, earlier one. To my great chagrin, it would be entirely different! What??? I really hate when bands do that. The same can be said for writers.

            This is, of course, a very personal thing and should in no way influence you in your writing path. Yet, I have to bring it up because it could very well affect your audience and your sales. If you’re appealing to the highbrow crowd, or simply just don’t care, fine. However, if you have any inkling that money and sales may be in your future, you may want to read further.

            One thing that attracts people to an author is what they like. When someone reads your work and likes it, they usually come back for more. Why would you shoot yourself in the foot by changing styles and slapping your audience in the face?

            A few authors have pulled it off, though they usually write literary fiction and I am no fan of that. I avoid the form (I guess I’m not allowed to call it a “genre”) like the plague. Not to pick on literary authors, but they present the perfect example. Their stories are all over the place. Each book is different with a different subject, different characters, and even a different writing style. In a way, I admire these writers for completely following their muse. However, I look for consistent stories. That’s why I go for genre writers. Sure, I take a chance on new writers, but I can usually tell when a book looks like it’s going to be more than a one-off. I’ve made mistakes, such as The Ruins, by Scott Smith. It’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read. However, I usually don’t make mistakes like that.

            As a fiction writer (non-fiction doesn’t count here), you need to develop an audience. If you get a book out there and it does well, you should follow up with something at least similar that your audience can latch on to. It doesn’t have to be a series, but it shouldn’t be so radically different that you alienate your readers. Call it branding?

            I personally like series with a cast of characters that go on from book to book. Being a glass is half full person, I also don’t like when the author kills key characters off to make it more real. I hate that! I’m not reading these stories for reality. I’m reading them to escape the real world! If I want reality, I’ll go to the non-fiction shelf. Duh!

            However, I’m not here to tell you what to write. I’m just suggesting ways not to alienate your audience.

            If your whole thing is to kill off key characters, do it in every book because that is what your audience expects. Don’t all of a sudden stop doing it unless, of course, you run out of key characters! I would expect you have to keep introducing new key characters in each book to replenish the supply.

            The point is that if you simply write a book, and people like it, then you abruptly change directions and write something else, you’re going to have to find a whole new audience all over again. Your rep may not carry you through the next novel. It’s better to stick with something your audience is familiar with so they have something to latch on to.

            If you’re brave, or just don’t care, so be it. Keep your day job. I think I’ll stick with familiarity. That’s one reason I write multiple genres. I can follow my muse in each one, yet satisfy my desire to be consistent.

            Another point. In my icky bug novels, each is stand-alone. None of them are series. They’re consistent in style, not substance. That’s still consistency. There are no carry-over characters or locations. There doesn’t have to be. What’s consistent is the style and tone.

            As I like to say about AC/DC, I love them because they’re smart enough to avoid fixing something that isn’t broken.

            Happy writing.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Peggy West permalink
    September 26, 2012 3:05 am

    Are we writing for our readers’ enjoyment or are we writing to stretch ourselves as writers? Perhaps both will happen. J.K. Rowling’s latest book which I believe is a thriller will be an interesting one to watch. What will Harry Potter fans say?

    • September 27, 2012 4:48 am


      Thanks so much for the comments! Stretching is one thing, but by being all over the place, a writer is at the risk of never finding an audience, therefore never selling anything, or very little. That’s all I’m saying. JK Rowling already has a built in audience. If she experiements, she is taking less of a risk because she still has her back catalog to fall back on yet with her rep, she may be able to build a whole new audience. We as new authors don’t have that luxury.

      You bring up some good points though.


  2. September 26, 2012 4:11 am


    The same can be said about bands. When you went to see Frank Zappa in concert you knew what you were going to get. The same with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, another contemporary group from the same town. I recently saw a reunion of the Rattlesnakes and Eggs at a reunion after not being together for many years. The group was very good and interesting with fine musicians including the leader. They played a full show with many songs but there was no definitive style that you could put your finger on. They strayed all over the place. The group was also from the same community but didn’t make it. I think not being stylized was the reason because the musicianship was as good as the latter two bands and with original songs.

    I began a fiction story a few years ago and wrote about eight chapters. When my wife became ill and I took care of her for about a year, I put the story aside. After she passed away I lost all interest in writing the novel, the children’s stories, and three years have gone by. I recently read what I had written and found it very good and interesting, in the same style of my former book, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era.” The similarity ends there. I made this one up and the ideas flowed just like my autobiography, interesting and with clarity. Since I’m so involved relearning and practicing my trombone by the hour I’ve lost all interest in writing. I have the entire plot of the story in my head and it’s heavy, about two young high school musicians who break into the NY music scene but each go their separate ways. One becomes a priest and the other a famous junkie jazz musician. I have many sub plots that require research but it may never happen unless I receive newfound inspiration. Your article as usual, Fred, was fine and to the point.

  3. September 27, 2012 4:51 am


    Love The Mothers and Beefheart! I’ve only heard one Rattlesnakes & Eggs track and it was kind of circus/jazz style. If they are all over the place, it would be rather hard to find an audience. That is the problem with authors too, never finding an audience.

    I hope you get back to your story. It sound intriguing!


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