ARE YOU A CONTRARY WRITER?
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.