APPEALING TO A WIDER AUDIENCE
The other day, I was out in the gerridge (garage in my “British” accent) doing some particularly tedious cuts on a thermometer project I’ve been working on for quite a while. Though I love my woodworking, I have to admit that quadruple stacking these pieces and the slow cutting involved with the intricate design can get to be a bit much. With that going on, my mind tends to wander while still keeping that fine blade on the line from drifting.
I’d just read a post from my buddy Garry Bordinaro, the bass player from the metal band The Rods. He put up a video of Grand Funk Railroad, or Fand Grunk (before they sucked), as I call them, playing one of their old songs when they were a power trio. The song was Inside Looking Out and it was live. He posted it to show one of his influences, especially since The Rods are a power trio and have inaccurately been called America’s answer to Motörhead by some rock journalist. Not by a longshot!
Anyway, that got me thinking, as the blade chewed away at the aspen wood, what happened to Grand Funk?
The band started as a great power trio that played raw and loud hard rock. Then one day, they decided to go commercial, hired a keyboard player, came out with a cover of Locomotion then went further off the rails with We’re An American Band. All of a sudden, they went from being an “underground” hard rock power trio with a huge fan base, to a much bigger “pop” band. Sure, their fan base grew exponentially, but they also alienated a lot of their original fan base, me included. Hence, I gave them the description, “Fand Grunk, before and after they sucked.”
To be fair, I do know some of the history, after the fact, for why they did what they did. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, as a fan, even if I sort of understand.
There were lots of rock bands that did that. They’d come out with a few great albums. Then midway into their career, they’d shift gears. Sometimes, it was because they’d get bored, burned out, or lost key members. Other times it was because they were starving or not making enough money and wanted to appeal to a wider audience. In most cases, they lost their original fan base, gained a different audience, or both because “they went commercial,” or more succinctly, “sold out,” the favorite catch phrase of all rock journalists.
WHAT ABOUT WRITERS?
In our case, we’re presented with a dilemma, though it’s not all that much different from young bands. I’ve preached for appealing to a wider audience. At the same time, I’ve also said to know your target audience and make sure not to alienate them. However, what if you’re a genre bender? Will you be able to appeal to multiple markets?
I just did a bunch of reviews of books in my “wyberry” that I never got around to doing when I actually read them. Many, I thought I did but when I went to Amazon, nada, zip. So, as I was filling in the blanks, I noticed how some authors shifted gears and changed styles. R. Karl Largent started as an icky bug writer, which I loved, then when he didn’t make much money at it, he switched to a military thriller series, then finally individual thriller/adventures. He never rose above a mid-list writer, but he was one of my favorites that never got his due before he passed on. He was one author that switched genres yet kept me interested despite all. However, I imagine he lost some audience because by all indications, he never made it above midlist.
SWITCHING CAN BE DANGEROUS OR GOOD
As with bands, switching can be dangerous or good, depending on how you come out the gate. I write in multiple genres and will publish however I can, simultaneously if possible, but all under my own name. Most are series except the icky bugs, which are one-offs, so far. I make no secret about that.
Once an author becomes known for a specific genre, then switches gears, like what Grand Funk did, is that going to hurt or help their career? My wife just read that novel by J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy and hated it. She said she wasn’t expecting Harry Potter, but at least expected something interesting! However, just because of her name, it got a lot of sales and from the reviews on Amazon, a whole range of ratings. Who knows if she can make the transition?
Changing genres is one thing, pandering is another. Following your muse is one thing, writing just to make money shows in the writing and that’s exactly why Grand Funk sucked. That’s why some writers suck. This is all personal opinion, but I’m not alone with that feeling about either Grand Funk, nor when writer’s pander.
THE MERCENARY APPROACH
If you’re out with the mindset to make money at this passion (which then it might not be anymore), that’s fine. However, if you’re really going to do that, forget about following your muse, just write what you think will sell and keep at it until something hits. Even if you hate the genre, keep guessing until you find what works and go for it. Or, hopefully, if your interests are wide, you’ll like multiple genres and one of the ones you like will happen to catch on. Once it does, milk it for all its worth and make your ton of dough. Once you become the next Dean Koontz or J.K. Rowling, then you can shift gears and write what you “really want” and leak it out and see what happens. Realistically, most of us will never fit in that category, but you never know.
This process in itself might do exactly what I saying you shouldn’t do, alienate once audience for another. If you’re writing for what sells, you’re bound to start with a few sputters before you hit the right note. Some may love one or another of those “sputters” and then hate you when you “sell out” once you find the hot button style that makes you the big money. Oh well… that’s what you get for going mercenary. You may win in one way and lose in another.
CAN’T GET AROUND FOLLOWING YOUR MUSE
What you going to do? You have to write what you feel if this is a passion and not just a job. Then again, you have an audience to think about. If you start out the gate appealing to a wide audience, you’re probably safer. However, if you write in a specific genre, get well-known for that, then shift to something else, it’s bound to create conflict. That’s why a lot of authors try pen names.
I’ll never do that. I write multiple genres out of the gate and use my real name on all of them. That’s just the way I roll. I can’t say that’s the way it will work for anyone, including myself yet! If any of my genres take off, who knows what will happen? The fact is that I love writing these genres and if one takes off, that’s not going to stop me from writing or trying to publish any of the others.
What I’d hate to do is for everyone to know me as “just a…” and then suddenly come out with something else. Therefore I’ll never be a “just a…”
Within each genre, I try to make then as universally appealing as I can, given the confines of the world I’m in. That’s as big of a world as I have.
I never want to be the Fand Grunk of my genres and be the author that was good before he sucked.
I hope the same for you.