You know the saying, “jack of all trades, master of none.” This figure of speech refers to someone who has dabbled in many skills but has not gained expertise in a single field. While this suggests that one is skilled at many things, it’s often used as a slight for someone not honing a craft.
The question of how specialized one should be in their field is a personal battle for many, and authors have longed wondered if it’s better for their career to stick to one genre or produce books across multiple. It seems the verdict from publishers and seasoned authors are the same: master that one.
It’s not hard to understand why the comfortable, one-genre-wonder works best. Think of your favorite authors, do they have a specific brand? The most likely answer is yes. Stephen King has his horror and fantastically terrifying suspense. Ernest Hemingway has his short stories and fiction novels. They are dependable and consistent. Hold that thought about personal branding, we’ll come back to that.
But first – there is something to be said about painstakingly perfecting one thing (in this case, one genre). It takes years of titillating writing, re-writing, editing, and refining, and often even more years before that work is recognized. But, by sticking to what you are best at and most passionate about, you are putting all of your effort into something worthwhile.
There are other, less romantic reasons to stay in your lane with just one genre. Go back to your favorite author – let’s say it’s Malcolm Gladwell. You pick up his newest book, Talking to Strangers, a classic Gladwellian-style narrative that looks at news and history through psychological and sociological lenses. You fall in love with his tone and crave his journalistic voice. So, you go back to his previous books to get more, but you find a random piece of fiction that seems like a mystery novel.
This could intrigue you, and if it’s good, then it would probably impress you that Gladwell was able to pull off both fiction and nonfiction in equally eloquent ways. But that rarely happens. Jack of all trades, master of none. Gladwell didn’t just wake up and write five New York Times Bestsellers. He worked for that. He worked to be the guy who looks at things overlooked and misunderstood. And by the way, Gladwell did try and write a screenplay. It was called “Druid Hills,” and took place in Atlanta. He even jokes about the failure in his podcast, Revisionists History.
So the greats have their “thing”, or as those in the marketing world would call it, they have a brand.
According to the article, “Your Guide to Branding Yourself as an Author,” published in NY Book Editors, branding helps you sell and build a reputation with your readers. It’s intentional, it’s compelling and it is you. They urge you to pick your genre, identify who is most likely to continuously read your work, pinpoint how your books are different from others in the same genre, and work from there.
“Products have life cycles. Brands outlive products. Brands convey a uniform quality, credibility and experience. Brands are valuable,” (Goodson).
As creatives, it would be easy for a writer to follow their curiosity and interests across the ever-expanding list of genres. It is worth considering where you see yourself and your future work before expanding past your current genre.
Goodson, S. (2012, May 30). Why brand building is important. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/marketshare/2012/05/27/why-brand-building-is-important/?sh=2304fa4f3006
Your guide to branding yourself as an author. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2021, from https://nybookeditors.com/2016/09/guide-branding-author/
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