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Why Multi-Genre Books Don't Work

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Multi-genre books are tough to write and sell.

Multi-genre books are tough to write and sell.

In the Q&A at a writer’s conference, an author in the audience asked about what to do with her memoir which was also a how-to book. What? The conference speaker basically said to do either a memoir or a how-to book. I agree.

Trying to stuff two very different books into one will send her down a difficult publishing path, regardless of whether she pursues traditional or self publishing. She could struggle until she gets some clarity on what she actually wants to write and who her audience really is.

Multi-genre works can be likened to mixed media art which combines multiple materials or styles. They can be experimental and done intentionally to create new forms of expression. However, for some authors, multi-genre is a symptom of their awkward motivations and inexperience.

Why Do Authors Attempt to Fit Multiple Genres in One Book?

You have to wonder why an author would attempt blending genres. Here are some possible motivations.

Wanting More Book Sales. Some self published authors feel that if their books can fit into multiple genres, they will make more sales. Doesn’t work like that.

Not Enough Energy or Content. In the example in the introduction, the author wanted to write a memoir, but also wanted to write a how-to book. Maybe she didn’t feel she had enough energy or content to do two books. So she probably reasoned it could all be combined into one.

Inexperience. New authors may not have a clear idea of what defines a genre, and may have little experience actually writing in it. They just want to “write a book.” So they adopt a kitchen sink strategy, throwing every possible bit of writing they’ve done, or want to do, into this one epic work.

Rule-breakers. These authors want to be avant-garde. To hell with convention! They want to be original. This can also be a sign of inexperience. “I don’t want to play by the rules” authors may actually be saying they don’t want to learn the disciplines and structures of literary forms.

Autofiction: The Multi-Genre Genre

Here’s a genre that is a mashup of genres: autofiction. Autofiction is a fictionalized autobiography. So is it a novel? An autobiography? A memoir? All of these? I guess you could say that the Seinfeld sitcom is a form of autofiction. In the show, he’s comedian Jerry Seinfeld from New York, just as in real life, but in a fictionalized world in the show.

Why would an author wish to do autofiction? Maybe they’re trying to express some dark part of themselves or their history, but don’t want to admit to it? Maybe trying to avoid some claims for libel or slander in portraying some real people or events, claiming that it’s just fiction? An existential crisis?

My big issue with autofiction is that you might have to understand the author’s real life history in order to put the book in context.

Killing Two Audiences With One Book

Books that are mashups of two genres can end up killing their appeal for either audience. Each audience won’t understand or resonate with the material that’s not for them. That leads to bad book reviews and low sales.

The One Question Multi-Genre Authors Can’t Answer

Who are your ideal readers?

Confused multi-genre authors may not be able to answer this question because they really don’t know who their ideal readers are. They haven’t put in enough thought or research to determine this reader profile. Or they’re completely out of touch with either or both of their audiences.

By not knowing or understanding who will read their books, they aren’t able to write a book that fills an ideal reader’s wants and needs. Their books will also not be written in a way that speaks to the reader in terms of reading level or style.

Worse is that they might create multiple and widely divergent ideal reader profiles. Then they’ll bounce from writing something appropriate for the one audience and not the other. Again, killing two audiences with one single book.

Multi-Genre Marketing Challenges

Aside from the muddled content aspects, multi-genre books can be a marketing mess, too. It may require at least two separate marketing efforts to appeal to divergent audiences. That increases cost and confusion. Multi-genre books may not meet reader expectations for either genre, causing book buyers to leave bad reviews on Amazon.

These authors also run the risk of mixing up their author brand, which could have serious consequences. As with writing and publishing outside one's normal genre under a pen name or pseudonym, one of the targeted markets could be offended by the author’s or book’s appeal to the opposite market.

But don’t confuse multi-genre with multi-market appeal. There are some books that have appeal to multiple markets or submarkets. For example, a paranormal romance novel may appeal to both romance readers and those who like novels about supernatural topics. The difference is that it’s one genre, a romance novel, not a cookbook wrapped in a novel.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne

Comments

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 28, 2021:

Bill, you can imagine that at the writing conference, I was thinking, "Did I just hear that?" But then I've bumped into some "interesting" book concepts proposed by self published authors over the years. I hate to squash creativity, but art has some rules.

I would've loved to have been a fly on the wall at your parent teacher conferences. That, my friend, would be a book in itself. But should we class that as a memoir? Humor? ;)

Anyway, thanks for adding a smile to my day, as always. Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 28, 2021:

Flourish, an identity crisis is what most of these authors suffer from. They're inexperienced or misguided. And, yes, they probably have no beta reader or editor "bumpers" to keep them on track.

I can just imagine friends and family members wanting to support the author's work, but cringing at the thought of reading the mashed up mess. Count me out there!

Always love your perspective. Thanks for your support and have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 28, 2021:

Hello, John! The book of poetry and flash fiction you're describing wouldn't be considered multi-genre. Actually, it would be consider an anthology or collection. The theme unifies it all.

If, however, you were switching gears from poetry to flash fiction without warning throughout the book, then you'd be doing the multi-genre thing. Does that make sense?

Thanks for joining the conversation and good luck with your book!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 28, 2021:

You're welcome, Pamela! It's seems so logical not to do this type of book. So you can imagine I was surprised to even encounter them in the wild.

Thanks so much for chiming in and have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 28, 2021:

Dora, indeed, complicated and confusing completely describes these books for both authors and readers! Glad you found this informative. Thanks so much for chiming in and have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 28, 2021:

Peggy, multi-genre books are pretty rare, but I have encountered authors making the attempt. So futile! Well, at least now you'll know one when you see one in the future. :)

Thanks so much for chiming in and have a lovely day!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 28, 2021:

A how-to book and a memoir, all in one? I'll be laughing about that the rest of the day. I can't even imagine how one would go about organizing that. LOL

What I love about your advice is it's head-on. There is no sugarcoating with you, which I love. It was my teaching style in the classroom. It didn't always go over well with parents buy hey, you can't please everyone.

Happy Thursday my friend! Stay safe and warm!

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 27, 2021:

You are so right. Those are authors who just can’t decide what they want to be. Why should the reader lend them so much patience? Such authors are lazy and have their roles mixed up, believing that their readers owe them the floor while they pontificate, go off in half a dozen different directions, etc. No one has time for that. A friend or family member may humor someone but not for long. I would doubt these folks had an editor or beta readers either.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 27, 2021:

Thank you for sharing this information, Heidi.

I have played with the idea of writing a book that combined poetry and flash fiction stories, (maybe even some essays) but something has always stopped me. However, if the poems and stories were on a common theme say "Love, Horror, or the Supernatural" would that be such a problem?

You make some really good points here, though, especially the difficulty in regard to marketing the work.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 27, 2021:

Your article about multi-genre books makes a lot of sense to me. This is another veyr interesting article, Heidi. Thank you for this information.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 27, 2021:

From your first paragraph, it was clear that a multi-genre book would be complicated, maybe even confusing. Thanks for making us understand why and why not to attempt it. Very helpful.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 27, 2021:

I do not think that I have ever read a multi-genre book and did not realize that they were out there.