For 30+ years, whenever I talked to agents or editors, they’d ask me what I was writing.

iStock_000004773808SmallAnd I’d tell them. “A mystery.”

They’d nod and look vaguely interested.

But before they had a chance to say ask another question, I’d add, “And a novel for teens.”

And they’d raise their eyebrows.

“And discipleship manuals.”

By now they’d look like they might be getting a headache.

“And a fantasy. And a memoir. And a book for writers. And—”

At which point, they’d heard enough, and they’d interrupt me to ask, “But which one do you like best?”

My answer was always the same. “Depends on what day it is. And maybe what time of day.”

Their eyes would glaze over and they’d make some sort of remark about my need to choose, and our conversation would be over.

But seriously, all I have to do to get “into” a specific genre is to think about the story I want to write/am writing, and I’m excited. Okay, provided it’s not a news story, a press release, a profile, or a feature article. Yes, I can do them, and I can even do them well, but I don’t enjoy them much. I prefer writing things that allow me to insert my opinions. Or, as I usually say, “I hate having to stick to the facts!”

The odd, really brave editor or agent might follow up our conversation with one last question—something along the lines of “But which genre can you write best?”

And I’d shrug.

The truth is, I’ve won awards for everything from mysteries and teen fiction to various kinds of articles and even blogs.

At which point, the few who made it this far would give up on me in frustration. Because in the publishing world, writers are supposed to choose a genre and stick with it. Which assumption, in my mind, is silly.

It’s about branding and having a platform and, ultimately, selling.

The idea is that the writers’ names become synonymous with their specific genre.

When you think of Dr. Seuss, you think of children’s rhyming picture books. When you think of Supostit note genre choicese Grafton, you think of mysteries. Betty Crocker equals cookbooks. Terry Pratchett equals fantasy…. I’m sure we could easily come up with 100 names of writers for which we’d immediately know the genre they write.

But not every writer fits into a particular box.

C. S. Lewis doesn’t. The author of Mere Christianity also wrote the Narnia series and science fiction and The Screwtape Letters. Linwood Barclay wrote a humour column in the Toronto Star for many years before he became much better known for writing thrillers. And there are actually all sorts of  writers who use pseudonyms to disguise the fact that they write in more than one genre.

Looking at it from the other side, how may of us only read in one genre?

Not me, for sure. I’ve often said that my preferred reading material is a really good mystery, but the truth is I’m just as likely to get excited about a memoir, a how-to book, a blog, or pretty well anything, as long as it’s written well.

Actually, the only books I reviewed last year—because they really impacted me—were a woman’s memoir on escaping domestic abuse, a baseball pitcher’s memoir involving sexual abuse, a bunch of non-mystery stories by a mystery writer with a difficult childhood, and a memoir about finding God at Oxford. So much for my preferring mysteries.

So, can you get away with writing in a variety of genres?

Every writer is different. And every writer has a different reason for writing.

Obviously, If I were trying to support a family or even just myself, I’d focus, at least a majority of the time, on a genre where I could make the required amount.

Scratch that. Since the best way to make money as a writer is either editing or writing the types of things I like least (profiles, feature articles, technical writing, etc.), if I really needed to make money, I’d be either teaching writing or English. The truth is I already make more money speaking and teaching than I do writing, but that’s a different blog.

However, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a husband who not only made enough money to support our family but also encouraged me to write what I love, I’ve been able to have fun and switch genres without having to worry about the consequences to our bank account.

What genre have I chosen to write?

Well, basically, I decided some time ago to ignore the agents and editors who threw up their hands and just write whatever I want to write. Yes, I want to sell my work, but I want to write what I love even more. Maybe soon I’ll make those things work together. Or God will.

I do appreciate the one editor who really listened to me and at the end of our conversation, shook his head, and said, with sadness in his eyes, “We’re not very kind to our Renaissance writers, are we?”

Up until that time, I hadn’t thought of myself in that way. As a Renaissance writer. Someone, like Leonardo da Vinci, who dabbles in all kinds of things. But I love the comparison. And for now, it’s working for me.

Plus I’ve had so many positive reviews and comments for my efforts to date that I simply can’t stop doing any of them.

So from now on, I’m going to forget about genre and just say that my favourite stories—to read or write, in both fiction or nonfiction—are “hope-filled stories with compelling characters, intricate plots, subtle humour, and satisfying endings.”

March 9, 2014

About the author 

N. J. Lindquist

N. J. Lindquist is the award-winning author of books, articles, short stories, and blog posts. She also edits and publishes the "Hot Apple Cider" anthologies. A former high school teacher, N. J. co-founded The Word Guild and teaches workshops for writers as well as speaking on various topics including creativity and leadership.

  • I can see how people like editors and agents don’t want this sort of variety, because they have to do all the work in each area you’re in, but if that’s how a person is gifted, that’s how they need to work. Good thing the Internet lets you take on more of your own management roles so you can do this. “They” might say to pick one area, gain ground there, and then branch out, but how would you decide which one to concentrate on? And I’d think it could dry up pretty quickly without being able to recharge by switching projects, when that’s part of how you work best.

  • Being eclectically-interested (in pretty much every area of life), I ascribe to the premise of Barbara Sher’s book Refuse to Choose. I think there are plenty of us out here. And I too like the term Renaissance Writers. I’ll gladly bear that title.

    All the best with all your projects, NJ.

    • Thanks for your comment, Steph,

      yes, I’m a huge fan of Barbara’s and not only own all her books but belong to her “Hang Out.” I am a scanner through and through. As is every member of my family, I think. :)


  • We as authors are a brand and a brand needs a brand image but that doesn’t necessarily mean writing in a single genre. I’m thinking of Tim Ferriss, for instance, and his 4-hour series. This is how Wikipedia describes his brand: Ferriss’ “4-Hour” themes of self-improvement, self-actualization, and the skill of learning new things.

    His brand is about simplification.

    This calls to mind Richard Branson’s ‘Virgin’ brand, telephonie, trains and aeroplanes sprung from a record label. He’s crossing the ‘genres’ alright but he’s true to a certain modern, relaxed approach to doing business, a certain style.

    I am sure, with a lot of thought, NJ, you’d come up with a common thread that makes your works yours.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bobbie.

      Yes, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. Define myself by the big picture of who I am and not what I do.

      I did decide to separate my brand into 3 areas because, frankly, it’s easier for me to thing of them that way. So I have my mysteries now under J. A. Menzies and my writing advice mostly at my site Which leaves everything else for here.

      I’m still working on a tagline for what “here” is. I think my memoir, which I hope to have out later this year, will kind of pull everything together. I hope! :)


  • N.J. thanks for sharing and for reminding us it’s okay to push the boundaries. Although I have a favourite genre to read, I enjoy writing in several genres. As much as marketers want us to fit in a box, we rarely do :)

  • I guess there is a good side to being unknown and unpublished! LOL. To be honest, I met with one editor once and that was the response – Pick one genre and stick to it. Unfortunately when my writers group shares prompts, when I run into a conundrum, when I read something from scripture, off I go in another direction. Thanks, Nancy, for telling me it’s okay! :)

    • Yeah, that’s what editors and agents have always wanted. And it makes sense. Ultimately, their job is to sell, and they’re looking for products that the market wants. I don’t blame them. But most of the time, I’ve chosen to do what’s in my heart, not what’s easier to sell.

      On the other hand, I always encourage newer writers to try a variety of things because you may be surprised to discover what you’re really good at or what you love. And it’s also good to know your limitations.


  • Awesome post! I write in two different genres, young adult and paranormal romance. But if another genre interests me down the road, I will add that to the mix, too. I wouldn’t be able to write a story I wasn’t in love with. Love is a complex emotion, most of the time with no rhyme or reason. it can steal your breath or knock you down, just like I want my stories to do to my readers.


    • Thanks for the comment!

      As I mentioned below, you can create more than one identity.

      But yes, the story becomes part of who I am and I can’t just ignore it.

      More to the point, I can’t seem to write something just because it has a better chance of selling. It just isn’t in me to do that. Maybe if I actually needed the money for food – I don’t know.


  • Yeah! Thanks for this post! (And thanks for reminding about such great examples as Lewis…) I have often felt like a chameleon because I write romantic suspense novels but I also write comedy stage plays. The two are NOT related in any way, and I’ve often worried about this branding business… I can;t stop either, though, so they will continue on as parallel roads but never touching

    • Thanks for the comment, Tracy.

      What I’ve ended up doing is creating a pseudonym for my mysteries because they’re so different from my other writing. And creating a different website for my writing advice. Not sure if it was a good idea because it means more work, but at least I feel more focused.


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