An author of a crime mystery series, I decided to try another category of writing. In so doing, I think I may have learned the answer to my question. It is not about ability so much as expectations, not about the writer so much as the reader. Here’s what I mean:
It is beneficial, I believe, to explore your capabilities to their farthest extent, whether physical, intellectual, or creative. Applying this philosophy to writing, I wanted to explore my capabilities in multiple genres. I had written mysteries, as mentioned above, and a history. The history was a picture book for Arcadia Press, not easily confused with any other category. I wanted to write a mid-grade/YA book and so penned Payu’s Journey, a fanciful anthropomorphic story of a dingo set in Australia. The animal lost her pups, and in an attempt to recover them took a human baby by accident. She decided to raise the baby as her own.
I wrote it, self-published it as an Ebook, and soon the cover appeared alongside my mystery series on Amazon. It is a fun little book, entertaining for all ages and published with no real expectations other than reader enjoyment. Little did I know the effect it would have on my other books.
My mystery series sales fell off immediately.
At first, I put it down to the vagaries of the market, with which we are all familiar. By the second month of low sales, however, I realized something had changed and scoured social media and the Amazon site to attempt to discover what it was.
And then it came to me.
As I viewed my novel covers on my Amazon site, I realized there would naturally be some confusion. Author’s books are not pictured within categories or genres on the site, but simply in a row. As a reader, two assumptions come to mind. First, that Payu’s Journey is book five of the crime mystery series. Imagine the disappointment as the mystery buff begins to read about a dingo and a baby. Second, the reader might well assume I had finished the series. Most readers want to read a longer series, not a short one, and would likely choose another author. Those readers who had read the first four books of my series would naturally conclude it was complete, and move on.
There is another, less obvious difficulty. Readers tend to become comfortable with an author within a certain genre; Stephen king in Horror, Larry McMurtry in Westerns, Tony Hillerman in Navajo mysteries. They feel uncomfortable with that author writing a different kind of book. Can John Sanford write a steamy romance?––probably. Would anyone want to read it?––probably not.
With all the authors available to readers today, I suppose there will be even more of a tendency to typecast them.
What to do? Of course, the synopsis that accompanies Payu’s Journey at the Amazon site is clear, but my intent to continue the series is not. I made an effort to explain it in social media, in my Amazon author bio, and everywhere else I could think of, but there really is no good way to forestall a reader’s decision. My sales did pick up again, but never to the previous level. I understand now the only solution is to put action to my words and publish the fifth book of the mystery series ASAP.
Am I advocating for an author to remain true to a single genre? No, I still resist that. For those selling more widely than me, focusing on paperbacks in stores or marketing in other ways, this situation is likely not as much of a problem. But for a novelist still developing readership, with Ebooks sold through Amazon as a large source of book income, it is for me.
I intend to continue to pursue my creative limits. I intend to publish parts 2 and 3 of Payu’s Journey to complete the trilogy. Now that I understand the nature of the problem, though, I will concentrate on finishing my next Zack Tolliver mystery novel first and foremost.