4. The Writing Life
I wish I didn’t have to write this page. Here’s one area where I’d prefer to turn a blind eye to reality. Still, I have to tell it like it is.
The fact is that the simplest way to build increasing sales is to build a brand. Readers like to know, when they pick up a book by a particular author, that they’ll get the same sort of story they’ve enjoyed from this author before. They’re liable to be confused by an author (like me) who switches between genres and ages.
I was talking to a primary school librarian the other day about my children's fantasy books, the Wolf Kingdom quarter, and she said, ’No, I didn’t buy those books for the library—I thought you were a YA author.’ And when even a librarian can’t keep track …
It follows that publishers like an author to capitalize on any success by writing more of the same. They’re not eager for an author to hop sideways into a second genre. From a promotional point of view, it’s a whole new commitment of time and effort, starting from scratch again. What’s more, they probably have authors whose names they’re already trying to promote in that genre.
From an author’s point of view—well, my point of view—it’s not always so easy to write more of the same. The batteries may need time to re-charge; meanwhile, the imagination is running hot in some other area. Still, I guess I’ve come to a stage in my career where I’m prepared to work at some brand-building.
Steampunk is my most natural groove anyway: steampunk-Victoriana-alternative history fantasy. If the Richard Harland name has to belong to a particular genre, then that’s the one. And I can still move around a bit - Worldshaker and Liberator are full-on steampunk, but my latest, Song of the Slums, is steampunk and gaslight romance - with less machinery, more relationships, more society, more romance - and a female protagonist.
Readership age is another aspect of brand-building. You have more chance of getting picked up as a writer of children’s fiction; you used to have more chance of getting picked up as a writer of YA fiction (though not for YA fantasy, not any more). Once you’re tied to a particular age bracket, however, it’s very difficult to break away. Even when a YA author does get an adult novel published, it’ll normally be marketed as YA.
A pseudonym is the answer, for the purpose of not confusing readers and not carrying through a potential drop in sales. Just don’t expect your publisher to jump at the idea! There’s still a whole new promotional commitment required. Your publisher would always prefer you to devote your time to the kind of story where you’ve already made a name.