So last Thursday I read this interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal and it got me to thinking (again) about whether being slotted into a category is a good or bad thing.
I say “again” because long ago when I was the publisher of World Almanac Publications and my employer wanted to branch out into areas far from our popular reference book line, I went to the book buyers – Dalton, Walden, and Ingram – and asked them their opinion. Every one of them opined adamantly that no matter how good these proposed books might be, they wouldn’t buy them from us. We were the publishers of popular reference books, they said, and that is the way it was going to stay, as far as they were concerned. Ultimately, the decision was made by my colleagues to go ahead with the new products. Knowing what would surely happen, I left the company and became an agent, and that publishing program ultimately failed miserably.
So, what about someone like J.K. Rowling and her foray away from the Harry Potter world into the adult nonfiction category? Notwithstanding the success of The Casual Vacancy, should she have taken this chance? And if the book doesn’t sell up to expectations, what will that mean to her career?
Many of my talented self-published clients ask this same question. They understandably want the ability to publish in more than one category, but the question is, always, will their readers, their fans, “follow” them? I often find myself advising that an author should build up his/her sales in one category, become a best seller and then do whatever s/he wants.
A terrific example of this is Mitch Albom. Michael Crichton is another author who mixed it up in his bestselling novels. And what about all of the thriller writers recently who have found their way into the children’s category?
So, I am curious as to what you think. Should an author, bestselling or not, publish in more than one category or would they be better served by “sticking to their knitting”?