Should You Only Write One Genre? Um, no.
Approximately 700 years ago when I thought I wanted to be a copywriter, I went to a seminar where one of the speakers was the head of marketing for Coke.
I remember nothing about that time in my life except this woman. She was short, slim, dynamic, with glorious brown hair and a Colgate smile. She was wearing a white shirt with a red blazer. And she told us during the seminar that this was intentional: Since the moment she first applied for the marketing job, she had worn nothing but red and white, so that people never forgot her and always identified her with Coca-Cola.
Well -- not full gag. Yes, the idea of building my identity around a product grosses me out, but her point was well made. I think about it every time someone says writers should stick to a single genre so people will remember us. And I'm inclined to agree with them simply because I remember the Coke Lady so well. Buuuut...
Ten years' experience as a professional writer has taught me that unless you're one of an extremely small number of fortunate people, you're not gonna make it that way.
You have to adapt to the continually changing market to be able to continue earning a living. And in my experience, that means you have to write a shit ton of different things.
Here's my story: After I got over that brief and unpleasant copywriting phase, I started writing lifestyle articles for online magazines. I quickly saw that market drying up, so I moved on to writing long-form nonfiction. At the same time, I was penning short stories. No money in those, so I hopped over to screenwriting. TV picked up, so I dove into that. (And loved it, BTW -- the only collaborative form of writing that I know of.) Then podcasts got hot, and I nabbed an opportunity to write those too.
All this bouncing around has had two major benefits: It's earned me a living, and it's given me the technical skills to write just about anything.
But it's also made it harder to define my brand. Coke Lady I am not. So how do I reconcile that problem? How do I write what I need to write to keep up with the market, but not come across as a scatterbrained mess? Here's what I've learned (after years of coming across as a scatterbrained mess):
Consider your audience.
When someone asks what you write, think about what they want to hear, and tailor your response. If that person is the executive producer of a hot new comedy, they might want to hear about successful comedy pieces you've written -- but that doesn't have to be restricted to scripts. Tell them you write dysfunctional family humor and just got back from performing your hilarious one-woman show about six generations in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. That's far more likely to grab their interest than "I write half-hour sitcoms" -- or, at the other extreme, "I write everything! Plays, essays, screenplays, I have twelve scripts on my hard drive..." (I have actually heard people say this. One of them TOTALLY wasn't me.)
Focus on theme.
I write drama for the screen and comedy for the stage. This is confusing for people. Am I a comedy writer or a drama writer? They need to know. So instead of trying to explain that I am a special snowflake and expecting them to be impressed, I don't talk about genre. I talk about themes. "I write about cons, cults, and other ways people try to take over the world." It's specific enough to be memorable, but broad enough to include the hodgepodge of scripts I've written (or may someday write).
Highlight your characters.
This is a fairly common approach in the entertainment industry these days, since diversity has become a topic of interest. A lot of people describe their writing in terms of the types of characters they enjoy: "I write adventurous female characters," or something along those lines. Me, I tend to write about outsiders the world has left behind. That's kind of a melancholy statement, so before I make it, I think back to my first statement: Consider your audience. If I feel like "outsiders the world has left behind" might appeal to this person, I'll tell them that. Otherwise I'll take a different approach.
Bottom line: The publishing and entertainment industries have changed radically in the past 20 years, and they're going to keep evolving long after we write our last "the end." In my experience, the best way to keep up is to go with the flow, finding flexible ways to define your brand.
How do you define yourself as a writer? Do you write in multiple genres, or stick to one? Tell me about it in the comments below!
Meagan Daine is a television writer and podcast writer interested in cons, cults, and other ways people try to take over the world. Catch her latest podcasts at Parcast on Spotify, or follow her on Twitter/IG: @writeordienow