Genre is the sandbox you choose—but I don’t want to.
I want to claim my realm like a force of nature. Like Neptune god of the sea, I want to stride forth from the waves and plant my trident—encompassing the sand as far as the horizon only my mind views. I want my sandbox to be out of the box.
Before you have a label you’re limitless. All the vistas stretch out to the horizon. Of course none of it belongs to you yet either. The problem in laying your claim is that it does come to define you—and that can limit your future opportunities. Those limits can be fierce in genre. Your publisher may not want to see anything from you outside yours—the one your first work labeled you as.
But what if you didn’t want to take on that ambitious historical epic as your first project? What if you played it safe? Very few people can or should jump into something enormous and advanced straight out the gate.
Or even worse, what if you’re the type of person who likes variety in what you create? Now you find yourself restricted to a sandbox when what you wanted was the whole coastline.
I’m facing a bit of both problems—my eventual goal is to write epics similar to Dune or Cyteen. But I also like multiple genres: fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, historical fiction. Adding complexity, the protagonists of my first two nearly complete books, and of my next several intended books are young. Going YA might be a sensible move, both for its wide audience appeal and that while it is a genre I could write most of my interests within its copious bounds. But word count will be an issue. Plus approximately 5 books out I am planning to write something with an adult protagonist—I can’t see a mortuary proprietor as a teen, especially with the tone I want to set for that character. So I’m facing problems. I want the coastline—not all the coastline—but certainly a long swath of it.
So how do you approach something like this—how do you mitigate career troubles before you begin?
The Sand You Want
I think the first step has to be defining the scope of your ideal box. What do you need encompassed and what can you exclude with a sigh of relief.
I basically like writing wonder fiction. Fantasy, science fiction, and magical realism are all wonder fiction. Even the historical fiction would have strong fantasy elements injected—it would just be located in a historical earth setting. I’m well trained to take that on (I have a BA in Medieval and Renaissance Culture) but I know those projects will require an additional layer of complexity so I want to master the basics of being an author first (I won’t start those until at least 10 books out and will probably keep at least a 2 to 1 or greater ratio of normal fantasy/sci-fi to those with historical elements). In terms of protagonist age the vast majority will be YA—but there is that one book I’m already outlining, and I expect I’ll have good story reasons to do others occasionally in the future.
The Box They Want
The second thing you need to understand is the thought process driving the concerns your editor and publisher will have. They do have reasons for trying to restrict you—and once you know the logic behind why it might be a good idea to stay in your sandbox you might embrace the restrictions for the benefits they could bring.
That’s a Lot of Ground to Cover
In the next article—Neptune’s Sandbox II—The Benefits of Being Boxed —we’ll talk about why publishing professionals advise confining yourself to one genre and what you need to consider before you go against that sage advice to step outside it.