At a book signing I attended last summer, I popped up my hand during the Q & A and asked the question: Since this new book was the second in a two-book deal, how much of it had been finished when the deal had been made? The author said she hadn’t even started it at that point. I followed up: Since the first book had been in the magical realism genre, how much direction had she received to keep the second book in the same genre? To paraphrase her reply: Even though there had been no official direction, there was a sort of understanding that it would be best if the second book would be familiar to the readers of the first.
She’s working on a new book now, which I believe is contemporary MG instead of magical realism. This isn’t a giant leap for her, since, in my opinion at least, the strengths of her other books were more the foundation of contemporary storytelling instead of the magical qualities, which is likely what would draw in readers. So even without the bits of fantasy the others included, a contemporary MG novel would still more or less be in the same lane.
Put together a mental list of some of the best known authors in middle grade literature. How identifiable are they with the genres they write? Authors like J.K. Rowling and Jeff Kinney: Do they continue in the same genre, or are their books all over the map? How much does that first book tag an author as a middle grade *fill in the blank* writer? What kinds of editorial expectations or marketplace demands will have a say in deciding what you write next, once the business element of publishing enters into the equation? How much choice will you ultimately have as a writer to explore different directions or genres, if you don’t want every book you write to be about dying dogs or fantastical realms or bodily functions?
For those of us lucky enough to reach the goal of even seeing that first book published, the first book isn’t necessarily always the one we expect it to be. How much control do writers have over the stories they choose? Is it the first book that brands you? Or the one that (maybe) reaches a noticeable level of success? We can’t say for sure which of our manuscripts will be the one to break through and see the light of day in publishing terms. Reaching that benchmark can seem like such a definitive goal that we might not always think as much about what comes next.
What do you think about the idea of branding an author, or being branded as one? Do you write in the genre you do because you love it above all others, or do you hope to have the flexibility to try other things?