Writing Across Age Groups: friend or foe?

“What do you write?”

The question is asked often and a confusing one to answer depending on the individual receiving the info. 

The short answer is that I write for kids.  The long answer is that I write for all ages of kids.  I have manuscripts floating around in my brain–and on paper–for cute board books, quiet picture books, whimsical chapter books, mysterious middle grades and dark young adult novels.   

The general feeling in writing circles is that what you first pub in is where you’ll continue pubbing.  This advice is fine for writers of adult fiction who write by genre.  “Love what you first pub, because that’s the genre you’ll stay in for a good long time.  An entire career, maybe.”

By professional standards, it typically takes about ten years to grow a writer.  While some writers blow the covers off this theory, the timeline holds true for the majority of authors.  Like all things, it takes time to build a brand–something that is hard to do if one genre-hops before being truly well-established.

My DH and I go through this every time we shop for bathroom supplies.  He grew up with one kind of toothpaste, I grew up with another.  We’re both loyal to our brands.  Yet I’m sure Crest didn’t come on the scene in one day and become the Chosen One.  Nor did Colgate. 

Even now, these nationally recognized brands vie for market share by adding new elements.  It’s the same brand, just in cinnamon or lemon.  It’s the same refreshing goodness, but this time with baking soda and whitener. 

Which leads me to my dilemma.  I don’t write Original Crest Paste.  I write all their off-shoots.  Combined, I’m a brand.  Just parceled out a bit to smaller pockets of users. 

Is this a good thing or bad thing?

I’m not sure.  In some ways, I think it’s awesome.  I get the freedom to write what strikes my fancy.  I get the freedom to explore all avenues of lit that I grew up loving.  But it can make branding a little more difficult. 

For instance, it will be a good fifteen years before my board book audience is ready to read my dark YA.  The loyalty will not carry over unless they literally go from cutting teeth on my first books to learning to read with my chapter books to hitting puberty with my older reads.  And this can happen.   Truth be told, I want it to.    

Yet, it also poses another question: should my middle grade audience (wherefore art thou, audience?) have access to my vastly different YA material? 

I’ll just go ahead and admit.  As a mom I would be mortified if my fourth-grader brought home a steamy YA.  But it can happen if authors build their brands right and kids want to read everything ever written by Author Awesome. 

I see this happening already as traditionally adult-pubbed authors cross over to the juvenile lit arena.  My Middle Son is enthralled by Patterson’s The Dangerous Days of Daniel X series.  When he reads through all of Patterson’s kid books, he’ll want to read some of his older material–stuff that’s totally inappropriate for a ten-year-old.  Wildly inappropriate. 

So, dear readers and parents of readers, what do you think about this?  How do you feel about authors who span age groups?  Are there certain lines that can be crossed, while other lines should be firmly drawn in the sand?

And writers, do you feel boxed in by the “pick a genre” adage or does it help you focus your creative energy?  Are you a genre/age group hopper?  If so, do you fear that this will limit your natural inclination and over-all success? 

Share your experiences, as curious minds want to know.



8 responses to “Writing Across Age Groups: friend or foe?

  1. Writers are artists; therefore, they need to grow and explore their creativity. It makes perfect sense for an author to write in various genres and age groups! But I think it’s smart for writers to establish their careers in one genre/age group first before they branch out.

    • Ach, that’s a catch-22! But one I happen to agree with for the most part. It’s an interesting conundrum for those of us who don’t like to be stuck in a box.

      Or is it that we have unruly muses?


  2. I write mostly adult fantasy. But as I’m a very prolific writer, I might want to try something else sooner or later. That’s what pen-names are for! 🙂 Especially in genre literature, prolific writers use different pen-names, so I’m not really bothered with being locked in a box. Barbara G.Tarn is an indie author who writes adult fantasy. She might write sci-fi romance. But another name (using British spelling instead of American) will write the historical set in 12th century Europe. And if I decide to put out there my contemporary stories or my M/M romances, I might pick up still another pen-name. I don’t need a box, but I understand readers will put me in one at some point, so I’ll get rid of it through different IDs… confusing? Not for me! 🙂
    The Writer With A Hundred Personalities (I wish!)!

    • LOL, Barb. I think I just wrote a novel about you!

      I agree that pen names offer the freedom to write any and everything that strikes our fancy. However, doesn’t this make it more difficult to build a brand? Most days, I struggle to manage one! You must be super-human!

      • I’m still managing only one at the moment, even if on my blog I mention the historical novel that will come out under another name… and the best thing of being unpublished for so long means I had time to explore lots of venues before I decided where I wanted to be! 🙂
        When I’ll start managing a second pen-name I’ll get back to you… Although I guess I’ll do like this one (or maybe even less) to market the brand. I hate that “brand” thing. But we’ll see… the sci-fi romance I’m giving to beta this week will also come out under Barbara G.Tarn anyway! 😉
        When can I read the novel about me? 😀

      • I love your romance sci-fi pen name.

        Knowing what you want and researching what will work best for you definitely makes the journey easier. You’ve done a great job in that respect and I have no doubt that you will succeed–regardless of which name you pub under1

        As to the novel about you, well, it’s with a beta now and then I’ll ship it off to my agent. No promises it will see the light of day for awhile, though that would rock my socks off, for sure.

        Hugs and best wishes on your continued endeavors. Your are tireless, my dear.

  3. It does seem to have to come to “write a genre or create a genre” for traditional publishing. That said, I think that indie publishing and self-pub are allowing for a readership to be built around looser controls. The great thing for authors right now is that we don’t have to limit ourselves to the pigeon-holing that marketing departments have created.

    A writer is a writer. Not a genre. Readers love the story and in many cases the author’s voice. They don’t really care what genre a marketer put the author in.

    • Gene,

      Thanks for the great commentary. For the sake of discussion, I’m going to throw on some devil horns and don the pitchfork.

      Do you really think that a reader will really cross all genres to follow a writer they adore?

      Additionally, do you think that a broad brand is easier to acheive or more difficult? While I love the idea of the freedom that comes with genre hopping, I think it can be far trickier to build loyalty if readers don’t know what to expect–or where to find you next.

      Pros and cons to every side of this coin and an interesting topic for sure.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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