How Do I Sell Books in More Than One Genre?
As a young writer, I'm told all the time that I have to stick to one genre and one genre only. The problem is I like all genres and have written in all genres and formats. I write whatever I want, but I'm told that no one will publish me unless I allow myself to get stuck into a niche/specialty subject. Is this true? If it is/isn't, how do I decide what to make my niche or how do I publish?
You asked: "Thank you for your reply. What genre would you file a historical mystery with fantasy elements in?"
The general category of fantasy has many, many subcategories. It depends on what you mean by "fantasy elements". Because fantasy is such a large umbrella, your idea likely falls into one of those many subcategories of fantasy. One example, the Fables graphic novel series. It's set in our contemporary world, but characters from numerous fairy tales and myths are now living in our world in secret. The first GN in that series deals with a murder mystery. In terms of genre, I'd place the squarely in fantasy, in spite of the murder mystery.
Mysteries don't tend to have a fantasy subcategory, so I wouldn't look at it in the mystery genre. You should research the mystery genre to get a better sense, but the big subcategories are murder and cozies.
Historicals also have many subcategories, mostly being set in real history. The fantasty subcategories tend to fall mostly into areas such as alternate history (what if the Nazis had won), or romance (with or without fantasy elements, such as Outlander, which has spawned an enormous subcategory of time-travel romances).
You can write in and sell as many genres as you want. There is no rule that says you must stick to one genre.
But realistically, in order to survive as a novelist/prose writer, you need to build a following. That means producing enough books within a genre to establish yourself.
Then if you're prolific enough, you can switch to other genres in between those books. Jim Butcher has done this, switching between his Dresden series, to a pure fantasy series, and to a steampunk series. But he established a strong following first with his Dresden books.
Many writers who like to write in more than one genre will opt for using different pen names. So they'll write in one genre under their own name, then use a pen name for the different genre. That way, they build up a following for each genre without confusing readers.
As for which genre, go with whatever fires up your passion the most and makes you want to keep doing it over and over again.
In truth, aspiring novelists are well advised to "master" one genre while learning the craft and—equally important—self-discipline necessary to create stories charged with emotion, intelligence and meaning. After that, the sky's (and beyond) the limit.
Once cultivated, the tools of prose-writing can build narrative structures across genres—Literary, Horror, Weird, Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller, etc. Your not-so-helpful adviser probably doesn't work in publishing, and might have confused creativity with marketing—where genre genuinely matters. Even bestselling authors, though, have little control over that process since the industry runs on a profit-driven basis, and a book will be promoted via whatever means (including changing the title) best serve that goal.
With self-publishing you have a lot more "wiggle room"—but first learning the craft is essential. As noted by Christy Marx, build a following in one genre . . . then expand, keeping in mind that all storytelling must explore the unknown, gather artifacts, and share them with readers.
However you proceed, Trinity, may you enjoy discovery as much as success!