Should a Non-Fiction Author Write Novels and Vice-Versa?

Gift Wrapped Package

Are Shiny Objects Calling You?

One of my coaching clients has to guard against his propensity to chase every shiny new object. I can identify with his temptations, as I struggle with similar ones in my writing. Can I author both fiction and non-fiction? Can you? Let’s explore the question, and see if we arrive at the same conclusions.

Recently, I had a conversation with my literary agent that went something like this: 

Me, “I’m grateful my non-fiction books are selling, and my platform is building in the genre, but I have these two great novel ideas. What do you think? Would it be okay for me to pursue them?”

Alice, in a gentle tone after taking a deep breath, (I’m sure praying for patience with this crazy, bling-chasing author she has to deal with), “We normally recommend trying to stick with one genre. Otherwise it confuses your audience.”

“Could I do it using a pen name? I have one picked out.”

“Possibly. But then you’re using twice the energy to build two platforms simultaneously.”

That sounded like a whole lot of work to me.

Alice, “Can you turn your novel ideas into non-fiction?”

“Fiction is more fun to write.”

“I’m sure. But why don’t we focus on finishing your current book, then revisit this when you’re done?”

She’s a wise woman. I’m sure she believed the luster of authoring fiction would fade with time. And to a degree, she was right.

I’ve since researched the subject further, and found there are some common concerns and benefits listed from those with vast experience and knowledge. Publishers, agents, and even high-profile authors said much of the same. Here are the highlights of what I learned about the subject.

Keep Your Promises

Reader Expectation Can Drive their Trust

Cons:

1. Most readers will try a favorite author’s book in a new genre once, but if they don’t like it, may not buy any books written by them again. Including those they loved before.

2. Loyal readers often feel betrayed by the switch, and never regain trust. Genre confusion can cause authors to lose whole segments of audiences who now view them as promise-breakers.

3. If you switch genres, and the new book tanks, it can take years to rebuild publisher confidence and marketing momentum.

Pros:

1. Writing too much of a similar thing can cause an author to sound scripted, formulaic, and stale in later books. A change in the creative landscape can infuse fresh dimension into their craft.

2. Opportunities to cultivate new audiences grow with change. For example, if you write murder mysteries, but switch to a practical how-to, you chance reaching people who won’t read the mystery.

3. Authors like C.S. Lewis successfully carried their voices into cross-over markets, reaching many more people. If you are careful to stay true to your writing self, you potentially could do the same.

Old TypewriterAfter talking it over with my agent, researching, praying, and much pondering, I think I’ve had a change of heart. Turning my novel ideas into non-fiction is feasible. And I know successful writers are teachable and flexible. If I want to thrive in the writing world, I need to mirror those traits, and listen to those with voices of wisdom.

Down the writing road, I may change my mind or the market may shift, but at this point, why mess with success? I’d hate to have a shiny new object deflect me from the blessings I already have.

Do you think it’s wise to write fiction and non-fiction? Why or why not?

 

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7 thoughts on “Should a Non-Fiction Author Write Novels and Vice-Versa?

  1. I think that it is feasible to write both fiction and non-fiction. The biggest problem that I could foresee would be writing fiction the same way you write non-fiction, which could make for a dry novel. I’m currently reading a non-fiction book by Stephen King and I am enjoying it. Personally, I’d find writing one genre boring. I like fantasy and would happily write whole series, but I also like dystopian and thrillers. I want to be able to dabble.

    • I want to think it’s feasible to write both as well, but the more I ponder, the more I realize timing and experience will determine how successful the transformation is. After decades of practice, Stephen King is a master of writing practically anything. I’m not there yet, but maybe someday. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting, your insights are great!

  2. We have been separated at birth. I’ve spent my career writing for children and the Christian market. I’ve thought often about starting a novel but my blatant-not-starting-a-novel-iness proves that I belong here. lol And here I shall stay.

    • Love your response! Keep on keeping on, we need your books to inspire future generations, as well as those in the present. Non-fiction can change lives.

  3. Vinita Hampton Wright is a great example of someone who has done both genres. It’s definitely possible. I’ve also found that although I myself write non-fiction, when I play around with fiction for fun it seems to liberate something in my writing. I’ve never yet tried to do fiction for publication and am not sure I ever will, but I think there is something to be said for letting a new genre infuse you with energy.

    And in the end, I can’t help but feel that life is too short not to try.

    • This is true, Ginny. I think it CAN be done but it has to be done right. Timing would also be important. I think a writer who had a large audience could make it work. You are also right about writing for fun. I have a few characters I play around with now and then. It will never see the light of day but getting away from what I do on a regular basis really does set something loose in my head!

  4. I’m still struggling with this question, as I love writing both fiction and non-fiction. Although I feel that I can more easily experiment with my writer’s voice when writing non-fiction, the 45 novels in my head refuse to let go of me.
    Maybe it will grow clearer as time goes by, but at present, I have writing goals for both. I enjoy switching back and forth when I need a little reprieve from one, or am lacking ideas for a stretch of time.

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