Nothing, as far as I can tell.
Unless you are a beginning writer, or so I’m told. The logic is that you can’t build a reputation or a sales platform if you jump formats and genres. If your first book is a middle grade piece of realistic fiction and your second book is a period YA comedy that also deals with environmentalism you might be able to sell the second book to the reader’s who read the first and have grown into YA books, but it doesn’t work the other way, you can’t sell the teen on the YA. Worse, if you’re also noodling around with a pair of picture book biographies and an early reader, none of those audiences cross over or help you build a platform for developing your brand as a writer.
Like the old real estate slogan goes: location, location, location. Only with writing it’s apparently: specialize, specialize, specialize.
But I’m not buying it.
First, I think a writer needs to write the stories they need to write. If their passion is to write is materialistic YA social fantasies or fluffy bunny picture books, so be it. But the minute a writer starts thinking about how they’ll market or brand themselves over concerns of jumping formats and genres is the minute the little voice of self-censorship creeps in.
It’s not practical for a working writer to deliberately hinder their marketability. They need a solid business plan, they must take their job of writing seriously.
I wonder if anyone told Mozart he had to choose between operas, symphonies, choral works, or chamber pieces?
Granted, there are professions were we prefer people to specialize – surgeons, for example, because we feel more comfortable that they are the most knowledgable person for the task at hand; It’s a matter of life or death. But when we speak of creative types we’re talking about a different mindset. We’re talking about people engaged in the craft of wordsmithery, people who are synthesizing their knowledge and experience into narrative form, inculcators of ideas and emotions. No two people will experience or translate the same story the same way – just as no two people experience a book the same way – and we admire that facility that allows what they do to be individual.
So while it is true, from a purely business perspective it might not seem prudent to write across formats, from a purely artistic viewpoint I am weary of the specialists. I don’t want to generalize any more than I already have, but to my thinking the specialist can become a formula writer, a niche writer, shifting too comfortably from craft to production.
There should be something at stake when the writer sits down to write a story. In Zen and the Art of Writing Ray Bradbury said about the act of writing “First you jump off the cliff and you build your wings on the way down.” I sometimes wish more very good writers jumped off the cliffs of their comfortable genres and formats. Neil Gaiman seems to have done okay writing sci-fi, comics, and middle grade books.
I offer this suggestion to those who haven’t considered writing across formats: Why not use the upcoming National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) as an opportunity to work in an area you never have before? Or, for those interested in picture books, Picture Book Idea Month (BiBoIdMo) might be the way to go. I’m tempted to do the latter this year to see if I can generate some more ideas and to give me something to do when I stall out while writing that period YA novel I started earlier this year. I’ve never seen myself as a picture book writer but I’ve also never excluded writing picture books so I’m going to take a dive off that cliff.
“The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind,” according to E.B. White.
Here’s to the open doorways of writing across formats and genres.