I admit freely that I'm a creature of habit. I like starting my mornings off in a certain way, I like to plan vacations with the detail a five-star general gives to an invasion of a country, I like to have two definite routes to get to work (one usual, one an alternate in case of snafus), I go to certain restaurants and order the same thing every time because, hey, I know what it tastes like and if I don't go that often then why not get a sure thing? In fact, I'm such a regular at a particular bagel place near work that all I have to do is walk in, they see my face and say "The usual?" Yup. The usual. Everything bagel, double toasted with chives light cream cheese and coffee. My daughter is envious I have a usual. To her it means I'm in a familiar, friendly place. Sort of like the Cheers theme song where 'everybody knows your name'. Good thing it's a bagel and not a scotch and water.
So what's this got to do with writing? (Cuz you know, most everything has something to do with writing for me.) Well, I got to thinking: is it a good thing to have a 'usual' in your writing? Some people call it branding, other people call it writing in your own genre, still others call it being stuck in a rut.
Now me, personally, I LIKE knowing what a particular author is going to give me in a story. For example, if I need a good Regency romance fix I know I will satisfy that fix with a Julia Quinn romance. I have loved at least 95 per cent of what she's written. I know what I'm getting with that author and she usually doesn't disappoint. Same with Sarah Dessen. If I want a good, character driven YA that has themes of family, love, relationships and believable characters she delivers. Now neither one has written (to my knowledge)a sci-fi thriller or a horror novel but if they were, would I buy that book just because it's written by Ms. Quinn or Ms. Dessen? Hmm, maybe out of curiosity, I guess, but I think I'd be kind of disappointed because what I expect and what I would get would be so totally different.
Now many authors have switched genres after finding success in one. Nora Roberts being the most famous. And I'm sure legions of her loyal romance fans followed her to the J.D. Robb franchise. But she started writing J.D. Robb mystery/thrillers under that name because she was so well known as Nora Roberts and she -or the publisher- were worried that the romance label might hurt her sales. It was only later (I think) when she started getting a Robb fan base that it became more widely known that it was Roberts penning those. But I also know several authors in my Toronto Romance Writers group who write YA, romantic-comedy, and pure romance (as well as hot romance) and seem to be thriving.
So, what's the gist of all this? Is having a 'usual' a good thing or not? Well, for me - and my writing for now - the usual is YA. There are a few sub-categories of YA that I can go down but I know I'd like to have a reader come to me as a 'usual' for contemporary, realistic YA with some humour and a bit of heartbreak thrown in there too (Dessen light?). Maybe, eventually, some paranormal YA too. We shall see.
How about you? Do you have a usual or do you like to sample?