5 Things I Learned When I Switched Genres

5 Things I Learned When I Decided to Switch Genres

5 Things I Learned When I Switched GenresI was in the middle of mundane household chores when the idea for The Lost Girl of Astor Street struck: Veronica Mars meets Downton Abbey was my initial thought. Followed quickly by, But I’ve never written a mystery or a historical! There’s no way I could write that.

The idea nipped at me all day long.

As did the doubts.

I’ve written stories all my life, but I had never before experienced such fear about writing a story. My published titles were all contemporary YA novels, about girls trying to navigate the complicated social life of modern-day high school. Writing contemporaries comes with its own unique set of hurdles, but I had years of experience overcoming those. Did I really think I could handle something as complicated as a historical mystery?

I kept thinking of Holly Gerth, and her advice to:

Be courageous, and write in a way that scares you a little bit.

Did the fear mean that I was onto something with this idea?

Maybe you are considering writing a different type of book than you have in the past, whether that involves a genre switch, a different type of main character, a theme that makes you feel too vulnerable, or something else.

If so, here are five things I learned when I made my genre switch that I hope will help you along your way.

Top 5 Things to Know if You Decide to Switch Genres

1. Get Help From Someone a Few Steps Ahead of You

I’m fortunate to have a best friend who writes historical romance novels. I sent her a panicky, “Hey, I don’t know what I’m doing! I don’t even know how to begin researching this!” kind of text. She offered me simple, manageable advice.

The first thing to do is figure out exactly where and when your book takes place. That’ll help guide the rest of the process.

After she said it, it seemed obvious. Of course that should be my first step!

Maybe you aren’t fortunate enough to have a best friend already doing what you want to be doing, but we live in a lovely generation of shared knowledge. Where Maggie Stiefvater hands out free advice about crafting characters, Stephen King has written an entire book to tell you about his process, and most writers have a “How I got published” story somewhere on the web.

Who is writing the kinds of books you want to write? If you haven’t already done so, follow them on social media. Look through their blog archives. Read interviews they’ve given. They have knowledge that will make your journey easier.

2. Don’t Linger Too Long in Preparation

After I pinpointed the specific date and location of my story (Spring of 1924, Chicago, Illinois, the Astor Street district), I started to research. And research. And research. And research…

After a while, I suspected my research and preparation was becoming a cocoon of sorts, rather than a launching pad. Of course, the cocoon is necessary and valuable to the process of creating something new, but eventually you have to leave. I was experiencing something akin to Storyworld Builders Disease, which fantasy and sci-fi authors can go through, and I realized it was time to begin the actual writing.

3. Embrace the Messiness of Telling a New Kind of Story

After lots of starts and stops, I finally hit a good balance of when to write without pausing to research, and when I needed to go look up something. When I finished the first draft, I took my standard six weeks off, and then eagerly reread my creation.

Much to my disappointment, she was extremely messy. I still had a lot to learn about crafting a strong historical mystery.

4. Realize the Process Will Take Longer Than Expected

I had gotten pretty fast at writing my YA contemporary novels. I could throw down a first draft in 6-8 weeks and have edits done in 12.

My first draft of The Lost Girl of Astor Street took me three months, which I didn’t think was too bad.  But then my edits took me a year. Whenever I got one element of the story fixed, it seemed like it highlighted three more pieces that were wrong.

If you’re writing a new kind of book under a deadline, make sure to build in more time than you think you need!

5. Have Faith in Yourself

Changing genres isn’t always a smart move for a writer, but if you have a story you’re burning to tell, I hope you’ll be encouraged to go for it!

While The Lost Girl of Astor Street thankfully found a good home with Blink/HarperCollins, writing the story would have been valuable even if it hadn’t. Because even if you don’t publish your book, you will learn so much about yourself and storytelling in the process of pushing yourself to try something new.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! If you could switch genres right now, what would you start writing? Tell me in the comments!

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About Stephanie Morrill | @stephmorrill

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.


  1. This is a really helpful post. I’m one of those authors who can’t stick to one genre, though maybe when I get published that will change. My first novel was Biblical historical/literary, the one I’m drafting right now is high fantasy, and my ideas for the future include everything from space opera to dystopian. Hopefully at some point I’ll choose one or two genres I like best and stick with them, but for now, it’s nice to finally see a post approving of genre changes rather than condemning them.

    • Brenna, I think it’s great to play around with genres, especially before you’re published. Even in you go the indie route, it can be difficult to keep readers if you’re genre hopping all the time, so now is the time to experiment! From what you’ve described, it sounds like you really enjoy the worldbuilding aspect of fiction. Keep having fun with it, and I bet you’ll find yourself gravitating toward a couple favorites.

  2. Oh, dear. This is so me. I seem to have a mental inability to conceive two story ideas in the same genre. I agree with you though, it’s wonderful stretching yourself with new styles. Thanks for the article. 🙂

    • Daeus, that’s funny because I think I was the opposite! I wasn’t sure that I could writing anything except contemporary YA stories. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer since I’ve tried out a few different genres, and I bet the same is true for you!

  3. A lovely article, and congratulations on the book. 🙂 My genre is fantasy. What I have trouble with is bouncing between mid-grade and YA. I love the YA most, but find I need to take a break once in a while for something lighter.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Stephanie!

  5. Katie Stanley says

    Thanks for the great article! I write Sci-Fi, both adult and YA. I would like to get better at contemporary, but for me the genre seems too boring. The hardest part of contemporary for me is that you have to follow “rules” ie, the hero doesn’t have a Death Star in his basement, or a teleporter in his closet. When I write, I like to make my own story world, tech, government, and names

    • I didn’t realize how big of a challenge that was until I wrote my first sci-fi (a dystopian that never made it beyond the first draft). I love the creativity of fantasy/sci-fi, but I also feel like the the restrictions of writing realistic fiction, whether it’s a contemporary or a historical, spur a certain kind of creativity too. When you can’t just throw in a Death Star or teleporter, you have to push yourself and your characters in other ways.

  6. Ms. Albina says

    I am writing about a fantasy mermaid book/novellas which have mer-folk in them. I like young adult books and writing about them. I am hoping to be published this year.

  7. This came at totally the right moment! I write sci-fi police procedurals, but am thinking of writing a contemporary romance. The characters are already starting to nag at me, and I totally have my antagonistic force figured out. 🙂

    • Oh, I love when that happens! That’s what happened with The Lost Girl of Astor Street. The story was alive in my mind before I ever put pen to paper, and I just couldn’t resist chasing it. Can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!

  8. Kate Johnston says

    This is a timely post for me. I’d spent a year and a half working on what I thought was a MG Adventure, only to be told by an editor that the voice and somewhat mature storylines point to YA, and I was encouraged to rewrite it.

    I’m sure I hyperventilated, as I’d never written YA. Worse, I’m finicky about YA novels that I choose to read. I wasn’t confident I could write a YA novel that I would want to read, much less what typical YA fans would want to read! Talk about fear.

    But I’m taking the plunge and outlining the rough draft, seeing what of the MG version I can salvage, and what new events I can incorporate to give this book full YA flavor. Thank you for your suggestions–I’ll be putting them to use!

    • Good for you, Kate! I bet your pickiness will actually serve you well on your new adventure. There might be lots of people out there who think they don’t like YA, but will love your book because you bring something new and fresh to the genre. Good luck with your revisions!

  9. I feel you! I’ve written all mysteries with just a touch of romance in them here and there. I read mostly mystery stuff so I know the genre pretty well. Mixing in a little romance wasn’t hard so I figured, how hard could writing ‘just romance’ be?

    It was incredibly difficult! Now, I’ve read plenty but for every romance I’ve ever read, I’ve read three-four mysteries. It was the hardest book I wrote but I think it turned out pretty well. Now I’m writing the sequel and it’s proving nearly as hard. I just keep chugging away.

  10. Thank you Stephanie for your timely post and congrats on your new book. I’m basically a short story writer so I’ve written a collection of stories with various genres such as Cozy Murder Mystery ( sorry, no recipes or cats ), Sci-fi, Fantasy, Western, Detective, etc. I’ve tied them together with the same theme, romantic plots with a twist. Sounds crazy, but it allowed me to write about the genres I found fascinating. YA and Historical Romance are out of my comfort zone, but maybe now I will add or at least try those genres to my repertoire. Thank you again.

  11. Cool advice, Stephanie.

  12. Ahhh I got so excited when I saw you were guest posting here today! 😀 These are some really good tips. I’ve always written Fantasy, but I think it would be fun to write Historical Fiction someday, or maybe Sci-Fi. I’m still pretty early into my writing career though, so we’ll see. 😉 I did recently write for a new target audience, though, and that was a change. I’ve always written YA but I decided to try a MG novel (which is mainly what I read) and it was amazing. It came really easily for me, so who knows? Maybe MG novels might be where I belong!

  13. Thanks for the helpful post. I dabble in most genres, it seems, and have published short stories in horror, soft sci-fi, urban fantasy, comedy, and have a paranormal YA book published. Yet I can’t get this epic fantasy trilogy out of my head. I’m terrified to start writing it, because 1) I haven’t read a lot of that type of book and 2) I should probably keep working on things I’m better at.

    Anyhow, I’ll bookmark this post and read it again in case I do decide to go ahead with a new genre.

    • I think epic fantasy would be a really intimidating genre to try, so I understand! Maybe if you read a few, you’ll be ready when the timing is right. I happened to be at a great place in my career to change genres, otherwise I imagine I would have put it off.

      Thanks for sharing!

  14. Awesome article. And congratulations on the book.

    I like young adult books and writing about them.

    Very nice article. I read your post Stephanie, and was impressed.

  15. Just imagine switching directly of genres. That would be so stressing of figuring out how it should be done or how you should start. But it’s worth a try especially if you just love to write stories.

  16. You’re exactly right about leaving research and telling the story. As a literary historical writer, I tell the crucial moments before fleshing out the story. I’m learning about mysteries and plan to adjust my a draft into a historical mystery. Your novel would be a great one to read!

    Thanks for your post! Vicki


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