Like anything, it depends on your goals. Working as an author is a balance between art and commercial appeal, and so one has to keep both in mind while creating.
Over my one year span of releasing in the business, I’ve released works in three different subgenres of science fiction: Space Opera / Mil SF, Harder Sci-Fi, and Steampunk. While those aren’t completely different genres like a mystery, sci-fi, and romance would be, the Amazon market is such that it splits into very specific readers. Even between the subgenres I write, readers rarely cross over. And I see this is in my own reading habits. When coming up with awards nominations for the Dragon Awards, I find I rarely read fantasy or horror, even though those are considered by the wider audience to be within the same genre.
The Quick Answer Financially
So is it a good idea to even switch subgenres as I have? Financially, no. Amazon rewards you based on having books that look the same categorically, so they can sell it to a subset of customers. If you hop around, you’re both starting from scratch and Amazon isn’t helping cross promote your own books. It’s really best to just work within one series, keep them coming out, and having people keep finding those. It’s a simple, but very disciplined path, also one hard for an artist.
Amazon readers like to binge read, just like most people want to binge watch, binge drink, or binge whatever else they do. The truth is, staying in the same subgenre/series is very important to cultivating readership.
But There Are Other Reasons
There are other reasons to do so, beyond just strict sales ranking comparisons, and this is what an author has to weigh when writing, especially in early stages.
1. One never knows which subgenre will get hot over the next couple years. If you’re writing a hunger games clone now, you’re probably a little late to the game. That was hot a few years ago, but isn’t so much now. Maybe you have a book you didn’t sell when you were trying to approach big publishing, but you’re looking to put it up now, and that’s fine, but you may not want to spend your time pushing a series of that. It makes sense.
2. It’s easy to stagnate as an artist. You want to keep your books fresh. I have fun writing my steampunk books, but I have a LOT of other ideas too. So I like to get those out periodically and work on those in between working on my other books. Doing so makes it easier to come back to the steampunk world and not burn out in the process. However, it is best to stay focused when doing this so you have your main project and then your others. Your financial viability can be very tricky here.
3. Sometimes an idea is just too good not to pursue. This happened to me last year when I came up with my Deus Vult in Space concept. I just had to write it, and put everything else aside for the time. Are these rewarding? Time will tell. The idea has to connect with an audience for it to be worthy.
Timing Is Everything
Amazon rewards a writer for being fast these days. Ideally, you should be coming out with at least a trilogy in the same series/subgenre so that you establish yourself before drifting off. I didn’t have that luxury with the way my career began. I was working on someone else’s property with my first Military Sci-Fi book, the Dragon Award nominated Star Realms: Rescue Run. It meant it was up to the game company as to whether that would continue with sequels or not. While it was a great experience, it hampered my brand as an author to some extent when I was forced to hop around.
I caught up to my first work in sales on my award winning For Steam And Country, but it took some time establishing myself again as a Steampunk author. In my case, I had to come out with something quick because my brand was building rather quickly, and i needed another effort out there. Since the main series people were finding me for wasn’t an option, my next best work that was ready was what was important at the time. And it worked — over time, now I’m more known for being a Steampunk author. But my next problem was I didn’t expect this to become so popular, so I was working on more Space Opera / Mil SF over the summer. And now I’m in a multi-genre position.
It’s not ideal, but I’ve seen a lot of the industry over the process and have a firm handle on how it works now. Focus on your subgenre is definitely extremely important for financial success. It won’t kill you to vary a little as I have, my readers are very loyal and wonderful. But an author needs to be very careful nonetheless. If I ran out with a historical fiction novel for my next release, I think people would start to be making fists and demands at me (I’m not doing this!). Remember when you write a new genre, you are starting from scratch except with your readers who have bought into you personally. Most people want to read in their comfort areas, and those areas are small in variance. Know that the choices you make in releases will either have carry over for most readers, or they will not. And if you’re making informed decisions based on your own goals artistically and financially, you won’t go wrong.
This summer I’ll be going hard in my Steampunk universe. I’ll be coming out with books 2 and 3 of my award winning Adventures of Baron Von Monocle series, plus a novella featuring the main male lead from the series, which all started with For Steam And Country last year. Check it out here and get ready for the airship ride of your life.