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Say My (Pen) Name

Readers, are you a fan of genres or a fan of authors?

It’s an important distinction and one that I contemplate more often since I published my books. What is my brand? Is it the genre in which I write or is it my writing style? What if I write in multiple genres? Can I keep my identity?

This morning I read the following in an article called “Marketing: Your Author Central Page” by Randy Ingermanson in his newsletter, The Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine:

Many authors write all their books under a single name. That makes a lot of sense if all your books are related to each other in some way.

But if you write very different types of books, it might be better to write each type under a different name (or a different variation of your name). The reason is to avoid “brand confusion” in your marketing. When you have widely different target audiences, you don’t want to market all your books to all your target audiences. You want to market each book only to its particular target audience.

I’m sure that makes all kinds of business sense, but as a reader, I’ve always wondered why authors feel the need to go undercover like that. Eventually, they’re discovered and then their loyal fans flock to the newly discovered books. Why not skip the cloak-and-dagger stuff and admit you wrote the books?

Now I know it’s usually at the behest of the publisher, so I won’t blame the authors for this, but if, as Ingermanson says, you should market the book to the particular target audience, can’t you do that even if you keep your name?

Stephen King wrote novels under the name Richard Bachman. As soon as he was outed, the Bachman books sported the line “Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.” His fans then bought the Bachman books in droves. Same deal with Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. As soon as her fans discovered she authored the “In Death” books, they flocked to read them and now all the In Death books sport the line “Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb.” Ditto Anne Rice/A. N. Roquelaure.

As a reader, I find that annoying. If I love reading an author, I don’t give a rat’s ass what they write. If Nora Roberts wants to explore futuristic murder mysteries, as she did with the In Death books, I’ll read them. For God’s sake, I’ve read her Silhouette Romance books because she wrote them, and I don’t typically read Silhouette romances.

In my own experience with selling my novels, I’ve found there are two types of readers. One type will read anything I write, and they’re readers just like me. They follow the author, not the genre. The other type of reader will stick to the genre they prefer. They’ll read every single one of my romantic suspense novels, but they won’t read the SF thrillers or the urban fantasy (even if they have romance in them). The other readers in this category will read all my SF thrillers and horror stories but stay the hell away from the romantic suspense.

When I talk to potential readers at book signings and events, I’ll ask them what genre they enjoy reading. This helps me determine which of my books to introduce them to. All my books are under my name. I am my brand, and yes, I understand what Ingermanson says about brand confusion, but I trust my readers to eyeball my books and decide if the one they’re looking at is for them.

What I don’t want is to hide books from readers who will read a wide variety of genres and follow me, the author.

I recall thinking once that Stephen King could write about anything, even someone taking a shit (and he has), and make it interesting. I’ve since revised that opinion–Lisey’s Story and some of his later books had parts I considered boring–but the point is that I want to explore everything he writes regardless of genre. I’d prefer it if I didn’t have to wait for someone to out his pen name to learn he wrote another book. As a reader, this type of subterfuge annoys me.

Fellow scribes, how do you feel about this? Is it an issue for you? Readers, do you prefer authors who use multiple pen names for books they write in different genres?