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What's In A (Pen) Name?  | INDIE Books

What's In A (Pen) Name? | INDIE Books

A Rose By Any Other Name…

I worked in a used bookstore shelving books by genre up and down long aisles of wrinkled spines and dusty lighting.

OK, the aisles were dust free, heavy AVHC blowing, glaring fluorescent white/blue lit department-store type aisles. But I always wanted to work in that wizard-like bookshop; sleeping cats on precariously stacked books with bunches of lavender and rosemary drying in the golden sunlight of a multipaned window.


A gal can dream.

But as I roamed the aisles and shelved the new-to-us books, checking spine quality before replacing the one on the shelf with a cruddy spine with exact same book, I noticed a few things. Subconsciously, that began to crawl into my conscious.

And here it is, dear reader…

Genres had a style.

I could tell you the genre I was looking at in any wall of books just by the colors. Also telling were the scripts or fonts on the spines.

And finally, I could tell you a genre from the author names.



A wall of direct, powerful names in black and blues, and occasional red spines. You are looking at crime and mystery. (The reds often leaning in the military/spy side. W.E.B. Griffin, I am looking at you.)

Pinks and purples with flowy script and strongly feminine names like fields of daisies spread down the aisle that you can dramatically slow run through. But beware your sensibilities if you pull a spine containing such words as Viking, Pirate or Scottish. *Gasp!* There will be a naked chest, and a cleavage-rich woman in heart-pounding distress!

Pray tell what genre thus may be?

Romance, my good Watson. Romance.

But then we get more nuanced.

Science fiction turns out to be more green than you would expect, with some browns and lights blues. The names a little more strange, diverse. Possibly harder to pronounce. With streaks of dark spines with bold lettering, often space opera series.

And fantasy – a rainbow spread of colors, brighter and more varied than any of the other genres. Names sometimes as made-up and fanciful as the subject matter. A mix of men’s and women’s names, though many vague as to gender. Robin? Morgan?…Who are you? But your book is good, so I no longer care.

"How odd would it be to reach for a romance with a delicious bodice ripping Scottish Viking-Pirate on the front that was written by Dean Koontz?"

Say My Name

The author name, like the genre, caught my attention and I paid it.

It also gave me something for my mind to chew on while I walked through the steps of my rote tasks.

I was super young (to myself now) and didn’t understand much of the publishing world. And this color-name-branding correlation intrigued me. I felt like there was something there.

I mean, did only men with strong, rather “manly” names like to write spy and horror books? Because, how odd would it be to reach for a romance with a delicious bodice ripping Scottish Viking-Pirate on the front that was written by Dean Koontz?

That would be a quick push back onto the shelf and puzzlement at the world for a moment.

I mean, wouldn’t it?

But why?

I still wandered the shelves and pondered until, lo and behold, it was unveiled in a fan revelation that the popular mystery writer J.D. Robb was actually, in fact, the famous and most popular romance writer Nora Roberts.


(I think I write sometimes just to get to that reaction. It’s like swooning but with less physical activity.)

(If you are wondering about my swooning, you should start here and read through my swooning escapade. Be forewarned: you may find yourself swooning, too!)

And onward…

Are YOU My Author?

Big dramatic reveal! J.D. Robb = Nora Roberts.


And then what did the readers do?

Romance story devouring Nora Roberts fans went shopping! More Nora? Bring it! Mystery with my romance. Sure! Just bring on more things to read.

J.D. Robb fans went…tentatively across the aisle and gave a book or two a test run.

And the results?

That is the vastly important question.

What happened?

Well, most readers were happy.

And the world did not implode.

At worst, a reader in either camp said, “Nope. Not my reading boat. I will stay in the one I am in, thanks.” Or they just didn’t cross at all.

At best, fans just had a tidal wave of new favorite books sink into.

*Happy sighs*

"Maybe you are a just starting out writer and love to write dark ambienced police procedurals. But you know that erotica pays the bills."

And Then There Was One

Since Nora went wild and crazy (or at least her publisher did in a grand and lucrative marketing event/test) and spilled the beans on herself, pen names of many other famous authors have slowly become known.

Nora wasn’t the first, as Stephen King’s Richard Bachman books were sold as a reprinted set with Stephen King’s name all over them years before. But it didn’t change the world. And, according to King, it just made him mad.

But why write in pen names in the first place?

Well, there is the anonymity factor.

Then this weird thing Traditional publishers have sometimes claimed that their authors were writing books too fast and they couldn’t keep up with them.

…? ...

Yeah. I don’t get that either.

And then the big-fat-rat-with-a-cat-eating-Cheerios reason is what this whole blog section is about: genre mixing.

Pen names were used to delineate genres.

An author may like to write contemporary romance books and hard science fiction books.


Maybe you are a just starting out writer and love to write dark ambienced police procedurals. But you know that erotica pays the bills.

Or maybe your name is spelled Susan Eloise, but if Susan Eloise is going to sell a book about teenage boys then she might be more successful if she uses her initials instead. Would have The Outsiders become as famous and well-read if S.E. Hinton had used her full name?

Would you read a romance novel by Dean Koontz without a second thought?

So What’s The Deal, Here?

Genre mixing starts with: is it a good idea?

A lot of indie authors are just writing away, anything they want, any genre, their one name and letting it all free to the wind.

In the last blog, I talked about one of the issues that may come up with mixing genres related to mixing genres within a story or series.

But here I am talking mixing genres under one author name.

The traditional industry idea was to keep them separate. Stay away! It would confuse readers. They need to know what they are getting. Keep the genre lines clear!!

But indie authors are getting away with it. Actually thriving by mixing genres in their stories and genres in their series.

So what’s the catch? Why isn’t it an issue when it was (kinda) with Nora Roberts and (makes me shudder a bit) with Dean Koontz?

The catch is…the same as before.

Mixing genres becomes an issue all under one name if you are breaking the rules you have already established with that pen name.

Established pen names make it an issue.

Meaning, J.D. Robb only wrote romantic suspense. Had one giant, fantastically loved series. (I just checked and there are – get this – 60 books in this one series. What!?! – I just love being able to say that.)

So that was the rule that was set up with that name. And when 12 books in she went “Hey, I’m Nora Roberts,” a lot of people on the J.D. Robb side did a double take.

The Nora Roberts side not so much.


Because Nora was already writing in various romantic and contemporary genres over there. She had already expanded out of just writing Harlequin romance. Her readers were already used to her writing in different styles (genres) of books. And mixing genres.


But J.D. Robb had not.


So some brave J.D. Robb fans jumped the Nora = Romance-so-I-won’t-like-it assumption and bravely sampled some of her other writing. And lo! Many liked it. Or just certain types of her other genre writing.


But indie authors are getting away with it more because they are straight out saying: I write different series in different genres and here they all are. You may or may not like them all. Why don’t you give them all a try?

And how fabulous is that!

The Wait Is Over

Open, open, open, open…

Next book, next book, next book, next book…

I would have been more than a little perturbed to realize that after months or years waiting (angstly yearning) for a new book from a favorite author that I’d discovered said author had been cheating on me with another set of readers under a different name.


(Last one this blog, I promise.)

Was I not a good enough reader for that series? You wouldn’t even give me a chance to like it? I have been so faithful to you and all of your books. Why not give me a chance with these!

What do those readers have that I don’t?

*aaaaaand scene*

*Dramatic interlude concluded*

Many indie authors will sell the first in the series of all of their series in one bundle for readers to try for a ridiculously low price.

Try these, see which ones you like. They are a whole mess of different genres and types of stories, but give them all a go and you decide which you like.

And then buy more in that series.

It’s actually quite brilliant.

And fantastic for you as a reader.


Less searching. More options.

And you get to choose what you like.

And sometimes what you like, others like and more people write into it and then….

Strange and wondrous things happen.

That are, again, only really good for readers.

Find out what that is next Monday on the next episode of this blog.

(My genre…it’s pregnant.)


Have a great week, all!

(See, I kept my word.)

Stephanie Writt

Writer, instructor, graphic artist and all around lovely soul, with a generous sense of humor  (yes, I am totally writing this myself), takes delight in sharing her geeky knowledge and ridiculous joy in reading, writing and business. As the current Director of Operation at WMG Publishing Inc., she has the privilege and mischievous pleasure in writing this blog every week. 

YOU MEAN That Whole Try All The Author's Writing In One Big Block If For Real!?!? Yep-a-roo!!

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