Out of the Box: Multiple-genre writers and why I’ll never use a pen name

Lots of authors establish their careers with one genre. Take J.K. Rowling – fantasy. Lorraine Heath – historical romance. Robert Ludlum – thriller/suspense.

They’ve all reached a monumental amount of success because they’re monumentally talented writers. Pretty much every book they’ll ever put out at this point will be an instant bestseller in their respective “specialty” genres.

Of course, J. K. Rowling knew this. That’s probably part of the reason she chose to write under a pen name as Robert Galbraith for crime novels. As Galbraith, she publishes novels with more mystery than magic. They’re adult contemporaries and a clearly different audience than the Harry Potter books.

Rowling is just one example of a multiple-genre author. Meg Cabot and James Patterson also join her ranks, along with many others.

Yet a lot of articles have been written against this practice. “Author branding” involves an author being known for only one genre, or “One Specific Type of Book Cover.” Readers and other writers seem to reach a general consensus: to guarantee sales, stick with one genre per name. There seems to be this idea that if you choose to write a different genre other than the one you’re known for/the one you started out with, you must adopt a pen name.

As an author, that’s incredibly frustrating.

Next month, my first historical romance and second novel, One Last Letter, will be published by roses2 Crimson Romance. It’s a far cry from the New Adult thriller The Innocent Assassins from Astraea Press. The covers are different; the tone is different; the settings are nothing alike.

I considered putting out One Last Letter under a pen name. It’s such a different book from my last. After careful consideration, I decided against it.

I love reading thrillers, historical romances, and so many other genres. I’m not going to create different Amazon buyer accounts for every different genre I read. I’m fine with being known for preferring different – okay, wildly different – book subjects and settings as a reader. The same goes for writers.

For me, that’s the joy of being an author. I can create different worlds under different genres. Some will like it; some won’t. It doesn’t affect my writing or the stories I choose to publish. You (the writer) are the only target audience member you need. So you’ve got to write something you want to read.

I have serious respect for authors who do cross multiple genres. The incredibly talented Moriah Densley made her way to bestseller lists under historical romance. She could have easily stuck with the genre and continued writing historicals with the same reception of success. But she’s branching out into contemporary and paranormal as well. Personally, as a fan of her work and writing style I’m not going to be put off by a different genre – because I love her writing style, I’m just as willing to read her paranormal novel as I am to read her historical one! (Not to mention she’s honestly an inspiration for all e-Published authors.)

Rainbow Rowell is another example of an author crossing genres. While known for her Young Adult fiction, she’s decided to publish Landline (an adult novel) under the same name. In fact, her first book (back before the Fangirl fandom explosion) was an adult novel! She didn’t let her initial genre stop her from publishing YA under the same name. She, along with several other authors, no longer feel “boxed in” by the genres they initially published.

This article doesn’t just apply to novel genres. It also applies to novelists who turn to long-form poetry, playwrights who decide to become novelists, or screenwriters who switch to newspaper columnists. Any new form of writing includes a whole new audience.What scares writers is building that audience again.

If you prefer adopting a stage name/pen name for your different types of work, that’s fine. All the power to you and whatever choice you make.

Personally, I think there’s a reader out there for every story – whether book, play, or poem – no matter who the author is or what pen name he or she chooses to adopt.

(For more reasons why I’ll never use a pen name, check out Kristin Lamb’s awesome article about the power of one author name versus multiple pen names.)

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4 thoughts on “Out of the Box: Multiple-genre writers and why I’ll never use a pen name

  1. I completely agree! And my logic has always been exactly the same as yours. I don’t know a single reader who *only* reads one genre of books, so why do we expect writers to only write in one genre? Good for you for writing the book you wanted to and sticking it out under your own name!

    1. Exactly, even among male-dominated genres. I know pen names used to be a near necessity back in the 1800’s when females feared they wouldn’t sell unless they had a male pen name, but it’s time this era ended. Female names will never be taken seriously in thriller/suspense if women writers keep hiding behind male names!

  2. Oh, I love Kristen’s blog as well! She always has such great articles.

    I agree with you on the pen name topic. Sabrina Wolfheart, which I use online, is actually a pen name, but if I ever get a book published, I’d get it published under my real name. I’m also a weird cross-genre author. I write both YA sci-fi and YA realistic fiction. I don’t think I’ll write adult fiction until I’m actually an adult, but I think I’ll publish all my books under my real name, regardless of genre. I have posted excerpts from both types of novels on my blog, and they have gotten the same reception from the same audience. People obviously read across genres. So why can’t I write across them? (Please excuse in-cohesiveness of thought. It is 12:20 AM. Ideal writing time ended 20 minutes ago.)

    1. Yes! Kristen’s blog is the best.
      Ooooh, I want to check out more of those excerpts. And yay, I’m glad you’ll publish under your real name all the same. Give your name the credit (:
      I have nothing against pen names – power to them! – but in terms of genre-crossing a name should never hold the writer back. I especially feel worried about females adopting male pen names for a book (even in sci-fi), thinking it will sell more with a male author. Well of course the books will continue to sell more if females are afraid to write under female names! Continuing the cycle won’t stop it.

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