I read Marjorie Brody’s post yesterday “Passion Knows NoGenre” with interest. Marjorie was discussing that she hates being tied to one particular genre, but that the general industry wisdom is to do exactly that – stick to one thing! I love Marjorie’s rebellious flare, but the topic also tied into something I’ve been pondering for awhile: pen names and branding.
As a graphic designer with over a decade of industry experience I have referred to myself periodically as a “branding expert”. Branding is about capturing the concrete and implied qualities of a company or person in their visual, advertising, and on-line representations. Branding seems trivial to some, but as human beings we do it ALL the time. Only most sociologists call it “stereotyping”. Humans seem to prefer to have a short little label to stick on people. We don’t really like being forced to confront the broad spectrum of human reality – it takes too long and we’ve got better things to do with our time. What I do as a graphic designer is try to lodge the preferred stereotype in a consumers mind before they apply their (usually not as complementary) own.
Which is why I don’t usually tell my graphic design clients that I’m a writer. It confuses my brand. I can see the thought bubble form: If she writes, then she can’t really be a graphic designer; everyone knows you can’t have TWO talents. Fortunately, the writer brand is equivalent with “poor” so when I tell writer friends that I also do graphic design they just nod. But industry wisdom has the same “does not compute” problem with genre. “But she writes Mystery, she can’t also write (fill in the blank).”
And up until now the only way to write something different was to use a pen name. But with the online world being what it is and with lawyers being blabbermouths, keeping a pen name identity a secret is hard to do. The other problem is that as writers have become more and more responsible for their own publicity they realize that it’s hard enough getting recognition for one name, let alone building buzz for an entirely new, second name.
Which is why I find the development of the new style of pen name so interesting. “Wrting as” has become the marketers new favorite phrase. Such as: Laura Spinella writing as L.J. Wilson pens Ruby Ink! (I’m half way through my advance copy and it’s a fantastic, saucy romp of a book – pick it up on March 31!) “Writing as” is now code for “I’m not writing in the same genre, so be prepared for something different.” And I couldn’t be happier about it. At last writers have found a way to break out of the genre trap! Perhaps in a few years Pen Names will be the new industry wisdom. We’ll just have to see which pen name Marjorie chooses.