Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Genre Bending

By Bethany Maines

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.  


  1. First, hello Stiletto Gang, where i was once a member of this lovely group! I think you've nailed it, Bethany--with the changes in publishing--some good, some not so good--authors are welcome to adapt too. Maybe we have to. And that's it exactly, "writing as..." is code for "don't expect a Laura Spinella women's fiction novel here!" Although I do think the cover of Ruby Ink helps me out a tad! Thank you for reading and for the shout out! I'll let you know how it all works out! XO

  2. Yes, it's hard enough to find one solid brand, but I like the idea of "writing as" and actually have had a pen name simmering in the background. You've certainly given me lots to think about, Bethany. Thanks for the push to turn up the heat under my pen name!

    1. Now I can't wait to learn your new secret identity!

  3. You've got me thinking. I don't read a lot of romance so I've never been a Nora Roberts fan. When she started writing the In Death mystery series as JD Robb, Nora's true identity was kept pretty much under wraps. I started reading the series and loved it. By the time, her publisher revealed the "Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb", I was already hooked on the series. (I don't remember when, they dropped Nora's name and went back to just JD Robb.) But I find myself wondering now, if Nora's name had been there in the beginning, would I had even tried the series or if her name was so linked in my mind with romance, I would have past it by. I honestly don't know.