Genres and Pen Names - Indie Pub It
Are they Dead And Crumbling?
Both genres and pen names (or pseudonyms, for you traditionalists) are holdovers from legacy publishing and if you’ve just moved over from legacy, or still have one foot planted there, you’re probably still channelling that mindset.
Careful, it could be holding back the development of your indie business. How?
Genres (also called categories) were developed as a way to shelve books in stores, so that both readers and sellers could find similar style books more easily. With the advent of market research, buying profiling, sales data mining and even more, genre developed into a tool that editors used to choose the books they bought from the thousands in their slush piles, and shape those their stable of contracted authors delivered. Eventually, genre became a corset into which legacy authors were forced to mould and squeeze their stories in order to a) sell to editors, b) please marketing departments, c) let booksellers quickly grasp the type of book it was and d) let booksellers know where to shelve it in the store.
Readers also learned that genre came with expectations: A romance provided a happy ending, science fiction provided ideas, fantasy provided a world of wonder and so on. But while broad genre expectations are good, the corseted limitations provide book after book of the same story, just a bit different.
Somewhere in the dark history of book sellers and editors controlling the world, it was decided that if an author was permitted to write in more than one genre, they would most certainly need to write under a different pen name. The exact reason why this came into being has never been recorded in an historical document, although prevailing legacy wisdom says that it is to prevent confusion in the readers’ minds. You don’t want a romance reader picking up Jane Doe’s latest novel, thinking she’s going to get a romance, only to find it is science fantasy! The reader will be horrified! The other, slightly more intelligent argument I’ve heard in favour of pen names for different genres is that it helps brand the new genre.
The fallacy and stupidity of the first argument (horrified readers) is so obvious it is almost beyond the need for dismantling, but I’ll offer three counters anyway:
Why on earth would a dedicated romance reader wander into the science fiction section of the book store in the first place?
And, if they were for some reason lost and found themselves in the bulkheads and rivets section, and managed to pick up Jane Doe’s marvel, wouldn’t the cover with the space ship, large planetary body and lack of half-naked male hero on it give them a hint that this just might not be the usual romance fare? (To say nothing of all the other aliens, asteroids and galaxies staring at them face-out from the shelves.)
Even if they were so besotted with Jane Doe’s romances that the cover caused them to only mentally stumble for a fraction of a second, before they loyally continued to investigate, there are one of two actions the typical reader takes with the average paperback purchase: They either flip the book over to read the blurb, or they open it and read the first page or so. Our lost romance reader is surely going to twig to the fact that this is science fiction with either the first page or blurb!
Now that indie publishing is becoming a dominant force in the publishing world, readers are changing their buying habits, which mean you as an indie author should change the way you think about what you write.
Principally, you should stop thinking that you write “epic fantasy” or “Romantic suspense” or “space opera” or any of the broad genre categories that editors once made us squeeze into. You should stop writing your books to fit those categories, too. There are only two expectations that an indie author has to meet when it comes to writing: You must entertain and emotionally move your reader.
This means if you want to write epic historical space opera comedy romances, have at it. Just don’t let your readers down.
It also means that when someone asks you “What genre do you write it?” you need to point at your books and say “That one.” You are your own brand and genre, just as every author is their own brand and genre.
This is the way you will match the shift in reader buying habits. Readers find an author they like and buy everything that author writes. Sometimes they might just buy one or two series that author writes…it depends on how big an impression you’ve made on the reader. Readers acquire series, first, then whole authors. Nowhere in their buying decisions is there any consideration about genre or category.
For the same reason, you should not write under a pen name just because you’ve shifted “genres”.
The only reason for using a pen name as an indie is for reasons of privacy.
Readers are not stupid (I think I’ve made that point by now). With the proper branding of each of your series (covers, descriptions, metadata), no matter what the genre or category, and with the right information in the product description and on your site, the reader themselves will chose whether to buy or leave that series or book alone. You may just pick up some (romance, say) readers who decide to give your (historical horror, say) series a go, just because they’ve loved everything else you write. You wouldn’t get that cross-over sale if you used a pen name.
The emphasis for indie authors is on building well-written and entertaining series (always) in whatever cross-genre, compound-genre or genre-distorting way you need to tell the tale effectively. You are the brand and the genre, not your books -- not anymore.
Columnist: Tracy Cooper-Posey writes erotic vampire romance series and hot romantic suspense. She has been nominated for five CAPAs including Favourite Author, and won the Emma Darcy Award. She published 35 titles via legacy publishers before switching to indie publishing in March 2011. She has published 21 indie titles to date. Her indie books have made her an Amazon #1 Best Selling Author and have been nominated three times for Book Of The Year. Tracy has been a national magazine editor and for a decade she taught romance writing at MacEwan University. An Australian, she lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, a retired professional wrestler, where she moved in 1996 after meeting him on-line. Her website can be found at http://TracyCooperPosey.com