Dual Personalities

By Allison Brennan

Toni and I are at a writer's conference in New York (PASIC–the published author chapter of RWA) and one of the great things about this conference is that because we're all published authors, so we tend to talk about issues that we're all grappling with as published authors of all levels, from #1 New York Times Bestsellers to debut authors.

One discussion point that came up several times was writing in two or more genres: when can you do it, how should you do it, does it help or hurt and should you take a pen name.

There are as many opinions as their are authors.

When romance writers are talking about writing in a second genre, it's usually taking a second genre within the broader romance genre. For example, a historical author also writing contemporary romantic suspense. Sometimes, however, it's a contemporary romance writer who decides to write a mystery series.

One of the hurdles we face is the possibility of ticking off our core readers. If we venture too far off the reservation, we risk losing our base. If we lose our base without gaining new readers, we're toast. This is why many authors take a pen name–it's a way of distinguishing between the two "types" of books. Nora Roberts/JD Robb are one in the same, but Nora Roberts is associated with big, meaty, sweeping romances and  JD Robb is associated with futuristic romantic mysteries. Jayne Anne Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle are all the same person, but Krentz writes romance/romantic suspense; Amanda Quick historical romance; and Jayne Castle paranormal romance. But we all know it's the same person.

Yet some authors write under one name. Julie Garwood, for example, writes both historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense. 

But taking two or more names is not limited to romance sub-genres. Thriller writer James Rollins wrote fantasy as James Clemens, publishing simultaneously (one Rollins book, one Clemens book) two books a year. Now, Jim is adding YA adventures (Indiana Jones) under his Rollins name.

Perennial bestseller Dean Koontz wrote under many pen names in multiple genres–romance, supernatural, horror, suspense, science fiction–before writing exclusively under his name and ultimately reissuing most of his previously published books under his own name.

Stephen King wrote books similar to Stephen King under the pen name Richard Bachman primarily because he was so prolific (another reason why Nora Roberts took a pen name–though she also did it because she was writing a series completely different from her trademark romances.) 

Janet Evanovich, however, writes both the Stephanie Plum mystery series and her romance/romantic comedy novels under her own name; and James Patterson writes both thrillers and YA supernatural thrillers under his own name. And our own Tess Gerritsen started in romantic suspense, moved into mainstream thrillers, and also wrote a historical mystery/suspense all under her own name.

When I'm done with my current WIP, I'll start my supernatural thriller series. We've already decided that I'll write the series under my name. I've considered the pros and cons of this:

CONS

1) I write romantic thrillers. My current readers may be upset because there is not as much romance in the books (those there will be a romance–but it'll be a multi-book romantic arc instead of resolved by the end of book one.)

2) It's a series with the same characters through all seven books (as opposed to creating new characters for each book.) Some readers might now want to get invested in a new series.

3) Some people don't like supernatural elements in their suspense novels–even when the books are grounding in the "real world."

4) Readers might pick up a book with my name thinking they're getting one thing, but disappointed because they get something different.

PROS

1) Writers, like readers, often get bored writing the same type of stories. They want to try something a little different (or a lot different) in order to keep themselves fresh and engaged and creative. I'm ready to write something different.

2) When you have a good-sized audience who trusts you to deliver a good-story, they'll mostly follow you anyplace you want to take them. I hope my readers will trust me enough to show them a slightly different world.

3) You already have  a name you've built–it would be almost starting at square one to write under a second name (including more time to market, another website, etc.) I don't have the time to manage two names!

One comment from agents and editors at the conference is that they cautioned us to writing a book "like" our last one. One editor said, "You need to deliver another book like the last and give your readers what they expect."

One argument is that you need to give them the same, but different, book. Another romantic suspense. Another cozy mystery. Another western-set historical. Another argument is that it's not the genre, but the feeling the reader has when they read your book that's important. Meaning, if you are known for delivering emotionally-driven stories, then you need to have emotionally-driven stories in all your subgenres. If you are known for your great puzzles in your mysteries, it doesn't matter if you set them in the future, the past, or any time in between.

I'll admit, I'm getting excited about embarking on this new adventure. It's an idea I've had for nearly six years, and I finally get to start writing it. But that doesn't mean I'm not scared of the potential pitfalls!

What about you? Are you willing to go with your favorite authors wherever they want to take you, even if it's a genre you haven't read before?

And because Toni said I had to, I just want to mention that my book SUDDEN DEATH comes out on Tuesday, March 24th. If you like romantic thrillers, I hope you run out to buy it this week. If you don't, I hope you run out and buy it this week . . . for your best friend, mom, dad, spouse, sister, brother, son and (I mean or!) daughter.

18 thoughts on “Dual Personalities

  1. sophie littlefield

    I was thrilled when I found out I could keep my name for my second series in an unrelated genre. I’m not entirely sure why, but it felt significant and positive. I was grateful.

    Since then, I’ve come to understand reader expectations a little better, and I do worry about alienating people, especially since the emotional tone of the two series couldn’t be more different.

    Speaking as a reader, I’m always delighted to find out who an author *really* is. A recent example is Joe Hill – when I read Heart-Shaped Box I suspected it was the work of an author writing under a pseudonym and actually wondered if it was his father!

    I think that we writers are more forgiving of our colleagues when it comes to puddling out across genres and styles than some readers may be. Just today I was talking to some readers who say they will never forgive Elizabeth George for WHAT CAME BEFORE HE SHOT HER because they felt like she had unforgivably breached the reader contract by writing a very different book from her norm. As for me, I was impressed by her bravery and while it was not my favorite book of hers, it in no way dampened my enthusiasm for her work.

    As someone who is really struggling with book three in my first series, I can see that I will have to work hard to keep it fresh – and as a result I’ll be easily distracted by new projects, and can only hope that my eventual readership will be forgiving. Would I write under different names? Absolutely – I mean to cherish and nurture my career and follow the advice of people who know what they are talking about. However….I love that, so far, I’m still writing as “me”.

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  2. billie

    I will follow an author into new territory without any problem, and I don’t get upset if they write something very different from previous book(s) – that seems silly to me.

    However… I do have a tendency to get VERY upset when watching TV shows and the writers go in directions I don’t feel are true to the characters. Especially if an actor/actress is leaving the show – if they use that to hike up the drama it annoys me to no end. (ER was a favorite of mine until Mark Green got cancer – I got so mad I stopped watching it and have never watched it since!)

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  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Allison, I don’t think you have to worry for a second about “not enough romance” in your paranormals, if your story WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE is any indication. It’s got your signature pace and thrills, plus it’s >hot< , and it seems to me paranormal readers are more interested in something sexy without necessarily having it all tied up with a nice bow at the end. As for this whole post… I hope all the newer/not yet published writers read it two or three times, minimum. If I’d known all of this stuff BEFORE I published, I really would have written in a different order. THE HARROWING and THE PRICE, despite both being dark and spooky and chilling, are really very different kinds of books, and readers generally have a distinct preference for one or the other. Both books have done well but it would probably have been a smarter beginning career move to deliver more of the same, the second time. On the other hand, now I have a wider variety of readers, and I think THE UNSEEN has elements that will appeal across the board to those readers.

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  4. R.J. Mangahas

    Very useful and informative post, Allison. Even though I’m still trudging through my first WIP, I have on the back burner a story idea that’s so different, I thought about using a different name for it. I guess I’ll have to consider this post more carefully now.

    BTW, I guess my idea bank must be unsecured. I was actually just going to sit down and write a post on a similar topic. ;-]

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  5. Fran

    The problem that I’ve seen with pseudonyms, generally, is that if you go off into a completely different genre’ and you don’t attach your name, how will your fans find you?

    Example: We all know Laurie R. King, right? I love her Mary Russell series, I’m obviously a HUGE fan of Kate Martinelli, love her stand-alones and the ones set up here in the PNW. Honestly, if she wrote a grocery list, I’d probably read it.

    BUT she wrote a novel that is speculative fiction, a post-apocalyptic world where women are in charge, called “Califia’s Daughters”. And her publishers insisted she use a pseudonym — Leigh Richards — in case it tanked, so that wouldn’t be attached to her name.

    Gotta love the publishing game.

    Anyway, of course it didn’t go anywhere because they didn’t put the marketing money behind it so no one knows it’s her. We sell bunches of them because we TELL everyone that Leigh Richards is Laurie R. King. It’s a huge surprise to a lot of folks.

    So you can use a pseudonym, but the only way your followers are going to know it’s you is if you tell them. And unless you have a reason for using a pseudonym, like Nora/JD and Jayne Ann, and you publicize the snot out of it, it seems like a lot of extra work for not much benefit.

    You gotta trust your fans, don’t you?

    My two cents, anyway.

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  6. pari

    I’ve been struggling with this issue and don’t have an answer yet, Allison. My new series is still relatively “cozy” but it’s got a very, very different feel to it.

    Do I go with a pseudonym if it’s picked up by a bigger publisher? Why not? Especially with my cumbersome and strange name.

    Or have I done so much PR and work with the PNT moniker that I’d have to start at ground zero with a new name?

    I don’t know but very much appreciate your perspective.

    AND congrats on the new book!

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  7. Louise Ure

    I think of an author’s name as a brand. For me, when I pick up a Lippman or a Lehane or a Cornelia Read book, I expect it to deliver the same kind of product that I enjoyed before, just like I’d expect a Mercedes or a Clorox product to do. Not necessarily the same subgenre, mind you. As a reader, I’ve never understood all those distinctions anyway.

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  8. Terri

    **Are you willing to go with your favorite authors wherever they want to take you, even if it’s a genre you haven’t read before?**

    Yes because it’s the author’s voice I fell in love with and I’ll make up my mind after reading the cross-over book. I read Jayne’s books but not the historicals because I don’t like historicals. I’m a big fan of Nora’s books (and own a large majority of them) but I don’t care for the JD Robb books because I don’t like futuristic stories. (I only read them because I knew they were written by Nora) But, that’s just me. IMO your pros for staying with your own name on the new sub-genre outweigh the cons.Good luck with the series!

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  9. Allison Brennan

    Hi gang, I’m delayed in Denver on my way home from New York and keep losing my connection.

    I love the comments, they validate my thoughts, however I also agree with Sophie that writers tend to be more forgiving than readers.

    Alex, my supernatural thriller series may or may not be as hot as the novella . . . I have to see where the characters go. But because it’s a series–same characters through all books–it’s a multi-book romance not a finite romantic story. And I did finally get my agent to agree to call it a supernatural thriller rather than a paranormal romance. It’s more about reader expectations–I don’t want them to be disappointed. I was talking to Toni about it and I think she got kinda glassy eyed because I tend to get very enthusiastic and don’t know when to shut up! LOL

    (BTW, check your email . . . I read THE UNSEEN on the plane. Oh. My. God.)

    More later, they’re giving us a status on my plane.

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  10. toni mcgee causey

    I so did not get glassy eyed. I loved hearing about it because I love the idea.

    I am writing this from my obnoxious new iphone as I pull into the airport or I’d elaborate!

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  11. Karen from Mentor

    I’m polishing my first finished novel, and have fleshed out and am writing my second and third at the same time. The weird thing is my third book is written by a character in my second book. The first two are light and funny, the third is DARK. It has to be because the character went through a lot to get to the place she is now. Each book grew organically from the first, and I know exactly what’s going to happen in all three, I just have to get them all done. It would be cool to shop all three together to a publisher.

    I’ve been wondering whether to use my own name on all three, or use the character’s name on the third book. But that seems like it would really blur the lines even though they would all three be novels.Has this ever been done before? (asked the Newbie of all the wise sages)The books are called: An Organized Life, A Centered Life, and Josie’s HoleAnd no, I’m not shopping my work here or hyping the books, LOL I just listed the titles so you can see how different in feel even the titles are.Should I use my own name on all three? Would that be a plus or a minus in an unknown writer?Great post. Very thought provoking.Karen Schindler

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  12. Allison Brennan

    Toni, I’m STILL stuck in Denver. I won’t be home until tomorrow šŸ™

    Karen, have you sold yet? I’m a firm believer in building an audience with one genre before branching out into another. I didn’t really expand on that in the blog post (I thought it was getting long) but I’ll have 12 romantic thrillers on the shelf before my first supernatural thriller comes out. And I’ll still be writing romantic thrillers. The only time you should switch genres before establishing a base is if your chosen genre (the first one you sell in) doesn’t do well and you have to reinvent yourself or not publishing. If you’re still building a base, I’d stick with the tried and true. (Meaning, what’s working for YOU.)

    One thing about the conference: write to your strengths. When you’re looking to writing something different, look at what you do best, what readers love about your work, and focus on that.

    I don’t know if anyone has published something under a character’s name, though I wouldn’t be surprised. But marketing it would be hard. Then again, I’m not the marketing expert. And I know a lot of people writing in multiple genres. But the most successful ones added on the second genre after they were already marginally successful (At least under the same name.)

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  13. J.T. Ellison

    Fabulous topic, Allison. I think the Nora Robert J.D. Robb example is perfect – and really, don’t readers want a great story? If an author can pique their interest in one genre, why wouldn’t you try them in another?

    Stephanie Meyers is another example of someone who wrote in a different genre under her own name – it certainly didn’t hurt her.

    I’m with Louise, I think it would be so limiting to restrict your reading that way, but what do I know?

    Get home safe! And major congrats on the new release!!!

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  14. Karen from Mentor

    Thanks Allison,A similar thread runs through all three books. One of being strong as a woman and being grateful for what you have and living a life of mindful joy moment by moment.Josie’s novel is part of her character’s plot in the second book, but my main character in the first two books only has a minor cameo in Josie’s Hole.And no, nothing is sold yet, but thanks for asking! So, it would make sense to anyone who liked the first two to read the third, (light bulb) I think that that answers my question. All three should be under my own name.Wow, group hug?Thanks.Karen Schindler

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  15. toni mcgee causey

    Yikes to being stuck in Denver. If I know anything about you though, you just wrote two chapters while you were waiting. šŸ™‚

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  16. Allison Brennan

    Yes, I wrote two chapters, but I deleted 18 pages . . . just treading water . . . I think I have a net gain of ten pages. Grrrr.

    Now I’m in San Jose. My flight to Sacramento is in the morning. At least the airline is reimbursing me for the hotel.

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