Outwitting the kill order

Author Shelley Bates writes under three names, a time-honored tradition in the romance community and beyond. Just as Nora Roberts writes her dark near-future In Death series under pen name J.D. Robb, Bates uses pen names to write in different subgenres, including Amish, steampunk, and YA romance. But pen names can also serve other purposes. Bates explains how pen names help her maneuver reader and retailer expectations.


What names do you write under?

My name is Shelley Bates, I have written under that name. I did four women’s fiction novels for Warner under that name. I do young adult and steampunk as Shelley Adina, my two first names. And I do Amish women’s fiction as Adina Senft, which is my middle name and my maiden name. So, what this guarantees is that when somebody calls my name in a bookstore I will always turn around and respond.

Why do you use different names?

There’s two reasons for that, the first is a completely practical one. The bookstore chains, you’re released as a debut author. Your books are sold into the stores, and if they don’t sell after a certain…you could have two or three going into the stores, and after a certain amount of time if they sort of slow down and stop selling, your books fall below a threshold and the kill order goes in. Once the kill order goes in, the computer won’t order any more of your books. So you must then be relaunched under a new name—sometimes the same genre, sometimes not. So that’s what happened in one case.

And then, in another case, I was writing two completely antagonistic genres where the readership would never cross and so I had to—eventually I had to make the choice one or the other. But there was by two separate names so there would be no crossover of people wanting to go find the other books because they were so antithetical.

Why do you write in different genres?

Well, at the moment, I’m really enjoying writing two genres that seem to be completely conflicting but they have a lot of similarities. The Amish women’s fiction, the central character is a woman who is trying to make her way and support her boys. She’s a herbalist. And on the YA steampunk side, I have a young woman who is trying to make her way and she is sort of a surrogate mother to a bunch of street children in the criminal underground of London. So they have a lot of similarities in the character, but of course their circumstances of their location and trappings of genre are completely different.

But I like stories about strong women making their way and that strength is what attracts the hero to them. So my heroes might be kind of beta heroes because on the one side he’s a scientist and he’s got a laboratory and he’s trying to, you know, invent stuff. And on the other side it’s a potter who’s an artist who’s suffered a crisis of belief in himself. So along the course of the three novels, she will help him heal and believe in himself again, and then they will find that they are right for each other. I’m interested in the partnership forming because of belief in each other and that sort of completion factor.

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