On Writing,  publishing

The Magic Bakery: Chapter Five

Chapter Five…

I get a lot of questions about pen names and if writers should use pen names in this modern world of publishing.

So let me use The Magic Bakery to explain my answer to that question.

Now understand, the reason for this book about The Magic Bakery is to help writers understand copyright and the magic power of copyright in this world.

But the metaphor of the bakery can help in business logic as well.

And in sales.

And in promotions. For example, understanding the power of free is clearly illustrated in The Magic Bakery and I will get to that in a later chapter.

But for this chapter, I want to focus on Pen Names.

Some History

I have no idea how many pen names I have written under. Remember, I came in under traditional publishing and made my living by writing fast and in media and across genres and as a novel ghost writer.

In traditional publishing, they simply cannot handle more than two books, maybe three, from any author. The author is the name above The Magic Bakery front door, just to be clear on that.

And in those days there were no such clauses as non-compete clauses in writer’s contracts, so a fast writer like me could write two books for one house, three for another, one for another, and so on, all in a year.

Understand “fast writer” equals a writer with a work ethic. I can’t type any faster than a slow typeset, but I spent more hours actually in the chair typing, telling stories, than most writers, thus I was “fast.”

So back in the day, those of us who actually wrote instead of talking about writing were forced to have pen names.

And Kris and I wrote some books together, so we also had joint pen names.

For example, we were Sandy Schofield, the writer who did Alien and Predator and  Star Trek books among others. And we were Kathryn Wesley, the writer of The 10th Kingdom, among others.

So Sandy Schofield has a Magic Bakery.

Kathryn Wesley has a Magic Bakery.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a Magic Bakery.

Dean Wesley Smith has a Magic Bakery.

All of my pen names float out there in their mostly-dead bakeries.

I have managed to either ignore or kill most of my pen names, but Kris also has the wonderful writing of Kris Nelscott in mystery and Kristine Grayson in Romance, as well as Kris DeLake in romance. All are active pen names.

Those are very active and growing bakeries.

So Kris has four major store fronts, four Magic Bakeries. And all of them have more books in them then most writers write in a career.  (Not counting the bakeries she opened with me under the Schofield and Wesley names.)

But for the moment, the Sandy Schofield and Kathryn Wesley bakeries are just sitting there, empty, no magic pies sitting on the shelves, the door locked because we sold the entire magic pie in all rights agreements. We will bring those pies back to our control in a decade or so, but at the moment you can buy those books, but they are not in the author name’s Magic Bakeries.

The New World

In the old world, we had to go down the mall and open up brand new stores and try to fill them every time we started a new pen name.

One store for every pen name.

So most of the time the pen name stores just looked empty and the readers, even if they liked something, had little else to buy.

In this new world, you keep all books under one name.

Think about it. When a customer walks into one of our Pop Culture Collectable stores here on the coast, they see toys, antique jewelry, games, comics, books, cookie jars, clocks, cars and a bunch more.

We have all the sections in different parts of the store.

So you have a Magic Bakery. A customer walks through the door.

To the right, filling a wall, are all the science fiction pies and cakes. Straight ahead is the romance cakes and rolls, to the left, the mystery pies and snacks.

Then off to one side is the young adult section.

And on all the displays in the middle of the floor are all the short story pies, cakes, rolls, and such.

All are clearly marked so there is no confusion, the descriptions on each shelf clear as to the flavors of the pies.

The customer doesn’t have to go to five half-empty stores to find all of your work. They found it all in one store, under one name.

Being Clear

There is no reason at all in this new world of reader-controlled publishing to use a pen name. Keep everything under one name and display that name in bright letters on the outside of your store.

Brand your store to that one name so readers can find everything you do.

They may not like the taste of your mystery blood pies, but they love your romance sweet pies.

Let the readers decide. Give them something to shop for.

Sure, with our stories, we could open a comic store, a toy car store, a collectable card store, a clock store, a antique toy store. Sure.

But it was easier to keep it all in one large store and put it all under one name.

Do the same with your writing.

One name, one Magic Bakery.



  • Vera Soroka

    I have flip flopped on this for a while. I write under my own name but also started a romance name that writes erotic. And I even took that name and spit it up using the initial and last name to write contemporary. The full name writes paranormal. I only have one contemporary out as I thought it needed separating but then I seen Nora Roberts writing some paranormal under own name and I thought if she can do it so can I. So I might go in and change that cover up and put the full name. I think that is important to separate out from the rest. Especially if you are planning on doing any kind of children’s work. My favorite writer Neil Gaiman writes across the board for all ages. Everything from preschool to adult but his flavor is the same through out and we fans just accept that. That is what he does. And I think he was even asked one time about pen names and he said that if you write erotic , put that separate and the rest under your own name. For the most part I think that is good advice.

  • Big Ed Magusson

    I’m going to give you one exception…erotica. Because of the crap erotica authors can get in their regular lives, it’s worth having a separate pen name for that genre.

    • dwsmith

      I suppose. That might depend on how you feel about it mixing with your real life. Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Robert Block, Edward Albee, and others wrote a ton of stories for men’s magazines back in the day under their own names. Oh, wait, so did I. (grin)

      • Scott Gordon

        Sorry, Dean, but I have to disagree with you on this. As you’ve said, take everything that you or others say with a grain of salt. No way I’d use the same pen name for my erotica and children’s books.

        If everything you write is adult, then sure, go for it.

        Politics or unpopular stances on social issues might be another good candidate for using pen names.

    • Martin

      Neil Gaiman does do that. And he seems to be doing just fine.

      He has written a picture book series about a panda called Chu, The Graveyard Book (which won an ward for children’s writing), Fortunately the MIlk, Coraline, and several others.

      And of course he wrote American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, definitely NOT children’s books.

  • Danielle

    I was pondering this a few months back (because I like to write across genres) and decided against making up a bunch of pen names , but my reasoning was this: Steven Spielberg makes movies across all different genres, but doesn’t use a different nom de plum per genre; his name stands for quality and the packaging/marketing of the individual works lets you know whether he’s working in sci-fi or historical drama or children’s films. Easy!

  • Thomas E

    Honestly, when I started following the Heinlein’s rules I used a pen name just so if what I was doing was terrible it wouldn’t hurt me. Pure cowardice:)

    I do find that writing under pen names does give me more courage, particularly as I have a fear of success thing going on.

  • Jim Johnson

    As long as the covers are clearly genre specific and the blurbs are accurate, I think any author should be able to write what they want, even if it’s erotica and children’s books and sci-fi and whatever else.

    Not sure I’d personally write both erotica and children’s books with the same name, but I do plan to write romance under my name.

  • Mike Lawrence

    Thanks for writing this up, Dean. After our e-mail exchange, I went and pulled one of my books back into the shop and then made a nice author stamp for everything. I now have a pastry cart on the corner with all my stamped goodies lined up next to each other and it looks nice.

    I do need to mention that your blog from 2012 on the same topic paints a different picture – at least the way I read it. Specifically, this bit here actually led me the other way initially:

    ” If you write a vampire novel followed by a romance with rabbit-sex followed by a private detective novel, all under the same name, you are going to lose readers, not find more. ”

    When I read that, it helped my make a final decision to go ahead and publish my thriller under a pen name. Mind you, I had already been thinking about it, so this isn’t finger pointing. I’m just showing you an older post that seems to go in a different direction in terms of advice. ( https://deanwesleysmith.com/the-new-world-of-publishing-pen-names/)

    I like this current thesis better. Especially for us pastry cart owners, it makes way more sense to have one name on the umbrella.

    Thanks again for clearing things up with this new write-up on a complex issue that can be less than obvious at times.

    • dwsmith

      Mike, if you are still following any advice from me or any other writer that is from 2012, STOP NOW!!! The entire publishing industry has flipped on its head in the last five plus years. Everything is different and still changing by the moment.

      Guess I need to go back and kill some of those old posts, huh? (grin)

      • Mike Lawrence

        Um, I’ve found a short ton of useful information here, even if some of it is dated. And I’ve seen some posts updating older stuff, like this one updates the older pen name post. I see it as an evolving beast and actually value a lot of the “outdated” history – it provides context that I think is useful. And I really appreciate how you keep updating things with newer posts as things evolve. All for free so free-loading moochers like me can get in on the action. If that means a few bumps, well gee whiz. I just pointed it out in case it was something you might be concerned about or in case I misunderstood the older post.

  • Julie

    I don’t have anything in publication yet but was planning to write in all genres under a *single* pen-name, partly as a privacy buffer and partly because I don’t think my actual name sounds very convincing for the harder-edged genres. Also, my first name is one of those names that will date me, and I don’t want to fall foul of any reader stereotyping (“That late-middle-aged woman surely can’t write a good techno-zombie apocalypse!”).

    That way, I see myself getting the benefits of only a single Magic Bakery to keep up, plus other benefits.

    I do wonder, though, how possible it is to keep one’s actual name private, even with a pen name, and whether there’s any expectation (or even legal requirement) to say that you’re Freda Smith, writing as Hermione Jones. I see that on Lee Child’s website, for example, his author bio doesn’t mention his actual name but it’s reported pretty often in interviews.

    How do people handle things if they really do want to keep their actual name private? Or is that just nuts/impossible/illegal?

    • dwsmith

      You can go through some legal maneuvering and get a DBA (Doing Business As) from your state and open an account under that pen name.

      But an easier way is to just put your real legal name on the contract, writing as… (pen name) and then you sign the contract legally that way. You can put in the contract with a publisher they are not to disclose your real name.

      Then you have a web site under the pen name and so on. Lots and lots of writers do it. Just pick a pen name you don’t mind being called in public and that you will answer to. Trust me, that is important.

  • Chris


    Can you share what industry changes have occurred in 2017 (one pen name for multiple genres) that made you do a whole 180 from your views on pen names back in 2012 (pen name by genre)?

    Are e-book readers more sophisticated?
    Is it something related to the new pulp writing era we’re in? Is this just a natural course correction? Is it because more authors are doing it?

    • dwsmith

      Chris, back before the new world, meaning ten years ago, pen names were mostly artificial constructs, forced on writers by the nature of the slowness of publishing and the amount of work some writers could produce. We that could produce more had no choice if we wanted our work published.

      Now, in this new world, the control has shifted to the readers. Not gatekeepers. And the writers control ourselves. So each writer has to decide what is right or wrong for what they are doing.

      What I was trying to point out in the Magic Bakery stuff is that for every pen name, you must open a new store front. If you have no problem with trying to stock two or three stores with enough to be discovered and have customers not run screaming from your almost empty store, then great.

      I used our Pop Culture Collectables as an example. If I believed down in my heart that antique and collectable cookie jars did not belong with comic books, I would have opened a new store.

      Authors now are not forced into the decision by the turtle speed of traditional publishing. We can keep everything in sections in our own stores. And thus more discoverability and more sales.

      But do what feels right for you. You now have the freedom to do just that. Just realize your decision has business and sales consequences.

  • Martin L. Shoemaker

    “But for the moment, the Sandy Schofield and Kathryn Wesley bakeries are just sitting there, empty, no magic pies sitting on the shelves, the door locked because we sold the entire magic pie in all rights agreements. We will bring those pies back to our control in a decade or so…”

    Even the media tie-ins? Specifically 10th Kingdom? That’s not possible, is it?

    I ask because my mom loves the miniseries, and I’ll bet she would love the book; but with her old eyes, she only reads on Kindle now.

    I assumed that 10th Kingdom was too old and too forgotten by the rights holder to ever appear as a Kindle book. Now it sounds like you’re saying you have an idea how to regain control of an all-rights dale.

    I’m confused

    • dwsmith

      Martin, learn copyright. (grin) In short, in this country, a author can get (by jumping through a few minor hoops) full rights reverted AUTOMATICALLY to any work sold under all-rights contracts. 35 year rule is what I call it, but it actually starts happening a distance before that. Also, if you understand copyright, the WORK FOR HIRE contracts we writers work under are not legal in copyright and thus do not apply.

      So when we get media books back, we have the right to publish them if we avoid other copyright holders work and trademarks. 10th Kingdom will be a tough one to do since it was based and written off another copyright holder’s script. So doubt we would be able to republish that one, sadly. Same with the other movie properties unless we can come to an agreement with the original copyright holder of the script itself that the book was written from.

      However, Star Trek, Men in Black, and all the others are much simpler. 35 years is a very short time in publishing. I sold my first short stories in 1974. The 35 year mark on those went whooshing past in 2009. I already had all rights back to those stories.