Wednesday, April 11, 2012

To Pen Name or Not To Pen Name?

This is a personal choice in the sense that there is no right answer. There are authors such as BV Lawson who write in many different genres and do so very successfully. The benefit of writing under one name is cross promotion. Your readers might drink from your well longer because they try out one of your other books in a different genre. John Locke experienced this benefit when he began his Western series after having written many successful Donovan Creed suspense novels.

The risk of doing this can be seen in the reviews of those westerns. Many people tried it out because they loved his writing, characters, and wacky plots but didn’t quite get what they wanted from the westerns. And then wrote about it in an Amazon review. Turning off your reader is the risk you take. You may have it labeled all over the cover and description that this is a ‘departure’ or ‘different style’ or something like that in addition to the explicit different genre mentions. And then it will seem unfair when a reader then leaves a review saying this book wasn’t what they thought it was. It happens all the time.

The Solution? A Pen Name

Being a writer is one of the few professions where we are allowed to explicitly take on many different identities (other than being a spy—they’re allowed, too). Having a different pen name whether secret or public typically prevents a reader from dipping into the wrong genre well and being disappointed. One of the most famous uses of a pen name is with Nora Roberts who writes romance. She adopted (or her publishing house made her adopt) a pen name when she started her futuristic police procedural romance series called In Death. For that she writes under the name JD Robb. It is said to have been a private pen name for a couple of years before she was ‘outed’ and thus began receiving the cross promotional benefits of her more successful Nora Roberts name.

The Risks of Using a Pen Name

More work— it is that much more work to market and promote yourself and your work. However, if you are using an ‘open’ pen name where it is public knowledge that the name is the same writer as another name, the work load lessens. You can mention both names in various marketing endeavors and get the benefits.

You might want to keep a pen name private for a few reasons. First, good, old-fashioned privacy. This is even more of a concern today when we can find out so much about each other online in five minutes. A pen name can help keep your private life private.

Another reason, though, is to prevent audience crossover. But why oh why would we ever want to do that??  Because some stories are inappropriate for some audiences. This is usually only true for erotica pen names if you happen to write inspirational or young adult fiction (or don’t want your day job colleagues finding out about your erotica writing forays). In these cases, yes, you do have to do double duty on the marketing and promotional fronts. That is the main cost of private pen names.

A third reason to use a pen name is for marketing and discoverability reasons. Is your name hard to pronounce or spell? This might be a good time to adopt the name you always wished as a kid that your parents had chosen for you— as long as it IS easy to pronounce or spell. Smooth the way for potential readers to find you so they can become fans. The caveat to that is to not fall off the cliff into the pit of generic and forgettable names. It’s a fine line that I still struggle with myself (hello?Kate Madison?!?).

There is another issue (besides more work for you) with using a pen name: reader confusion. It is hard enough to get a reader to find your book, buy it, read it, tell someone about it, and maybe even buy another. And then you want them to remember another name on top of all you are hoping and praying they will do for you already? While this effort might seem small to you, it can be enough to prevent a potential fan of your ‘other’ books from ever checking them out. For some people with busy lives and brains full of endless details, this is too much and they don’t act (i.e. Buy your other books).  

There are costs and benefits on both sides of the pen name issue. Only you can decide what is right for you. 

Obviously, I have gone with using them.  Both private and public.  I have four pen names currently with 26 titles published between them.  Will I create more?  If I try more genres, yes.  I have enjoyed the benefits of the separation.  Although, yes, it has been more work.  But a lot of the extra effort is one time, upfront variety.  But for you?  Your call. 

Anyway, long post.  Sorry about that.  

Happy writing, all!


Linky Links:

No comments:

Post a Comment