What to Do When You Absolutely, Positively NEED a Pen Name
Yesterday, we talked about reasons NOT to use a pen name. I will again be very clear about this. Ultimately, it is up to the writer. My job is to make sure you guys have time to write more books and that you aren’t inadvertently making more work than is necessary. Yes, there ARE good cases for having a nom de plume.
There are probably as many reasons TO have a pen name as not, but it will be extra work…which is why I don’t like them. I am LAZY. But that’s me 😀 .
If you are okay with that? Sally forth!
I come at this from a different perspective than most writers, since often I am the one called in to help talk a writer off the ledge when pen names go bad. For instance, I recently spoke to a group of authors. One author was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown trying to do social media. Yet, when we talked, this author had THREE pen names (with three different web sites) because she didn’t want readers “getting confused.”
The problem (in my POV) was she wrote thrillers, suspense and cozy mystery. These are genres with a lot of crossover. Usually from the cover, genre, story description, readers can figure out that one book is a hard-boiled thriller versus a cozy. She was running herself ragged trying to manage all these identities, when if she used ONE, she’d have more time to write and also readers from one genre likely would help sales for the others.
I actually get this a lot.
In the pre-digital world, we didn’t have the ability to build an on-line presence, so readers would get confused. These days? That is not near the problem it used to be.
If we look at Jonathan Maberry, he writes adult books and YA and uses the same name. Often, those who like his adult books are drawn to his YA and the genre and story description is enough for those purchasing to know they are geared toward different ages. I’ve read most of his books and the adult books have profanity and more violence, the YA is zombie-lite. Most people can figure this out without Maberry adopting an entirely new name.
Patterson is also now writing books for young people. He’s using the power of his name (his brand) to sell for an entirely different age group and the titles and covers are enough for most people to understand that Public School Super Hero is probably a young reader’s book. Or this one 😉 .
In the pre-digital world, we would have viewed these genres differently. They would have been wildly divergent. The on-line world though has actually bundled a lot more than we might realize. Thus, if you already have a solidly branded name, you might not need an entirely new identity for another genre. Just think about it, then decide.
A Pen Name for Multiple Genres that DO Conflict
Many of those who chimed in on yesterday’s discussion in support of pen names write erotica or romance in combination with other genres that conflict. In this case? Yes, use a pen name for each genre. Have one name for steamy romance and another for YA. This case is an excellent candidate for a pen name.
Yet, I will say that if I write sexy erotica and kid’s books, I’m already aware that I will be in for building multiple platforms.
A Pen Name Because My Legal Name Would Cause Problems
There are instances where a writer is in genuine need of privacy. I stated this yesterday, but maybe was unclear. If I’m a nurse or doctor who writes medical thrillers? There is a concern with the day job. There are those who are still active in the intelligence community who NEED a pen name for safety reasons.
If I am a lawyer and write legal thrillers, maybe I don’t want to defend that I haven’t broken any confidentiality with my stories. Maybe I’ve been through a divorce and want to ditch my married name so I don’t have to deal with the ex.
So yes, these cases are good reasons for a pen name.
If you are a schoolteacher and write steamy romance, there is a real need to section off that writer persona. Maybe you are the black sheep in a fundamentalist family and the stress of dealing with drama overwhelms your ability to create. YES, use a pen name.
But, what I wanted to make clear is that in the early days of the Internet, simply signing up for a profile under a nom de plume WAS enough. Now, with search engines becoming far more advanced, there are additional steps we need to take to maintain the integrity of the pen name. Changing the name is no longer enough.
It would be irresponsible of me to not point this out. I KNOW there are teachers who have lost jobs over their fiction. I don’t want that happening to anyone, so it’s my job to let y’all know that if you do need a clear separation for these reasons, appreciate that it is more complicated than simply using another name.
I have had writers who didn’t realize this and ended up giving up writing altogether because a troll found them and the stress became overwhelming. I’ve had borderline suicidal writers e-mailing me who gave up their dream because of bullies, and that ticks me off and makes Kristen want to go on a troll-hunting spree. To me these situations are tragic namely because most of the time, they are preventable.
If you guys want to write erotica and YA and enjoy both without contending with haters? I am here to HELP. Yes, have a pen name, but do it properly.
A Pen Name Because I Want One
Go for it! As Jami Gold mentioned in the comments yesterday, some writers need that alter ego to clear head space and to feel more in tuned with the writing. We are creative people and sometimes that “otherness” helps us step out or mentally separate from ordinary life.
While Maberry and Patterson are fine writing for kids and adults under the same name, maybe you require a different identity to get in tune with that particular audience. If I wrote steamy romance, I gotta be honest, I would probably want something a tad “sexier” than Kristen Lamb.
Ok, a LOT sexier than Kristen Lamb.
If you want that or need it? Rock on.
One of my followers, Heidi Cullinan, wrote a post exploring some excellent reasons to have a pen name, so I will send y’all there instead of belaboring it. The only points in the post I disagree with is that I made it clear that 1) I can’t make the decision for you and 2) romance/erotica genres are generally in need of a pen name. Actually any hot-button topic is. Sex, religion, politics? Probably gonna want a pen name.
It IS up to you. Also, yes, Heidi is right that it is your choice if you want four pen names or fourteen. I can’t stop you, though I will try 😉 . And the reason is that if we are spread so thinly we can’t write or we aren’t selling books because we are trying to manage multiple pen names and diluting our readership, that is a formula for us to wear out and give up.
I Have a Branded Pen Name
If you have already created a pen name with a following and a brand, do not feel the need to go redo everything and use your legal name. You already HAVE a brand. There were some commenters who’d already spent years under a certain name. Stay there!
The advice of whether or not to have a pen name is different from whether or not to keep one. If you are a new writer starting out? I only ask you make the decision using current information. I see writers change names search engines would LOVE for something people can pronounce. That is old world.
If you are going to write in another genre, ask the tough questions then decide. Do you really need another identity or is this a case like Maberry where readers can figure out your books are different from the covers and titles? Would your current name possibly drive sales for you in another genre?
Would your current profession drive sales for your books? I see writers who have a successful career rebranding themselves for selling books when perhaps their success as a photographer, actor or surgeon could help book sales. People “get” we do more than one thing and we might be more inclined to pick up a thriller from our neighbor who’s a real estate agent. We understand she sells houses and writes books and we can adjust the Internet search terms accordingly.
If you already have four identities and are going nutso? Is it possible to pick one and then change the covers and retrain the audience? There are some authors who have been publishing since the days where multiple pen names were required. In the modern era, that is a formula to end up in a straight jacket. Thus, if you want to re-release works you have the rights to, you DO have the option of combining all those alter egos under one brand.
My Name is Boring
If you have a name like John Smith? Sure, a pen name is an option though not necessary. Tagging and generating content can mitigate this. The name Kristen Lamb is NOT terribly unique so a common name can work.
I Hate My Name
Get a pen name. If you don’t like your name and it makes you uncomfortable? Change it. Just understand it is more work, but that was probably already obvious 😉 .
My Name is Stephen King and I am NOT Stephen King
If we happen to have a name that is exactly like a mega-branded author? Yes, get a pen name. If it is another popular personality like an actor? Consider keeping it. I said consider. It can make a name memorable. If I write mysteries and my name is Jessica Tandy? Most people with more than a half a brain know I am not the late film actress born in 1904. But, the name alone is memorable and all they have to do is put “writer” or “author” in the search to find me.
The Guts of This
In the end, all I can do is offer advice and get you guys to ask the right questions before you decide. Are we making the decision for the right reasons? Are we making our job tougher? Are we unintentionally watering down our brand? Will the pen name offer more advantages or disadvantages? Are we securing a pen name in a way that will maintain that “separateness” we require? If we think these things out ahead of time, we don’t set ourselves up for major headaches later.
So what are your thoughts? Aside from I am telling you you can’t have a pen name. I am NOT telling anyone they can’t have a pen name! 😛 For those who do use a pen name and enjoy it, what are says that you keep that separateness? Tips? Tricks? What does your pen name allow you to do creatively? For those who are having trouble with the pen name, what is vexing you?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.
I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form 😀 .
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.