Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why Use Pen Names?



"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

— William Shakespeare

When I first started writing back in the last century (the 1900's not the 1800's :-), many publishers required their writers to use pseudonyms and everyone I know was itching to use their own name. I’d been advised by my agent to keep all my writing under one name and it took a nice bit of negotiation to convince one publisher that I should write future books under my own name. That was considered quite a coup d'├ętat.

Lately, many writers assume a pen name even before they are published and I often wonder why. I know some authors hope to publish academic or political papers someday and fear that being linked with writing genre fiction might be a stigma. Others are writing edgy erotica that they might not want their grandmother’s uncorrupted eyes to see — although I’m not sure those eyes exist much anymore.

I had a personal experience with the benefits of pseudonyms when one of my romantic comedies came out shortly after my first werewolf romance, SHADOW ON THE MOON. A reviewer loved SHADOW and gave it her highest rating. Two months later the same reviewer read ONLY COUPLES NEED APPLY, the comedy, and gave it a scathing review, the kind that melts toenails. I liked both books but must admit the content were world’s apart and I suspect the reviewer was expecting a touch of S&M and was quite disappointed when I gave her M&Ms. I’d failed to live up to her reader expectations, which makes this incident a very good argument for using pseudonyms.

After all, very established writers like Nora Roberts and Jennifer Ashley use a pen name when they writer for a new genre, especially if the genres don’t cross over well. Partly it’s a financial decision involving sales figures and such, but that motive aside, I can’t see much benefit in taking on the enormous task of supporting and publicizing two or more career names. I’m sure there are many reasons that haven’t occurred to me but I’ve been giving it a lot more thought since I started writing two series, one fantasy, and the other thriller/suspense.

So what do you think? Do you have a pen name? If so, why? Is it to keep your genres separate or to keep your grandma in the dark? Or just because you like the sound of the name you chose? There’s no right answers so if you’ve got an opinion, sound off. I’m listening. You may help me make up my mind.

15 comments:

Erin Quinn said...

Great post, Connie. I use a pen name but wish I didn't have to. I think for those of us in the publishing industry, it's easy to distinguish one type of book from another and it seems like it should be obvious to the reader as well. But it's just not so and a pen name came help them know what they are going to get with a book.

Carol Webb said...

I use a pen name for my erotic romance because it is so different than my contemporary romance and plus my kids would be mortified if it became common knowledge that I wrote that sub-genre. I'm thinking of using a pen name or my maiden name in the future if I get my paranormal series sold. But I'm still not too sure what to do on that. I have my children's last name, but what if I remarry later down the road? Or marry a couple more times? lol. (not going to happen). :)

Author Kathryne Kennedy said...

Thought-provoking post, Connie. I use my real name for all my books, so haven't considered a pen name, but who knows? I know many authors have valid reasons for using them, but I think it would be double the work for promotion.

Judy said...

I use a pen name to safeguard me and some of the people who know me. No, I don't write racy; I write inspirational, but I'm an abuse survivor. My stories do reflect what I've learned over the years. I realize that my pen name won't keep people from finding out who I am, but I'm hoping it's enough to protect me from the few, because they aren't interested in romance novels and never discuss them.

Kim Watters said...

I don't use a pen name but now I wish I had. Since I'm divorced now, I'm stuck with my former name, but then again, when I make the NY Times best seller.....:) If I write in another genre totally unrelated to the inspy's I write now, I'll consider taking a pen name. Great post and welcome aboard.

Tia Dani said...

We decided to use a pen name since there's two of us and the first book we published was erotic. Great post, Connie. It is a tough question because i think you'll always wish you used a different name no matter which one you pick. Oh, remember to pick a name you'll answer to when it's called.

Caris said...

Connie, really enjoyed your post! So far, I've used four pen names because it never occurred to me to use my own name. From the first, I wanted a separation between genres and in one case, between pub houses though that was mostly early on. Overall, however, I tend to think 'genre' and whether or not my pen name best reflects or supports the genre work. 'Caris Roane' is all Celtic which I felt supported the paranormal genre I'm currently writing for. At the same time, when you have a great surname it's a lot easier to build on that. My married name is an Americanized Armenian name and my maiden name a lumpy Welsh name so that I thought it nothing but fun to create pseudonyms! One last thought, in the early days--you know the last 'century'--you didn't promote like we promote today!

Best,
Caris

Connie Flynn said...

How many times can I use the excuse that this is my first time on Therapy . . . or is that IN Therapy? Anyway, I didn't realize I couldn't reply right under everyone's post individually so here I am doing a group reply.

Erin, I agree completely and it's the reason I'm thinking about taking one on . . .

and Carol, your reason is compelling -- even better than a prissy grandma.

As is Judy's and I'm sorry the reason has to be so sad.

Katheryn, you're where I am. Oh, all that work. Two websites, two blogs, two Facebook pages. I weep.

Kim, I have a story along that line as well, but fortunately my publisher wouldn't let me use by husband's name -- too many characters.

And Tia, you guys have a stellar reason.

Great comments and I really appreciate everyone coming by on my very first day -- oh, have I already mentioned that?

Connie Flynn said...

Caris/Valerie,
That's such a playful reason, just like you. You made me laugh. But, you know, I can't really complain about Flynn, not when my maiden name was Kridle.

Madeleine said...

Well, my "real" identity was "hacked" this past month and it is a real mess of hard work to clean it up, get access back to my emails, cancel credit cards, etc. I am not published in fiction-- only in non fiction professional journals, so, if I were writing fiction I would DEFINITELY use a pen name.I am getting very protective of my "real" identity! I also had a stalker two years ago who found out where I live,etc. because I used my "real" name in a blog I loved writing but have since deleted from existence.Weird.Hey! Fodder for a good book don't you think?? Pen name,definitely.

Connie Flynn said...

Hi Madeline,

Well identity theft wasn't a reason I thought of right off the bat. When I sold my first book my sister said I needed a pseudonym so fans wouldn't drive past my house or come up and ring the doorbell. I should be so lucky; it hasn't happened yet.

But I must admit I also get a little queasy sometimes about putting myself up all over the web. And if my identity had been stolen I might be even more protective of my identify. Sorry that happened to you.

Tina LaVon said...

I want to keep my writing life and my working life separate. Having a penn name helps. Although former students did find me on Myspace using my penn so someone told. :)

Connie Flynn said...

Tina, That's a good reason for using a pen name, too, but like you said, somebody eventually will tell.

ElaineCharton said...

Thank you Connie and All the ladies who commented. I write under my own name but am working on a mystery which I am considering using a different name. As I haven't sold it yet, it's not an issue but you have all given me something to think about.

Linda Andrews said...

I loved your post Connie. I considered using a pen name, but my husband was upset. He wanted bragging right and I've found that even though I write in multiple genres, the themes of my books are the same (yes, even the horror one). Then I googled my name. Lots of 'me' out there and one of me is wanted for murder in the city I live in.:-o