Writing Ramble #3 Do I need a pen name?
Before I released my first book in August 2016, I thought long and hard whether I should use a pen name. Eventually I went with my own name, but lets look at some pros and cons in regards to using a fake name.
- Privacy – Maybe you just don’t want your real name out there.
- Different readers – Maybe you want to write in more than one genre which are far apart, say Space Opera and Erotic romance.
- Freedom – Maybe you want to try out different stories, and you don’t want your established readers to know about this new direction you’re going in.
- Screwups – If you have a book which everyone hates, it’s not going to affect the other books you have under your real name.
- Brand – Readers think of authors as connected to specific genres.
- Success – If you pen name book is a success, no one knows it’s you who wrote it.
- Work – Every extra pen name you have, equals more work to promote it. You might also want to set up separate social media accounts for your pen name as well.
- Fakery – Maybe it’s just me, but using a ‘fake’ name just feels a bit odd, and I’m not too enamoured with the idea of your readers/fans getting to like whoever this fake author is, when they don’t exist.
So the above is probably the two sides of the argument for and against using a pen name. Obviously each of our author situations is different, and therefore there is no one size fits all to use a pen name or not.
I went with using my own name, because I wanted to be known as an author. And I think it was the right way to start even though I had never written a book before, so was risky if the book didn’t do well.
However, in early of the following year I launched a new series, in the space scifi genre. And I used my same name, because I was thinking that space scifi and post-apocalyptic, scifi are fairly close.
Then middle of that year I released another series, this time urban fantasy and again I used my same name. Because I thought, well fantasy and scifi are still in the same group, sort of, so its fine to use my own name. As well as that I was reluctant to use a pen name, unless I was jumping to a radically different genre.
Finally I released a gamelit (broader version of LitRPG) in early 2018, and again I used my own name. This book got mixed reviews.
Looking back I probably should have used a pen name for my Order of the Ring series. And I definitely should have for my gamelit book. Space scifi and post-apocalyptic scifi you can put in the same group, that’s fine. But when I moved into urban fantasy (even though it’s more magical adventure, or arthurian to be exact) I should have used a pen name, and tried to build the brand up on that name. And then again for my GameLit book.
And the main reason I should have used a pen name in the above instances, is point (5) in the ‘Pros’ list. And this is something that is critical to realise as an author. You might have great ideas for a number of books across different genres, but that doesn’t matter to the readers who like what they like.
Ask yourself this. Do any of your favourite authors write across multiple genres with the same name? Does your favourite horror writer also write romance? Does your favourite thriller writer also write space scifi?
9/10 the answer will be no. Most authors are known for writing in one particular genre. And the reason for that is that the readers of that genre really like those kinds of books, and if they start to like an author who writes in the genre they like, they will stick with that author, because they think that genre IS THE GENRE THAT AUTHOR WRITES IN.
For better or for worse, we all think of authors as horror writers, or scifi writers etc. I do that also. I think the main reason for that, is when we find a book we really enjoyed, we want that author to keep writing the kinds of stories we enjoy. If that author writes in a different kind of genre, then maybe we give it a try, or maybe we just go to another author who is writing the kinds of stories we want to read.
It’s important to remember here that I’m sure most authors can write in multiple genres. And some probably do, but they recognise reader expectations and use pen names because of that.
As an author you have to cultivate your author brand, which is based upon the name you put on the front of the book. If you are writing across different genres you are watering down that brand, to a point where readers might not know what kinds of books you write. Are you a romance author or a scifi author? Or what about that thriller you just put out, does that mean you are now a thriller writer?
Its extra work, sure. But knowing what I know now, almost 2 years into a writing career I can see the importance of pen names.
So going forward Phil Maxey will be a science fiction and fantasy writer, who leans towards realistic, adventure filled stories based upon hopefully original ideas. (I always try to bring something new to the table).
But I do have other stories in slightly varying genres which when the time comes, despite the drawbacks to using pen names, I’ll be using a pen name for.