Does it Pay to Use Multiple Pen Names for Various Genres?

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about and lately. I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Lord knows my husband is tired of debating it with me, and neither of the small people we live with seems to care much. I’ll pose a thoughtful question to them and usually get a response along the lines of, “Mommy, my giraffe likes crayons.” So they’re really not much help.

Here’s the topic. Pen names. Maybe you guessed that from my clever title. Anyway, if you recall, JK Rowling caught a crapload of crap for using the same name to pen the Harry Potter books and her recent adult novel, A Casual Vacancy. The argument – in case you didn’t catch it in the news was something along the lines of this – should she, in acknowledgement of her great success in the middle grade realm under the name JK Rowling, have published her adult book under a different name? Parents worried that their children, on seeing a new book from a beloved author, might mistake it as intended for them, and the book contained situations that were unabashedly adult. Rowling’s response to this idea was something along the lines of, “I’m a writer, not your babysitter.” I actually loved that she said that, and agree wholeheartedly. She is a writer. And she’s writing. And she’s entitled to use her name, of course!

But here’s a different way I’ve been looking at it… we’ll use my own case as an example. I write in several genres. I write literary fiction – mostly short stories, though I’d like to attempt a novel that could be construed as literary someday soon. I also write romance, YA romance and some new adult. These last three are clearly more “commercial” pursuits. I don’t expect that anyone who picks up my new adult series (yet to be announced…) will necessarily enjoy Through a Dusty Window. They’re drastically different. The voice is different, the content, the setting, the mood… all of it. So would it make sense for me to use a different name for my “commercial” pursuits since “Delancey Stewart” has already been established and branded as literary?

The other side of this coin is equally valid. As a new writer trying to build a following, I’d like to capitalize on every little bit of loyalty I might be able to inspire in a reader. If someone who loved TADW picks up Samantha’s Solace and is disappointed (despite it being clearly marketed as a YA romance), should I feel guilty about that? I might a little bit, but really…I’d be happy that someone liked one thing I wrote enough to buy something else. Isn’t that kind of the goal? To build some momentum?

Of course JK Rowling wouldn’t change her name to write a new novel. Why would she waste the capital she’s built over years of branding the name JK Rowling? Sure, some readers were disappointed. That isn’t really her fault, is it?

But I’m – clearly – not JK Rowling. Don’t worry, I have no delusions there. I just am not sure that it would make sense to start over again with a whole new name for my new efforts… and the social media marketing alone is daunting. Would that mean two blogs? Two Twitter feeds? Two facebook and email accounts? I don’t think I could do it!

What do you think? I know there are authors with several names going at once… I wonder what the payoff is…

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6 thoughts on “Does it Pay to Use Multiple Pen Names for Various Genres?

  1. I’m thinking of Norah Roberts who goes as J.D. Robb for her Death series – that seems to work well for her. Straight-up romance readers might not enjoy Eve Dallas, hardboiled NYC detective, and vice versa for those who like a graphic crime book – romance alone isn’t going to cut it. I think the crux of it is to make the different name a signal to the reader, rather than a whole new brand. Everyone knows Roberts is Robb – so she reaps the popularity of both names. Just a few random thoughts.

  2. JK Rowling is always the exception to the rule. There is no reason she should have had to start over with a new penname — not when someone is that popular and well known. It’s like if Stephen King decided to go by a new penname just because he was going to write YA — which he has done, and kept his usual name. No one threw a fit over that. I love Rowling’s reply to critics, too.

    Anyway, I think there are valid reasons to use pennames for different genres. Personally, I’m writing a contemporary YA and have ideas for a historical romance YA — if I ever got published, I’d use a different penname for them. People who read contemporary/historical aren’t always into urban fantasy/horror/paranormal. I’d have two different websites/blogs but I don’t know if I’d bother with two twitter accounts. A lot of authors don’t, they just state in their original twitter account that they write X type of fiction under Y name. It’d be too big of a hassle to do keep retweeting your tweets.

    I read a post over at Magical Words about how Mindy Klasky decided against going with a penname when she was doing two series at the same time (or at least trying) and it killed one of the series flat out. Everyone that knew her name didn’t want to read a book like that, whereas when she later took on a penname she became very successful in that area and was invited to places to speak she otherwise never would have
    (http://www.magicalwords.net/mindy-klasky/by-any-other-name-or-the-biggest-mistake-of-my-career/).

    And to a degree, I think that’s true. By putting your name on something you’re promising your reader that they’ll enjoy what you’ve written if they’ve enjoyed the previous books you’ve written. Another good example of this is Lilith Saintcrow v. Lili St. Crow (granted not vastly different names) but one she uses for adult lit the other young adult lit.

    But in all these cases it’s genre changes. I’m not sure what the standard would be for literary v. genre. On the one hand you have Dusty Window (and other literary short stories) under Delancey Steward, on the other you’re also publishing romance YA under the same name. Is this wrong? I don’t think so. It’s true that I don’t think the two readers are very interchangeable. The YA audience generally don’t like to read literary fiction when they’re not in school–since it’s so forced on them there that it tends to turn them off to it altogether for at least a few years. I also don’t know if literary fans would want to read non-literary YA. But, as you’ve said, both are clearly labeled. It’s not like you’re trying to trick them. If they decide they want to read something else you’ve written, see it’s of a different genre, and decide to do it anyway that’s not a bad thing. It’s a conscious choice that they’ve made. Plus, it’s like you’re not still just as good of a writer no matter what genre you write in.

    I’m really not sure. I don’t know if my rambling helps or even makes sense, but that’s my thoughts on the subject. It’s tricky, really tricky.

  3. That was a really good link, JQ – thanks. Though it doesn’t make my decision any easier! I’m lazy at heart… I think one of the errors she made – and one that my publisher has talked about a bit — was releasing something really different in the middle of a successful series and promotion… But the success she had with a pen name later was interesting, too. Hm….

  4. At one point, I pondered this topic, and although I knew that I didn’t want to use different pen names for different genres, I wasn’t sure if using my true name because I wanted something that sounded more sophisticated. It wasn’t until I understood that writing is such a part of me, that I decided to use my name as my author name. One comment that author Cliff Burns left on a post about pen names that I wrote got me thinking and finally, understanding that I am responsible for what I write, good or bad. This is what he wrote – “I have a real aversion to pen names/pseudonyms. I’m aware that some very fine writers have employed them but I want my real name on everything I write (including postings on the internet, I never hide behind safe anonymity).
    Any book or writing project I would resist putting my name on probably isn’t worth publishing. I take responsibility for what I release and when it’s bad, I’ll take my fair share of blame…”

    This made me realize that you cannot separate the writer from the book, and the writer is you, a pen name is equivalent to multiple personalities, in my opinion. I say write what you love, with passion, and don’t think about genres. I think the old publishing system made us believe that we had to encapsulate the writer in a genre, all thinking about the big profit, and I don’t believe that is true anymore. The revolution that the publishing business is experiencing, has broken many rules, and freed the writer.

    • Point taken, and I agree that the writer is the book.

      That said, Delancey Stewart is a pen name… but I still wouldn’t publish anything I wouldn’t be okay with associating with my real name. I chose to use a pen name because of the “real life” jobs that my husband and I both have, where a bit of extra security is not a bad idea. I think people use them for a variety of purposes… my goal is not to “hide” – more to protect. And if I go into too much detail about that, it kind of defeats the purpose! Thanks for posting your thoughts!

  5. I have been (and am) going through this decision myself. This post and its replies have helped me quite a bit. I guess I have been looking for some example close to my situation and jqtrotter’s note about Lilith Saintcrow v. Lili St. Crow may be just that. My first two self-published books are non-fiction self-help/motivational and are doing well. Those books are written under my name, Les Goodrich. I have re-written a novel I wrote in college and spent a year on the re-write and a year editing it and it is quite shiny at this point and ready to go but I know anyone who has sought out my first two books “Espresso For Your Goals” and “Apply The Law Of Attraction” would not be interested (as a group at least) in that white collar crime fiction book, nor in the paranormal/witchcraft series I am writing as we speak. I have decided to publish fiction under my full name, Leslie Goodrich, and continue writing motivational non-fiction under Les Goodrich. Since I am self publishing and marketing all of this myself, i do not have the heart to divide my fiction genres among two pen names & have to manage 3 personas online. I have somewhat benchmarked the author Alice Hoffman in this regard. She used a single name to write witchcraft/paranormal books as well as more down-to-Earth dramas (although usually with some mystical implication or mood). So thank you for your post and for the replies.
    Les (Leslie) 🙂

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