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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Can We Steal Success?

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately on a critique site where writers can post work, critique work, discuss writing. And it has been very helpful. It’s made me a more critical reader, more conscious of what I’m reading. But I think that for any writer using a tool like this site, there are two things to watch out for… (Actually, I’m sure there are more and I’ll come up with those as I learn more. For now, I’ve realized these two and have thought a lot about them lately.)

1) Not all rules apply to all kinds of writing. Writers don’t like run-on sentences. But I’m reading We the Animals by Justin Torres, which begins with one of the longest run-on sentences I’ve ever seen. And it’s brilliant. And if he’d posted this work for critique on this very useful site I use, he would have been reamed and called sophomoric and inexperienced. After all, everyone knows that run-ons are bad, right? Not right. Not always. Like the adverb rule I railed about before… no rules of writing are hard and fast. But there are probably best practices. I think the danger of a critique site like this is that we get very comfortable building our ideas of what good writing looks like and then have difficulty accepting someone who is breaking those rules, especially if he or she isn’t an already established and esteemed author. It’s fine for Victor Hugo to spend 100 pages in description at the beginning of Les Miserables, but that would be totally ridiculed if attempted by a fledgling writer working on something new. Start in the action, right? The reader’s not going to sit around for 100 pages for you to paint a scene! You’ll never get it published, Hugo, you silly lout. I think that this kind of blanket criticism leads to more and more people writing in a formulaic way that dumbs down language and limits expression. And that leads us to number 2.

2) There are a lot of popular books out there at the moment that are not exactly, um, high art. They are written…but not necessarily well-written. And they’re fun, and a good read, and an enjoyable story. But they are not what “real writers” want to write. I know that because these “real writers” are drinking their coffee, smoking their cigarettes and bemoaning the lack of good writing out there all over the forums at this critique site. They sit back and wallow in their own brilliant and as yet unpublished words and spit venomous threads about the terrible writing getting attention today, about the stupidity of the audience that they themselves have not yet managed to woo. They cry about the failings of the publishing industry, the consumerism of readers, the lack of writers creating “good work” (the same work that they themselves critique on this site and warn about the use of modifiers and run-ons…) I think there is a real danger in this. Should we not be supportive of those who have played the publishing game and won? How does it hurt me to be happy for EL James? Why should I be upset that Charlaine Harris is doing so well? Shouldn’t I take heart that maybe there is a place for my work if theirs has found such receptive readers? I greatly dislike the jealous poison being spewed by would-be great writers about the successes of those who have managed what they have not. Say all you like about JK Rowlings adverb abuse… didn’t we used to celebrate her for bringing literature to a whole generation of kids who we previously believed to be hopelessly illiterate thanks to the advent of computer games and consoles? Isn’t anything that keeps people reading good for all of us?

Just my two cents.