Get Thee A Pen Name…Or Several
If you don’t have at least one pen name, you really need to get a few.
Pen names do a bunch of things for you…they protect your identity from the crazies out there (and there are plenty of them…I have the scars from a butcher knife on my back to prove it). They allow you to have a more interesting name than Jane Doe. And, perhaps most important, they let you work in a range of genres.
An author’s name tends to be associated—by readers, publishers, and the industry in general—to a specific genre. In short, would you buy a horror story written by Dr. Seuss? How about a children’s book by Dean Koonce? Probably not. Neither will the rest of the market. There are those who say this isn’t true these days, but frankly, they’re kidding themselves. I know a number of well-known authors who have submitted works to publishers under one name only to be told to use a different name because the publisher knows they will lose sales. It happens to me on a regular basis. Another issue is that a certain “profile” for an author (things like age, gender, marital/relationship status, and much more) will sell better in one genre than in another.
In the print world, most contracts have clauses prohibiting both parties from revealing connections between pen names and real names. This is because the publisher may have a ton of money invested in a book and anything that might reduce sales will hurt their bottom line.
The e-pubs have yet to start worrying about this. I really don’t know why other than the herd mentality at most e-pubs…if they have 10,000 writers in their stable, who cares if one isn’t selling?
The self-publication outlets don’t worry about it because they make their money other ways instead of selling books. Another factor is that, according to contacts inside of Amazon, just over 1% of the authors publishing through them ever release more than one book. Fewer than 0.25% ever release more than 5 books and less than 0.003% release more than 25.
There is, however, a downside to pen names…if you self or e-publish and/or don’t have an agent/representative/personal assistant, you have to do all of your own promotion. Every time you add a new pen name to your portfolio, you increase your workload exponentially.
I’m often asked how many pen names are good…that depends. I know some authors who have fifty or more. I know others who have less than half a dozen.
Me? I have 22 active and maybe another eight or so I consider as inactive, though I do use them maybe once every six years or so. The personas are all over the place in terms of gender, age, and so on. In short, the names and persona are designed to best fit the genre and target market.
The only name I do any of my own promo and such for is this one…
My real name.
For the other names, as the old saying goes, I have people for that.