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Pen Names. I'm Not Who You Think I Am.

I've agonized over using a pen name. Call it what you will—pseudonym, non de plume. I didn't really specialize in a genre. This has been going on longer than I’d like to admit. One look at my Amazon page will bear this out in a most dramatic fashion. I’d used a shotgun approach to see what genre got the best reaction sales wise. This late in the game, I've decided to use a pen name for my YA series. My small press sales from just about all my publishers have been small to mediocre at best. The older the book, the higher in the millions your rank can get. You might start off as an Amazon best-seller and stay there for weeks, but if you slide and slow down in sales it will show. You have to sell to even stabilize your rank spot. But enough about ranks, which aren’t the end all of your success.

The problem with writing in so many genres with the same author name will confuse your fan base. That’s if you’ve developed a readership in the first place. Your readers can trust your YA SF, but will any of them make the leap to your erotic romance? Using multiple genres can spread you too thin, carving into your sales and decimating a fan base. The same goes for fiction versus nonfiction. Are you an entertainer at heart or are you a social commentator, historian or instructor? I think it’s okay to experiment in the early stages, but it’s in your best interests to make a decision on how you visualized your career. Both J.K. Rowling and Stephen King used pennames, albeit for different reasons because they didn’t want to get overly familiar with using their very popular names for every book they conceived.

What about gender neutral names? Joanne Rowling used the initials J.K. in front of her last name to disguise the fact that she was a she. Her agent had told her that boys were reluctant to read female authors, which was/is particularly true of SF, fantasy, action/adventure and really anything meant for the YA and MG crowd. Likewise, there are a limited number of females who might openly admit to never reading male authors who have scribed romances, most prominently sweet romances where true emotions and depth of feeling is needed. A male author would certainly have a little more trouble than a woman when penning a Sweet Valley High. There are exceptions, of course, where it doesn’t matter what gender is responsible for the work. In Jo Rowling’s case, she was a debut author, so she carried that moniker until she switched to adult novels. She wanted to draw a distinction between her teen books and something meant for an older crowd.

I've always wondered what the big house publishers thought of my track record when they gave it a glance. So yes, I'm going with a pen name with a certain genre, and to start a new little writer off, even though that writer will be easily identified as me. Notwithstanding, I'm going to do everything in my power to disguise my identity. It can be done, at least for awhile. I really do need a fresh start since I have such a fruit salad of genres and categories.

If you are making this decision in the relative early stage in your writing career, then you have the jump on it and I think it might be a good idea. There certainly is a definitive difference between comedy and horror or YA and erotica. Don't make the mistake I made. It sounds like you have to insert yourself into an inescapable niche—not to worry. What you are really doing is specializing, branding yourself for easy recognition. You don’t want to confound or confuse. You want to make finding and selecting you and your books as trouble free as possible.

Why do you suppose that the font type of an author name is larger on a book cover written by an A-list celebrity than it is with a midlist author? If you are a die-hard reader of Stephen King, that name will jump right out at you. It’s called name branding. That’s where you want to be.



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Chris Stevenson
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