Deciding on Pen Names

This is my first blog post in a long time. I’ve decided today to begin blogging about my experience as an indie publisher.

The first topic I will tackle is the one that has been occupying me for about a year now—pen names.

Pen names: Yes or no? If a writer is writing in more than one genre, should he or she have a pen name for each genre? What about marketing the books? Will having multiple Facebook pages and blogs be too time consuming? And what about publishing regularly? Will it be possible to publish regularly under different names? All these questions went through my mind when I thought about writing in different genres. So, I thought, the best thing to do is research.

I read a few posts on the issue of pen names. One of the really helpful posts was a post by Belinda Pollard (you can find it here Belinda references Kristine Rausch, a veteran writer who is also known as the “the queen of pen names” and Russell Blake, a bestselling thriller writer. Kristine’s opinion is that pen names don’t matter in the indie publishing as much as they did in the traditional publishing. Writing in several genres under one name doesn’t effect the writer, because readers read in several genres and decide what they want to read.

Russell Blake, on the other hand, is a firm believer of branding. He believes that writers should stick to one pen name in one genre, as pen names are essential for building a distinguishable brand.

Russell’s and Kristine’s approaches are clearly contradictory. Therefore I decided to go on and test them myself.

I decided to publish several works in different genres under one name. The works spanned from poetry, sci-fi, thrillers and erotic romance. I let the books work for me for about six months without marketing on various platforms. The results were dismal at best. There were barely any sales and no steady traction. I asked for feedback from one of the established writers. When she saw my Amazon author page, her answer was: “I don’t know what it is that you write.” Clearly, not having a distinguishable brand as a less known writer harms the sales and prevents the readers from identifying with your work.

Though there are exceptions. JK Rowling and James Patterson write in different genres under one name. JK writes literature and thrillers too, and James writes fantasy and YA next to thrillers. But these are different cases. JK and James are world-known writers who have gained enough traction to sell books of different genres under one name. Their works are bound to get attention because of their brand names. But for those who are not known yet, other rules of the game apply, as they still need to work on creating a recognizable brand.

From my experience, I can say that having multiple pen names is the better choice, if you want to write in different genres—this especially being the case if you’re writing in erotica and romance. Books with erotic and non-erotic content should be kept separate. If a reader looks at the author page and sees space ships next to running assassins next to half-naked men, he or she won’t know what it is that you’re writing. When they see that you’re everywhere and nowhere, they’ll be less inclined to give your books a go—partly because it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing. I think that we live in the time of specialization and this applies to writing as well. If you’re a prolific writer and you can write in more than one genre, kudos to you, but do it under different pen names.

It will pay off.

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