by Anne R. Allen
Should you use different pen names if you write in different genres? Do you need to write under a pseudonym because people at work might find out you write steamy romances? Is it easier to write freely if you hide your real identity behind a fake name? Should you use a different pen name for each genre you write in?
Recently I talked with a veteran author who’d heard from an “expert” that she should only publish books in one genre with her real name, and should republish all her books in other genres under separate names.
I had to tell her she’d been listening to some very outdated advice. You can show genre with cover design, blurb, logo, and many other cues, but publishing under lots of names in the digital age is a recipe for disaster.
Or as social media guru Kristen Lamb says, it’s a ticket to Crazyville.
Multiple pen names aren’t practical in the age of social media. You would have to maintain separate social media accounts and blogs for every one of your personas.
Facebook won’t let you have personal accounts under fake names, so most of your names would be shut out of interacting on Facebook. (And many authors think Facebook ads give you the most bang for your buck in book advertising.)
Plus the new publishing paradigm is blurring genre lines. These days, position in a brick and mortar bookstore isn’t the primary factor in selling books—name recognition is.
Yes, Lots of Writers Have used Pen Names
I know pen names seemed de rigueur in the last century. Aspiring writers used to spend lots of time thinking about possible pseudonyms. I know I did. It was exciting to fantasize about having a literary persona separate from my boring old self. Early in my career, I submitted some stories under the name Anna Rogers, (Rogers is my middle name.) Luckily the magazines rejected my stories and I didn’t have to deal with the hassles of multiple identities.
Historically, there have been lots of good reasons to use a pen name.
In the 19th century, women authors often used a male pen name in order to have their work taken seriously. The Brontës disguised themselves as the Bell brothers; Mary Ann Evans called herself George Elliot; and Amandine Lucie Aurore Dupin became George Sand.
Male authors also routinely chose to use a pen name, often to protect family members from being linked with their public personas, or to keep their real names from being attached to radical political or racy writing. Jean Baptiste Poquelin called himself Moliere, and Benjamin Franklin used dozens of pseudonyms from Alice Addertongue to Richard Saunders.
Sometimes authors wanted to hide their ethnicity or make their names more memorable or pronounceable. Harold Rubin called himself Harold Robbins, and Ford Hermann Hueffer took the more memorable pen name, Ford Maddox Ford.
More recently, some male authors have used female pen names in hopes of selling better to women, who buy more novels. But there’s not much evidence that matters anymore.