Pen Names

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Noms de plume are really on my mind lately. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a multi-genre writer, and I can’t decide if I should use a pen name for each genre I dip my toe into or not. On the one hand, I want to use my own name because I like my name and all that. On the other, I don’t want every piece I write in each genre to be cross examined and compared. We all know there are people out there who hold expectations regardless of the genre they are reading. Those same people also want writers to write the same things over again. I have choice words for these people but I will keep them to myself.

There are other things in different columns of this debate but these are the big two I’m focused on.

My prime example is Kelley Armstrong. Armstrong hit it big with her Women of the Otherworld series: a 13 book compendium with numerous anthologies and short stories set in the supernatural world she created. She has also written two YA trilogies, the first of which came out roughly after book 9 of WotO was published (I don’t feel like researching but I feel that that’s right). She has also published two books in a mystery series she started way back when WotO was very young as well as a middle grade series she started after WotO wrapped up. In 2013 her newest series, Cainsville, debuted with Omens.

Her YA took off because the kids don’t really know about her adult horror series -that’s my opinion anyway. The other series haven’t developed a cult following like WotO, though. If you go on Goodreads you’ll see the ratings aren’t as high and the reviews not very positive. And I tell you, it’s not Armstrong’s lack of narrative skill. I’ve read everything but the YA and I will defend her writing to the end. I blame people who want her to rewrite WotO and don’t understand generic differences.  Again, choice words!

Do I think I’m going to gain the success Kelley Armstrong has? Excuse me while I get off the floor where I was rolling around laughing. Still, I seriously don’t want my work judged unfairly. But, a pen name needs to mean something to me. I can’t just pull a random name out of the air and call it my own.

This is my dilemma. And I really need some input! Have you used or considered a pen name? What’s your stance on them in general?

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  1. The clear example to bring up is Neil Gaiman. He writes under his name exclusively. But the expectation for the reader is whimsy (minus the Duran Duran biography)–and he delivers it from his children’s books to his adult novels.

    I am considering a pen name for romance and erotica if I publish it. I feel that is something that is more of a norm for romance literature. The whole first and middle name, cutting off the surnames, is very common. Maiden names, common. For me? I have a name I want to use but am unsure if I want to further branch out and use a different name for different heat levels, you know?

    1. I agree with the Gaiman assessment. He’s also reached such a height that people buy his name more than his subjects, if that makes sense.
      I do know and that’s where I’m at right now. Except I do intend on branching out for sure. At least in the long run.

      1. He’s also reached such a height that people buy his name more than his subjects, if that makes sense.

        But it goes back to how he built that name, how he reached such a height with it.

        Perhaps in the end it comes down less to names and more to producing a quality product reliably.

  2. And then there is Jayne Ann Krenz\Amanda Quick / Jayne Castle (all the same person) Originally she wrote under 7 different names but now uses these three. She writes contemporary, historical and futuristic. Notice the correlation of 3. Thanks to the internet et al, everyone now knows that the 3 are all one – but readers know what type of book they’ll get depending on the author name she uses. Authors have used pen names to avoid crank calls and embarrassing their teen aged children as well as to differentiate between their genres. (and probably numerous other reasons.) If you are writing across genres, using pen names is a useful and possibly wise option.

    1. I totally didn’t know Jayne Ann Krentz was Amanda Quick. I knew someone who wrote under the pen name Quinn so she could be shelved closer to Quick because she had a similar audience, though. That is another reason pen names can work. Then again, that might be in the good ol’ days of searching for book in libraries and bookstores, not so much on the web.

      1. Mahrie, I like the pro argument here. The internet has made it impossible to keep secrets but I could imagine myself “letting the cat out of the bag” at some point in my life. It would just be nice to establish without scrutiny at this point.

        Kate, I can’t imagine living in a time where that Quinn/Quick idea would work. I find that too funny.

  3. Sometimes, pen names are a marketing thing, mostly when switching genres — I guess as a way of managing reader expectations.

    I use a quasi-pen name: my initials to negate any gender-bias, and my maiden name because it is less likely to be misspelled, because my legal name is for real life, and because keeping it is a small nod to my dad, who never got to see me published.

    … And I just realized this comment has been sitting here for the last couple days, un-posted. Whoops?

    1. Needing to use initials to negate gender bias is a bit of a sore spot for me. It…is frustrating because I have the understanding that women have to think about that more than men.

  4. I do the same thing with initials, for a gender reason and due to some contention with my first name. But that’s a long story. On a side note, if you can believe it people actually say and spell my last name wrong :p.
    Hmm, I like your family angle and it’s one I’ve considered for a while.
    Don’t worry. I never get notified about comments to I reply late and it looks like I ignore everyone!

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