Monday, May 28, 2012

Perhaps Using Two Pen Names is a Good Idea

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All my life, I’ve been passionately opposed to having two pen names. I can compile a list of reasons:

1. I want my real name to be behind everything I write. That way, I can proudly own all my work. 2. It’s hard enough to have one writing career, so imagine how difficult it would be to develop two separate platforms. 3. If I only put my name on half my work, people will wonder why I write half as much as everyone else. 4. It feels like I’m being sneaky, like I’m trying to trick my readers into thinking I’m two different people. I’m not fooling anyone with my hidden identity. I’m not Batman.

Yet against all odds, I find myself considering it. Never say never.

In the beginning, it was hard for me to think of my name as a brand. I am me, no matter what I do, so why would I pretend not to be me? But an author once told me if you build your brand name properly, your readers will buy your latest book without even knowing what it’s about because they know they'll like it.

A second pen name doesn’t mean you’re hiding; it tells people before they pick up your book what they’re going to get out of it.

This idea really clicked for me last time I went to Victoria Secret and bought something from their Pink line. I know perfectly well the same people who create Victoria Secret also create Pink. It’s not like they’re being discreet; the two stores are connected.

The difference is that when I walk into the Pink section, I know what kind of clothes I’m going to see. There will be brightly-colored, somewhat casual bras, pajamas, and swim suits. When I walk into the Victoria Secret section, I know I’m going to find classy and expensive lingerie and perfume. If they combined stores I wouldn’t know what kind of clothes I’d find when I walked in, and if I didn’t know that, I wouldn’t go.

For the past few years, I keep coming up with ideas that aren’t “my style.” I write plot-driven historical fiction about real people (the Vestal Virgins, Marie Laveau, Joan of Arc). The random books I think up are very unusual character-driven romances (the conjoined twins, the ghost love story, and one where a woman goes back in time to take care of her husband when he’s a kid and he's a refugee fleeing a war).

I don’t know where the Amazon one fits in, but I won't use three pen names. Let’s not get crazy.

I know publishing one of these random not-my-style books will hurt my career. People who like reading about the Vestal Virgins will not like the ghost story, and if they read a book of mine they don’t like, they won’t trust my name brand. They’ll move on to another author whose work they always enjoy.

Whenever I come up with an idea I know will hurt me, I always tell my husband, “I thought of a book to write, but I’m not going to. It’s weird and it’s not my style. No one will want to read it.” Then I decide to write it anyway. Perhaps I just have two styles.

I don’t know if I’ll go the second-pen-name route, but for the reasons I've mentioned, I see the value in it.

4 comments:

  1. What a great analogy! Only my pen name is more akin to Frederick's of Hollywood vs. Victoria Secret's Pink line.

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  2. I was watching a book review programme yesterday which gave praise to Hilary Mantel for writing each book in a totally different way. I'm not sure how her early career started, though - perhaps it's only something you can do when you've got a loyal following.

    Don't worry about people thinking you're only doing half the work - write twice as fast lol

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  3. I think that this is a fantastic post - FINALLY I understand why authors go about having different pen names. Thank you!

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  4. That's funny. I was thinking about using another pen name just last night. I think a pen name gives you the opportunity to stand out, like LJ Smith, or JK Rowling. There are so many people with my first and last name. I considered using my middle name, Louise but my aunt's name is Louise Parker. There fore I'm back to using my initials again. I think it's something mysterious about using initials.

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