Thursday, August 2, 2007

Do You Need a Pen Name?

By Heather Moore

As soon as your first novel comes out do you expect to be recognized everywhere you go? Perhaps people in your neighborhood and at the grocery store will tell you about the book they’re working on and demand a referral to your agent. Or, since your book will be an overnight success, you’ll start receiving phone calls right in your own home from readers around the world.

Most authors don’t have pen names. Why? Because they’ve received advice from authors who do—which is: I wasn’t an overnight success and it was a lot easier to market myself when I was really myself.

Of course pen names still exist and serve the following purposes:

1. When the writer jumps genres. A well-known romance writer will have a hard time selling to men when she writes that first suspense novel. So a pen name might be in order. Publishers have even gone so far as to say “by Betty Brown, writing under the name of Carl Clegg.”

2. A female author is trying to push back the stereotypes of being a romance author. Men will pick up books by R.J. Turner, but probably not Rosalee Jenkins Turner. (And they won't be bothered if someone walking by notices what they’re reading.)

3. The author writes for two different markets. This is more common than you think. Some writers will publish under a pen name for the Christian Market, while they use their real name for other works.

4. Create mystique—commonly used by fantasy authors. The fantasy author creates a pen name that is unique and appealing. Sometimes the reader doesn’t know the real name of the author for a while and that adds to the intrigue.

5. Positioning your book—yes, it’s what it sounds like. Some publishers will create a pen name to cater to a specific place on the book shelf. If you write YA fantasy, of course you want new readers to see your books displayed next to JK Rowling’s—so maybe your publisher will choose a last name that starts with “R”.

6. Switching publishers. Had a bad experience? Burned by your last publisher? Your new publisher might want to wipe your slate clean and give you a pen name so that your past won’t come back to haunt you.

My advice is to not get too worried about choosing the perfect pen name, but keep your options open.

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