The Pros and Cons of Pen Names: Part 2

Last week we covered several reasons to choose or not choose a pen name.  Today, we’re going to elaborate on the practice of using pen names to publish in different categories or genres.

#20 Pen Names 2

The main reason for an author to publish a different genre under another name is to distance themselves from their previous work, usually either because they are concerned they won’t be taken seriously in the new genre or because their previous work might adversely affect the sales of their new work.

Examples of pros in this case:

If you write fiction and are trying to break into nonfiction:
When you write fiction, artistic license is permitted with facts.  This is not true when you write nonfiction.  Some readers will eye a nonfiction book askance if the author has previously only published fiction, and the author will have further to go to prove themselves than if the readers are approaching the work with no knowledge of the author’s previous work.

If you write children’s books and are transitioning to adult books (or vice versa):
Again, it can be a struggle to be taken seriously as a writer of adult novels if all you’ve written so far are children’s books.

This particular reason for using a pen name tends to be a more prominent issue if you’re a traditionally published author, because publishing houses focus on sales.  They buy your book because they think it will do well for them.  If they feel that an author’s previous name will hurt the sales of the previous books, they’ll often ask or even require an author to change it.  Especially, say, if you formerly published sweet, Christian, historical romance and are now trying to publish teen vampire fiction.

ALSO.  If you’re a children’s author, there can be the concern that your former readership might unwittingly stumble on your new works and be shocked out of their wits (or something less dramatic but still harmful).  Having a pen name eliminates much of that.

The biggest con to switching names when you change genres is that you lose the chance to prove yourself as a cross-genre writer.  It can be hard to establish a name for yourself that way, but if you’re serious about it and spend time honing your craft, you can write well in multiple genres.

So, as you can see, there are several factors that go into the choice to publish in a new category/genre under a different name, but it more or less boils down to marketing.  Marketing is vitally important and will often/sometimes drive your writing decisions.  After all, without it, you wouldn’t sell any books.

But.  In addition to these pros and con, there is one more major factor to consider in choosing to change brand identities: your current/previous reader base.

Never underestimate the loyalty of your reader base.  They are the foundation of your writing career.  There are many readers who will read one book by an author and like it well enough that they immediately go hunt up all the other books that author has written.  So if you’re an author who is considering crossing into another genre, take your readers into consideration.  For example, if parents like reading your middle-grade chapter books aloud to their kids, it’s quite likely they’ll want to hear about your new adult-level science fiction tetralogy.

One more thing to think about:
If you decide to publish under a different name and don’t tell anyone about the decision or that you’re writing other books, there’s no one to be disappointed.  But if you tell people you’re changing names and/or writing a different kind of book and then don’t tell them what the new name/book is, loyal readers can feel betrayed.  Now, if you’re traditionally publishing, it’s possible that the promotions around your new book will be enough to offset losing any readers from previously, in such a case.  But if you’re a self-published author or an indie author, you can’t really afford to do that.

So, it’s really best to either not say anything at all, or come right out and tell people.  If you don’t want to make a public announcement of what your new name and genre will be- for example to prevent kids from knowing that you’ve just started writing a horror series- there are other ways of letting older readers know: email lists, a private Facebook or Goodreads group, an announcement in your newsletter, etc.

And that’s it for today!  Is there a point you’d like me to elaborate on or that you think I missed?  Tell me in the comments!

I’ll be back next Monday with some tips on how to choose a pen name once you’ve decided that you’re going to use one.  Until then, Merry Writing!

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