Split Personalities: When To Have A Pen Name

I’ve answered this question a dozen times over the last few months. Frequently enough that I felt it warranted a blog post, anyway. I keep seeing folks who ask the question of whether or not they should have a separate pen name for every genre they write in, and every time I see it, it makes me want to put my head through my keyboard.

It’s not that I find the question infuriating – it’s a reasonable question for a new author – but I struggle not to grab them by the lapels and shake them while screaming, “Do you have any idea how much work that would be?!” Developing an author platform is hard enough for one identity let alone trying to create one for half a dozen. While some authors can do it (and most of them are bigwig authors with Big Six contracts), your average writer isn’t going to be able to maintain that. Let’s take a step backward, so I can explain what I mean.

Selling books means a number of things, but one of the primary goals is to have the author’s name sell books. If Stephen King puts out a book people have come to understand that name to mean a specific level of skill and a particular type of story. The name itself has become synonymous with his craft, and as such fans will likely buy a book with his name on it even if it isn’t something they’d normally read.

That sort of branding and recognition is something every writer should strive for. It requires a lot of work on the part of the author to build their platform and develop their marketing strategy. You will need social  media accounts, a blog, a websites, and so on. It takes a fair amount of time to set up and dedicate to. Blogging regularly often takes a few hours, at least, a week in order to formulate your thoughts and get them out there. Then you have the various social media accounts you should maintain (at least to some extent). And by maintain I don’t mean show up, splash around an advertisement for your book, and then go silent for six months. You should interact with people, post regularly, and share things that will be useful and enjoyable for your readers. That should be handled daily, and may not take more than maybe 15-20 minutes to manage, but if you have four identities you have just whittled away over an hour just on social media alone, not accounting for maintaining multiple blogs and… ugh. It’s just nightmarish to think about.

If you try and set yourself up with more than one name you’re going to be writing under you should be doing it with your eyes open. If you fail to maintain your identities your sales and platform will suffer. If you spread yourself too thin they will all tank. And you can’t just pop over to that identity when you release a book in that genre. Once you create a pen name you are going to need to dedicate time to it, and it will feel an awful lot like miserable work.

The only time I would ever suggest a writer create a pen name is if the are going to be writing erotica or bodice-ripper fiction and don’t want that to cross over with the rest of their writing. If you are writing children’s fiction and want to take a stab at a steamy romance you’re better off separating the two lest your young fans end up learning more than they needed to know about adult affairs. In that case there is nothing wrong with creating a separate name to publish under. You will still have to take on the work of all the extra marketing, but it is understandable and laudable that you don’t think the two genres should meet in the middle.

If you write in multiple genres there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no one saying authors have to be pigeon-holed into writing one, specific type of book. I saw a suggestion an author received from their agent that struck a note with me. Instead of trying to create separate identities for all your genres just make separate sections of your website. Or even maintain a separate blog if you feel so inclined. But you don’t really need to go through the rigmarole of creating so many personalities and identities if you aren’t going to be doing something that could cause massive waves. It isn’t worth it.

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