Hello, SE readers! Mae with you today. If you’re a writer, at some point or another, you’ve probably considered using a pen name. Authors use pen names for various reasons ranging from privacy, to branding, to multi-genre writing.
Privacy is huge, especially in an online world where self-promotion is all but mandatory. I admit I’ve always been freaky about Facebook. Before I started publishing, I neither wanted nor had anything to do with it. As an author, I had to embrace it, but even that was a reluctant endeavor. Eventually, FB and I parted ways, but it’s still necessary that I promote myself elsewhere. If you’re an author, privacy only goes so far.
I’m fortunate that “Mae Clair” works in multiple genres. If I wanted to write hard-boiled crime thrillers, I might become M.L. Clair, but I can move around pretty easily with my name.
Those who are familiar with my work know my preferred genre is supernatural mystery/suspense. I’ve put a lot of effort into branding myself in that genre. Recently, I released a comedic, buddy-trip novella. Not at all what my readers would expect. I gave serious consideration to publishing In Search of McDoogal under a pen name. I didn’t want to cloud the branding I’ve worked hard to achieve.
I was entertaining names to use, when I realized that whatever I picked, that author name would have no track record. When I thought about creating separate Twitter, BookBub, and Goodreads accounts, my groan of frustration could be heard across the blogosphere. Not only would I need to create those accounts (and manage them in an already too-tight schedule) but I’d have to build followings, too. That sealed my decision to stay with “Mae Clair” no matter what genre I write.
But pen names can be valuable. Let’s take a look at the breakdown.
Don’t want your co-workers to know you’re writing erotic romance? You might want to use a pen name, keep your identity under wraps, and away from the office.
Don’t want to expose the real you to a world of social media that has its share of trolls? Using a pen name can be a shield, protecting the real you.
If you’re a man writing romantic suspense, you may want to choose a feminine pen name. By the same token, if you’re a woman writing tech-heavy sci-fi and your first name is “Bunny” you may want to choose something different or use your initials. Although not a hard and fast rule, gender can be a factor in a variety of genres.
Your name is hard to pronounce or spell. In this case a pen name will make you easier to find when someone goes searching for your books. I’ve already searched for books that I couldn’t locate because I couldn’t spell the author’s unusual last name.
You don’t get credit as the real you. Remember when you were a kid, dreaming of becoming a famous author? School friends, past acquaintances, teachers—all those people you’ve lost touch with—won’t know you’ve succeeded in your dream and achieved literary satisfaction. You should also be prepared to explain why you aren’t using your real name when someone you know questions your choice.
Using a pen name can become tricky when it comes to royalties and accounting. You have a few extra hoops to jump through that, over time, can become more complex. Copyrights, taxes, and online accounts such as PayPal are just a few examples. If you accept checks at book signings, how are they made payable—to your pen name or the name on your bank account? If something should happen to you, do your heirs understand how your two identities overlap and are segregated?
Before you add a pen name to your writing resume, make a list of pros and cons, carefully weighing the benefits of both. Pen names rarely come without extra work but can be a huge benefit if you’re willing to go the miles. Most advice appears to lean toward not using one if you can avoid it, but you have to weigh the factors for yourself.
If you suddenly switched genres, would you consider using a pen name? If you had/have a name that is hard to pronounce or spell, would you find a pen name of value? Time to chat and share your thoughts. I’m currently off line for several days, but the rest of the Story Empire group is covering comments for me, so please share yours with the group.
Ready, set, go!