Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Should Authors Use a Pen Name?

The use of a pen name may not seem like a marketing issue for authors, but it really is. I have worked with authors who have used pen names, and I have always found it to be a big barrier when it comes to effectively marketing their book.

The reason for this is simple: when you are trying to market your book through your platform...friends, family, co-workers, people who enjoy your writing in general...they don't know you by your pen name. They know you as you. If, all of a sudden, you use a completely different name, how will the community members of your platform find you unless you tell them, and doesn't that defeat the purpose of using a pen name in the first place? For example, if you wanted your college alumni newsletter to mention the fact you have published a book, they aren't going to know you by your pen name, and your classmates won't know who you are, either.

Very few of the authors I have spoken to who have decided to use pen names have changed their names for a good reason. They just thought it was something authors were supposed to do. There are times to use a pen name, but they are few and far between.

Using a pen name makes sense if:

1. Your book would cause embarrassment for your friends or family. Perhaps your book is about a very sensitive subject that would bring ridicule or embarrassment to the people in your life, such as substance or sexual abuse.

2. You're in the Witness Protection Program. OK, that might be a little extreme, but if you have a REALLY good reason for keeping your true identity a secret, such as to protect your life, family, job, etc., it might be worth considering a pen name.

3. Your real name is not marketable. You would have to have a name with 13 consonants in a row to really qualify for this one, but if your name is not pronounceable by the average person on the street, you might consider a pen name. Otherwise, the name your parents gave you will work just fine.

4. You want to disguise your gender. This little trick is mostly used by men who write romance novels. For some reason, women prefer to read romances written by other women, not some 50-year-old guy wearing a flannel shirt and smoking cigars.

Stephen King wrote four novels under a pen name, Richard Bachman. It wasn't his idea. At the time, his publisher felt that readers wouldn't purchase more than one novel per year from the same writer. Pearl Grey changed his name to Zane Grey, because he felt readers wouldn't buy a Western novel from a guy named Pearl (he was probably right).

For the most part, the use of a pen name has struck me as being more of a vanity issue than anything...sort of like getting a license plate which spells something cute. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but most people don't get it.

Marketing a book is difficult enough. Why make it harder by disguising your accomplishment of authoring a book?


Laurie Foston said...

Yes, they can use a pen name, but make a lot of noise with it before you actually sign a contract. Build a blog using your pen name, build websites using tags with your pen name and add your real name and in no time the search engines will put them together

Google Laurie Foston, then Google Cheryl Henry Hodgetts then Google Cheryl Haynes. They all take you right to me...and FutureWord.

Promote your book only under the pen name. Hookup with your own family members on networks as the "other image" to get them used to you. Let your friends know who you are by adding them to your new email with your new pen name on it.

Join charities using your pen name, interview with TV hosts using your pen name.

Use your pen name months before you publish and make people ask why you are using a pen name.
Then make sure that your pen name is not piggybacked off of a famous person or your book will get confused with theirs.

Make as much noise as you can before you are ready for the release date of the book.
When approaching bookstores, use your pen name.

On your US mail box put your pen name so the postman will know that you are also using a pseudonym and wait on the postman one day to let them know you are an author. They will pass this on at the post office.

Terry Cordingley said...

Unless your situation fits one of the criteria I mentioned in my post, why go through all of the trouble? If an author has to go through such lengths just to create an alternate identity for themselves, it probably isn't worth it. In my opinion, it would be better for an author to promote their book than spend most of their time trying to explain why they have a pen name.

Puzzled in Portland said...

I have been grappling with this question for quite some time. I'm revising my first novel, a paranormal romance with some pretty intense erotic scenes, and there's an acquisition editor that wants to see the draft as soon as it gets some more polish. I had planned to use a pen name, but as I wonder how I'm going to market myself and the book, I'm not so sure.

However, I don't want current or future employers (my day job is as a copywriter) to Google me and find that I write "smut". Furthermore, I am worried about marketing less erotic works that I have planned under the same name as this book. On top of that, my mother is a fundamentalist Christian missionary, and I don't want my work reflecting on her or making her think badly of me.

I am proud of my work and want some people I know to know about it -- just not everyone. Thus, the option of "making a lot of noise" and informing everyone that my pen name IS my pen name would defeat the entire purpose of HAVING a pen name.

But how does one go about marketing oneself under a pen name? I'm about to build some web sites and set up some new social media accounts under my pen name... but everything must be built from scratch and there must be no connection between my real name and my pen name. Is it safe to friend myself, or will that give me away? I don't have the foggiest idea of how to manage such a thing, and I'm horrible at keeping secrets, to boot.

Leigh said...

I have the same questions as Puzzled does, altho I'm in a different situation. I have had 2 YA novels pubbed under my own name but soon I will have 2 YA novels coming out under a pen name - one I chose because they are works-for-hire so I could distinguish them from my original books (which I hope to move in a slightly different direction anyway). But of course I want people to buy the books - LOL! So the question now is how do I promote them? I'm not ashamed of them but I do want people to know they are not "my" books but books I was hired to write.

??? Thanks~

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