ethics

Why I’m Not Always Fond of Pen Names for Myself…


Before I get into the explanation of why I’m not always fond of pen names for myself, I’d like to mention first that I’m not against pen names at all. I know more authors using pen names than their real names and I support them and see nothing wrong with it. Authors have their own reasons for using pen names and I would never question those reasons. But I’d like to explain why there are cases where pen names don’t always work out well, and give examples from my own personal experiences with them.

The first example I’d like to give is a good experience I had with a pen name. I was asked to write a hetero pg rated romance for a publisher about four years ago for an interesting project I didn’t want to turn down. It was one of those deals where the authors got paid up front and I didn’t expect to make much money on the back end. I also knew that the book would be marketed and distributed to a completely different fan base/readership than what I’ve been building with my own name for twenty years. The book would be part of a very different genre than what I normally do…paranormal hetero romance rated pg.

In this case, when genre hopping, pen names are crucial to authors. I had fun writing the book. I loved every single last detail about it. The project was a success and all the authors who participated benefited from it. The book is still up on various web sites for sale, in print and digital. And though it never did make much money on the back end, the flat fee I received for doing it made the project worth while. I even enjoyed the very limited promoting I did with the pen name. All in all, the experience was positive and I’d do it again if asked. So pen names do work out sometimes, and very well. I would also do this again, if asked, and with a pen name.

But I’ve also had negative experiences with pen names. I was once asked to write m/m erotic romance with a pen name by a publisher. Actually, it was more like I was told to do this…in a very nice, convincing way. Though no one forced me into a headlock, I knew this is what the editor wanted and I’ve always been inclined to listen to the editor/publisher with regard to these things. The main reason they wanted me to use a pen name was because this m/m erotic romance would be in a slightly different sub-genre. Although I still didn’t “get” why they wanted me to use a pen name in m/m erotic romance, I agreed to do it because it was in a sub-genre I’d never written in before. I thought the change could be interesting. I loved the concept of the project. And I still do love the concept of the project.

The only problem with this was that I found it impossible to actually promote this book after it was released. And it’s really my own fault because I knew ahead of time it wouldn’t be easy. I just didn’t know how difficult it would be. In hindsight, it makes no sense to me at all why a publisher/editor would ask an established author in his or her own genre to use a pen name in basically the same genre. For the author, it’s like competing against him/herself. But this is something that bothered me from the start. I wondered about this when I agreed to the deal and I should have listened to my own instincts instead of the editor’s very bad idea. I have just as much experience as the editor, and maybe even more because I know my genre, I know my readers, and I know my audience better than anyone.

At this point, I’m sure many of you are wondering why it was so hard to promote this book with a pen name.

The reason I found it impossible to promote this book with a pen name was because I have formed strong bonds with readers and other authors in the m/m erotic romance genre over the years. I found it impossible to lie to them with a pen name and pretend I was someone else. Two incidents happened that caused me to shut down almost completely with the pen name. The first happened when I wrote a blog post with the pen name and one author I know got mad at the post. I don’t even recall what the post was about, and it had nothing to do with anyone in particular, but this author took it as an attack against him. And it wasn’t even about him. I felt terrible. The post had nothing to do with him and I couldn’t even explain it because it was a pen name. I stopped almost all blogging with the pen name. I think in all, I have about five posts on that blog. It just felt too creepy to continue. After that, I kept the blog open and wrote basic information posts about the book I was trying to promote.

The second thing that really freaked me out happened on social media. When I started one social media account for the pen name I had to give a birthday. I chose the first date that came to the top of my head and forgot all about it. Then, nine months later, I wind up getting hundreds of e-mail notifications from other people on this social network with birthday greetings. When I say that I never interacted with any of these people who sent the greetings, not once, and I saw all these very sincere birthday greetings for a person that didn’t even exist, it was a very strange feeling. If anyone wants to check, I never even post my own birthday on social media because I feel awkward getting so many greetings. I know people mean well; I just feel awkward about it.

In any event, I never did a single thing to promote with this particular pen name or project because it felt too creepy. And though I don’t regret this decision to stop all promotion and interaction as a personal ethical decision that worked for me, I do regret taking on a project with a pen name in m/m erotic romance in the first place. I should have listened to my own better instincts and said no to a very pushy, aggressive editor. The end result is that I have a couple of books out there, floating around without an author, that I worked hard to write and release. For those of you who have heard of orphaned books, this takes it to another level. It’s usually the publisher who orphan’s a book, not the author. But in this case, I simply didn’t have a choice. It was either lie to all the people I’ve built online relationships with over the years or back off completely.

I know some of you are thinking why didn’t I just announce the pen name like other authors do and let people know I was using it. The reason why I didn’t announce it…and NEVER will announce it…is because it’s just plain stupid to have a pen name in a genre where you’re already established with your real name. At least that’s how I look at it.

If there is a moral to this post, I guess it would be that authors need to think carefully before they go the pen name route. As I pointed out above, it can work out well if done for the right reasons. But if it’s done for the wrong reasons, the book will wind up suffering in the end. And that’s a shame.

But on the positive side of all this, the bad experience with the pen name did give me the final push into self-publishing that I’d been thinking about for a long time. I just figured I have all this experience now as an author and an editor and I’m still taking bad advice from a pushy editor at a publishing house? It was a pivotal moment for me in my career and in a way I’m glad it happened. I should have known better and I have no one to blame but me. At least I can take pride in the fact that I didn’t go into a full fledged lie to all the people I know and respect. That, indeed, would have been wrong.

I’m going to be doing something very different with my next Kindle release. This book is the sequel to “Chase of a Lifetime.” I titled it “Chase of a Dream.” I’m not going to say what it is I’m doing at this point. But I will announce it within the next month. I don’t think this has ever been done before. And if it has been done it hasn’t been something I’ve seen. I know for a fact that if I approached any publisher about doing this they wouldn’t go for it. But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do with a book and I decided that even though it’s going to make twice as much work for me, I really want to find out if it works.