Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Using a Pen Name

So you know, Lyn Perry writes "short fiction with a dash of the fantastic" (thank you, I thought of that tagline myself :) Or maybe more accurately, "light, speculative fare with a bit of humor and spiritually thematic elements, but including at times regular science fiction and fantasy." That might work, but it's a bit clumsy as a slogan. So fiction with a splash of speculation works.

But what if I wanted to write crime, thriller, suspense or horror or western or romance or (ahem) erotica? Would you, who know me as an SF/F'ish writer (or can spot my writing style from a mile away, as one friend said to me recently) want to follow me through these various genres? Maybe not. Or, expecting a fun bit of whimsy you instead pick up a gritty bit of realism with my name on it, would you be disappointed? Maybe so.

Thus the consideration of a pen name. A mask that identifies an author with a particular genre or style. Lots of reasons to write under a pseudonym (for a far reaching and fascinating treatment of the topic, read Dean Wesley Smith's current blog) and some good reasons for those names to be "open" (that is, readily identifiable with the main name). For examples, read Dean's post.

My struggle - as I branch out from fiction with a dash of the fantastic - is whether I come clean with my pen name on these pages. Point of fact, I'm writing a "top secret" serial novella (progress bar on the right) under a different name. Because it's not fantasy. It's not light and fluffy. It's mainstream fiction, contemporary, brutally realistic - which means it contains violence, elements of abuse, foul language, and sexual situations. Yet staying within my internal frame of reference, this project goes somewhere - and I hope it takes the reader somewhere as it posits in narrative weighty matters of loss, faith, and meaning.

So my question for you. (I so want to add gentle reader, lol. I guess I just did.) WWYD?


  1. I've toyed with this idea. The intriguing part of a pen name for me is the ability to let go of more of my internal voices since I'm less worried what my friends/neighbors/enemies think. It really comes down to the purpose of the piece. If it is for your own satisfaction and it will be marketed in a completely different arena than you are usually in, a pen name would do no harm. If it is to build on your name and your number of fans, it would behoove you to not use one.

  2. I find these pen name discussions fascinating since so often people wonder over this very point. I won't give my opinion, just a bit of info:

    I don't use a pen name for anything, yet my writing includes:

    Middle Grade fantasy novel
    Fantasy short stories, from MG/YA to adult
    Science fiction, YA to adult
    Personal experience stories, Christian/Inspirational
    Personal experience stories, mainstream

    My Amazon author page shows books ranging from "Chicken Soup for the Soul" to "The Ultimate Christian Living" to "While the Morning Stars Sing" to "Dark Heroes."

    I, personally, don't feel any need to separate out. And with all the genres I write, I'd need, what, like six pen names? Too much hassle. This is me--inspirational, dark, and weird. So be it.

  3. June, I'm with you on this "letting my internal voices out" idea. And because my novella project is such a departure from my normal writing (and definitely not for my middle schoolers eyes, but I doubt any of them even know I have a blog, lol) I hesitate to link names.

    The branding issue is interesting. Many writers have two or more "streams of income" based on their pen names and so building a platform/reputation for each one takes time. "Open" pen names can speed up that process, i suppose.

    And Kat, I think if fans take the ride with you from the get go, they know what to expect - an eclectic mix. But what if you just wanted to experiment with something new and thought it just didn't go with your current opus? Just wondering.

  4. Hm, I suppose it would have to be a huge departure. Something I'd be afraid to put my name on. And I'm not sure I'd write something I'd be afraid to put my name on :).

    You bring up a good point with your middle school students, though. I write MG, and I'd not want those younger readers to read something of mine that would be inappropriate for them. But even my "horror" is PG-13. Only the mildest of cussing, nothing sexual, and minimal violence. I prefer "creepy" :). Nothing most middle graders haven't seen or read before. And the few things that push the borders are in anthologies middle graders would not be buying.

  5. I think for what you've described, it would make sense for you to have a separate pen name and keep it secret. Especially I would think as a Christian writer, if you would want to write something that is very, very edgy but you still think worthwhile, but you know a lot of Christians who read your other stuff would have a problem knowing you wrote it, it would make sense.

    Sort of like if you wrote erotica, you would definitely want to keep that separate. ;)

  6. Thanks, Rick. This is how I'm leaning at the moment. It's not that I'm ashamed of the work (and no, I won't be writing erotica, lol) it's just that I feel I'd have a lot of 'splainin' to do. :) When I first read Walker Percy - author of Second Coming - it used the f bomb and it dealt with suicide and he was supposed to be a Christian writer and we read it at Wheaton College and...well, well...I just didn't know what to make of it! Except the story was so powerfully redemptive that I thought once it was over, oh so this is what Christian literature should be! I want to strive that direction. So, maybe I should connect the names and let the chips fall where they may. And 'splain later.

  7. I've toyed with the idea of a pseudonym before, but so far I've yet to do anything that I thought was a big enough departure to make it necessary. Not saying that I never will, however....


Keep it clean and positive. (And sorry about the word verification, but the spmb*ts are out in full force!)