Tuesday, April 20, 2021

What's in a Pen Name?

I am a romance author and life-long reader.

Notice I didn't say paranormal romance. The reason for this is that I both write and read multiple subgenres of romance. As a reader, honestly if it has an HEA, I read it. As an author well... I have three pen names.

That's right. 3. Pen names.

I write paranormal romance and upper YA fantasy romance as Abigail Owen. I write steamy contemporaries including rom coms and cowboys as Kadie Scott. And I write sweet contemporary and Amish romance as Kristen McKanagh. And I LOVE all of these genres. Each one feeds my soul in different ways. Some day maybe I'll had historical, scifi, and a few others to the mix because I love those too.

Maybe not though, because honestly, three pen names is a lot to manage. For authors out there considering branching out and doing different pen names, here are a few things I learned from my experience...

1. Use your real first name (or a nickname of it).

This will make introducing yourself in person (signings, professional conferences, local organization meetings, etc.) easier. Also, I am more my pen name than myself these days, which means I accidentally sign the wrong name when switching to real me. LOL. In addition, it makes it easier for legal things like P.O. boxes, and whatnot.

2. Use the same first name/nickname/initial for all your other pen names.

That way you're not answering to multiple first names. Imagine how confused my readers and writer friends are calling me some variation on Abigail, Kadie, and Kristen. It's not ideal.

3. Keep the same last name or the same initials.

At signings they more often than not line authors up alphabetically by last name. If you use a last name wildly different than your other pen names (Owen, Scott, McKanagh), readers can't find all versions of you in the room, or won't realize you're three different people.

4. Limit yourself to 2 pen names.

3 is a nightmare to manage. If I could go back and do it again, I'd have 1 name for steamy (regardless of subgenre) and 1 for sweet. That split of readers tends to be more specific in what they want to read and see from authors than by subgenre (many readers cross over subgenres but not as much with heat levels I find).

5. Understand that more pen names means more books in a year.

My goal is at least 2 books a year per pen name to keep me fresh in readers' minds. That means 6 books a year, 2 for each pen name with no wiggle room to sneak in another one here and there. Either that OR one of the pen names gets pushed out and forgotten each year depending on schedules and contracts. Think of what you could realistically keep up with.

6. Think about social media impacts.

Think about how you might separate or combine social media use for your pen names.

I have separated my pen names out for websites, newsletters, and Instagram, but kept them together for Facebook and Twitter.

The websites were a no brainer. Someone is going to search on my name looking for a website with books by that name, so I need a different spot for each. Newsletters, I realized might be too many going out if I had them all combined.

Instagram was a realization that sweet readers wouldn't want to see man chest that comes with my paranormals and steamy contemporaries, and so they get different images. 

I may, at some point, also separate out my FB and Twitter, but building the followings there is a long haul I don't want to deal with yet. Generally, I post the same content to all of my spots until it's genre specific, so that does help.

All that said, I may not learn from my own mistakes. Historical does have it's appeal as that was what I started with first in my romance reading life. I also minored in history and love to learn about other eras, so it could be fun. 

Authors - I hope you found this helpful. Readers - if your favorite authors wrote in multiple genres, what would you prefer to make it easy to identify the books and/or the authors?


Maureen said...

This is great info- I've been debating about using a pen name to separate my UF from my Paranormal Cozy Mysteries. Thank you!

Jessica E. Subject said...

That's great advice! I tried with a second pen name, but it didn't last long. Was too confusing for me, and a lot more work. I'm sure it definitely helps when their similar.

Diane Burton said...

I use 2 names--my initials (D.M.) for my middle grade adventures and my real name for my adult books. And I can't keep up. I can't imagine having 3. But then I'm having a hard time keeping up with everything. LOL

Mary Morgan said...

Great advice, Abigail, for those who write in various genres. All the best! xo

Julie Howard said...

Interesting post and great advice. Makes sense to me to divide up by steamy or sweet.

Denise Covey said...

It seems there is no easy answer to pen names. I decided to use one for paranormal. I also write contemporary romance. After struggling with the question for ages, I'm thinking of just using the one pen name for both. I'll see how it goes.

Marilyn Barr said...

Wow! I can't imagine 3 pen names in the age of social media. How do you handle Facebook and their business page red tape?

Nancy Gideon said...

I love your different logos and feel your pain!! When I started out as a very prolific author with various publishing houses, each one demanded a different pen name, so I ended up as Dana Ransom, Rosalyn West and Lauren Giddings as well as my own name. When I set up my web site, I decided to combine them all under my name with as Nancy Gideon . . . Romance by Any Other Name. Now that I've also done things outside romance and I'm updating my site, I'm going to go with Nancy Gideon . . . by Any Other Name. Yes, it's a pain to maintain and readers don't always recognize me as my "Others". When I reissue my backlist, I'm thinking of hyping them as Nancy Gideon w/a Dana Ransom (or whatever).

Keri Kruspe said...

I love this article. As of right now I don't intend to use a pen name, but who knows in the future? I appreciate the great advice in this column! Thank you:)

Tena Stetler said...

Wow, I have no idea how you keep all the pen names straight. I have enough trouble with just my own name, website, and blogs. Wonderful advice in this post should I decide to use a pen name. I to enjoy reading several genre's of books. Like you if it has HEA ending, I'll read it

Nightingale said...

I'm sorry I'm late to comment. I have just one pen name, and I find it difficult. Three, you're a very adept person. I'd trip over that many. Best wishes with all those books, and I don't know which pen name to address. :-)