L.J. Sellers (Guest Blogger)
The publishing industry is in upheaval with major changes, but one of the more subtle changes is the declining use of pen names. As more authors take charge of their own publishing and online marketing, they choose to skip the pen names when they write in various genres, in an effort to capitalize on the brand success of the name they’re already selling under.
This makes sense to me and it’s why I’m publishing my futuristic thriller, The Arranger,
under the same author name as my police procedurals. Essentially, the books are all crime stories, and in this case, they even share a major character, so I never considered using a pen name. Some marketers would argue this is a mistake, but I disagree.
In fact, even if I decided to write in a completely different genre, say fantasy, I still don’t think I would use a pen name. Here’s why. Marketers at major publishing houses established the practice with the idea that books should be categorized and shelved by genre and that readers were easily confused. They worried readers would buy a book in a genre they didn’t want just because it had their favorite author’s name on it.
This seems like an insult to readers. If the cover art and book description are doing their jobs, then readers will know exactly what the genre is and what to expect from the novel—regardless of the name on the cover. Readers have also come to expect authors to pen stories in various genres. It is neither surprising, nor confusing to them.
In addition, writers are blending story types and making up their own genres. Paranormal historical mystery, anyone? Or in my case: futuristic crime thriller. I’m not sure pen names were ever useful, but if they were, readers are long past it. In the age of the internet and open access to writers, readers learn everything they need to about an author and their various books with a quick visit to their website.
What about readers browsing in bookstores? Does a pen name prevent them from buying a futuristic police procedural written by J.D. Robb instead of a romance by Nora Roberts? I don’t think so. At least not more than once. I know there are instances in which a pen name could be useful, such as if the author wants or needs privacy, but those cases are rare.
To minimize any possible confusion, I labeled my novel with a subtitle: A Futuristic Thriller, and I created a different style of cover. It will be clear to my Detective Jackson fans that this novel is different from my police procedurals.
I also have two other standalone thrillers, so most of my readers already know that I write non-Jackson books. Of course, I want my Jackson fans to try the new novel, which is partially why I sent Detective Lara Evans into the future to tell this story. (I also think she’s a lot of fun, but that’s another blog.) Some of my police procedural readers will check out this novel and some will pass. That’s okay. I’m hoping new readers who’ve never heard of me will try it too.
As a fairly new author, I have to capitalize on my name recognition. My name is my brand. Without the support of a major publisher, it’s all I have, and I use it everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, chat groups, etc. I never use amusing nicknames like thrillergirl or crimefighter. They might be fun, but they don’t tell readers who I am. I’m not likely to ever use a pen name either, for the same reasons.
What do you think? Are pen names useful to you as a reader or writer?
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series. L.J. also has three standalone thrillers. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.
L.J. Sellers would like to give away one print copy and two e-books of her new release, The Arranger, to readers who leave comments today on her PDD post. If you comment, you can email her directly at ljsellers[dot]novelist[at]gmail[dot]com with your own email address. She'll let you know if you've won the drawing--and let her know if you have (or don't have) an e-reader!