Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pen Names Revisited

So last time we discussed the "good side" of pen names, didn't we? But I left out the cons of having a pen name on purpose so I could dedicate a whole post to the subject.

Here are some common problems I've run into (or heard about) when it comes to pseudonyms:

1. Confusing the hell out of your readers! Now this is a biggy. You can and will confuse your readers if you decide to use multiple pen names OR if you decide to use just one. And here's why:

Say, you're a talented author who can write more than one genre (like moi!). You write a little horror, a little sci-fi, a little erotica, a little non-fiction... you're such a badass you can write whatever the fuck you want, right? And you're good at it, so why not?

So now let's say you have one name for your horror stuff, one name for your erotica, and two more for your sci-fi/fantasy. Obviously, your fans are going to have to look all over god's green earth just to find and figure out which is which and what is what, and you don't want that do you? It's confusing! And a nuisance! It's much easier for them to just look for one name rather than five or six, right? It always pissed me off when a writer used ten million pen names. It often prevented me from buying their books just because I couldn't be arsed to go through the trouble of looking up all of their names.

On the flip side, however, you can confuse your readers just by going under one name.

Let's pretend I've become famous for my horror stories. When readers think: "Vegetarian Cannibal" they automatically categorize me with horror, thriller, suspense, etc. But say I got tired of writing horror stories and I wanted to try my hand at children's books. People may not buy my children's books under "Vegetarian Cannibal" because they've assumed I can only write horror! I've been "type-casted" by my pen name. And that can hurt sales and confuse your fan base. Your fans might turn on you if they see you doing another genre. Start saying stuff like: "Why the fuck is she doing kiddy books? She used to be so hardcore when she did horror! Now she's gotten soft. I'm not buying anymore of her books!" And just like that, you've sabotaged your career!

You have to remember that consumers are FICKLE FICKLE FICKLE! What's hot today is lame tomorrow. So be mindful of that if you write more than one genre. You do NOT want to confuse your fan base!

2. Picking a really STUPID pen name and getting "stuck" with it. Ah, how many writers have complained about this? Too many to count, I would imagine. Picking a pen name is like naming your company. Because really, as a writer, your name is your brand! It's all a potential reader (customer) has to go on before they pick up your book. So it is IMPERATIVE to choose a pen name (if at all) that represents you the way you wish to be seen. Maybe "Monkey Stupid Boy" was funny in college but not so much now that you're trying to sell self-help books! Or maybe you decided to use a pseudonym with your ex-husband's last name? Yikes! Make sure you really think about it because it can cause your grief in the long run.

3. Nobody knowing who you are. This is one I hear a lot about. Having a pen name gives you automatic anonymity. For some, this is great! For others, not so much.

Some writers have a very personal relationship with their work and want the whole world to know who they are and why they wrote that particular piece. I think that's great. It's not something I would personally do, given the subject matter of most of my stories, but there are a lot of authors out there who use their real names and get on just fine. Really, it's up to the individual and what your motivations and expectations are. If you're comfortable writing homosexual erotica under your real name--GO FOR IT! Just know that your 9-to-5 employer or devout Catholic grandmother could find out and give you grief about it later. Oy vey!

Those are the biggies I usually run into as far as CONS go. If you can think of some more don't be afraid to speak up and leave a comment. I'm curious to your thoughts. :)

Happy writing!



Anthony Beal said...

Excellent points, all of them. As for the point about anonymity, I'm one of those writers who's always desired the exact opposite (smiles!) Call it "pride" or "ego" or some other thing, but I've always wanted to open a magazine or walk into a bookstore and see my own name credited, since it was Anthony Beal who worked hard on creating the work, not (insert borderline tasteless pseudonym here). I most certainly understand why people writing on risque subjects would opt for a pseudonym, but I've never been that writer, and until it comes back to bite me in the 'tocks, I doubt I ever will be. My employer knows the darker topics on which I write, and as far as I know, has yet to seek out my work, however if he ever did, it's not as though I ever tried to hide it from him.

I'm also probably guilty to some degree of point #1. Given that I've recently shifted from writing horror erotica to writing about food culture, I'm sure some readers are wondering WTF? but as I've not altogether abandoned dirty, sexy things as subject matter, hopefully, they'll hang in there with me, because good things are a-coming on that front. I started writing about food largely because I figure it'd be really nice if, when my daughter is old enough, she can actually read things written by daddy without either of us having to feel weird. I'll never be a children's book kind of writer, but food writing seems safe enough (smiles!).

I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


Vegetarian Cannibal said...

And I really enjoyed your comment, Anthony! :D I love it when you stop by. Your thoughts are appreciated here always!

Besides, you're pretty good at writing about food. For anyone reading, go ahead and take a hop-skip to his blog! :D

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