What’s in a name?

We’ve been talking a lot about rules, expectations, etc when it comes to writing. Which got me thinking about pen names. When I first decided to pursue writing as a career I had a decision to make. What name did I use to write under? My name? Another? It’s a question I’ve seen many other authors ask as well.

There were a lot of reasons that went into my decision to use a pen name.

1. Genre: If I was going to write erotic romance, or something that might be frowned on by family then I wanted to keep it separate. Not that I was ashamed if I wrote erotic romance, but I for one hate seeing the look on my grandmother’s face when she hears that my stuff is pretty racy.

2. Work: I have a day job. Honestly, I wasn’t so much worried about the content as I was their reaction to me publishing and having a day job. A few of my co-workers made sure to point out that writing was a game. Not something I took seriously.

3. Success: When I first started pursuing this career if you didn’t sell a lot of books with your debut it made it harder to find an agent/publisher. Everyone wanted a “debut” author. And you could really only focus on one brand to build. It wasn’t common to cross genres.

These three reasons were more or less the catalyst for my decision. In the beginning I had no intention on cross promoting. As far as I was concerned, I would take on a whole new identity with my pen name.  But that’s not path I ended up following.

Now (only a few years later) those reasons no longer ring true for me. Crossing genres is more common. Agents are seeking out writers to offer representation. Publishers are doing the same. You can build a brand with a much wider focus than a narrow one as before. The point is that you are good author and put out solid work each and every time. And write what makes you happy. As for my family…well, my writing isn’t doing anyone any harm. I just make sure to tell warn them up front.

I’m not saying a pen name isn’t important. For some it very much is. Fortunately for me, I have the freedom to write under whatever name I want and can cross promote. So these days if someone asks my opinion on choosing a pen name, I say do what’s right for you. Make a decision that falls in line with your own personal career goals. Publishing is changing, providing more authors with more options. Whether or not you take a pen name is just another possibility for you to expand your horizons. It’s a lot of work to build two different brands, two different names. But there is some freedom to explore as well.

What about you? Do you write with a pen name? As a reader do you pay attention to the author name or just the story?

Jennah Scott aka Jen Duffey

2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Shauna Granger says:

    Great post! I had a similar journey with my name and pen name but I chose a pen name because I used my real name for my first project, which ended up being YA – had to make sure there was a distinction between that type of writing and the “not appropriate for kids writing.” After over a year of writing under my pen name I actually asked my YA readers if they would be offended to find out if I wrote erotica and I was amazed at the overwhelming support I received. So many were just happy to know there was more out there that I’d written that they could read.

    So, I agree that there is need for pen names, but now I don’t think you need to hide what you’re writing. As long as people can differentiate so they can make their own calls one whether or not to read, you’re gold.

  2. Hi Jennah/Jen,
    Great post. I agree with everything you wrote. My experience has been very similar to yours – I chose a pen name to keep the genres separate (erotica, memoir, SF). The surprising thing, for me, was how quickly I grew into the pen name and made it mine. It feels like my name! I chose names that I had a connection with, perhaps that helped. Anyway, thank you for your insights!

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