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Mar 26, 2009

What's in a Pen Name?

An author by any other pen name would write as sweet. But she might not make as much money.

I have a confession. Tara Maya is a pen name. My real name has a lot of syllables. I decided ages ago -- in my year abroad in college, to be precise -- I needed a pen name. Mostly I was too shy to face the idea of anyone knowing I was an author, but partly I thought a nice, short name could be written in a larger font on a paperback. ;)

I'm over the shyness and who even knows if there will still be paperbacks by the time any of my writing sees print. Furthermore, I discovered the downside to a pen name. It isn't your real name. I know. Duh. But I wasn't thinking about the importance of social networking, or any other kind of marketing, back when I decided to start writing under a pseudonym. 

Why not just start using my real name? Well, for one thing, now I'm married, so that's changed anyway. Another thing, I've been participating in writer's groups, submitting to agents and have even been published under Tara Maya. To the extent anyone knows I exist as a writer at all, they know me as Tara Maya.

Oh, right, unless of course they know me by my other pen name. Yeah, I have two. I've published under that one too. I have a blog for the other pen name too, but I hardly ever write in it (what, hardly ever? well, never) because I prefer to write in this blog.

Therein lies the other big problem with pen names. The more you have, the more time you have to spend separately marketing each one. What a bother.

On to my question. Should I write my new book under a different name -- my real name, for instance?

I know, I know, I just said it was a bother to have more than one, so why would I want three?

One word: genre.

As Tara Maya, I write science fiction and fantasy. My other pen name writes steamy romance. The new book I'm working on isn't in either of those genres. It's a mainstream novel. Historical, I suppose, would be the closest genre, although this particular book only takes place about ten years ago.

Any thoughts?

(The art is by roz-red from deviant art.)


Sara Raasch said...

That would be so hard to keep track of! I think, though, that fans will read whatever you write, regardless of genre. So writing it all under one name wouldn't be bad. Though since you've already written under different names, I'd pick one and make it permanent. I know when I get really into an author I want to read everything she/he's written, and searching for different books by you would get confusing.

lisa and laura said...

We might be submitting under a pen name so editors don't realize they're dealing with two people instead of one. We actually sort of love the name, so it will be fun. I do hope that the books will be published under both of our names, but who knows!?

Dolly said...

I can understand your need for a pen name... It's always scary putting yourself out there :)

Ban said...

hmmm ... i'd always planned on using a pen name for privacy and i still feel strongly about that so i'm keeping it. i know i read somewhere (please forgive as i can't remember where) that many authors use multiple names (esp. when writing different genres) because over time - if an author's sales drop off, it is harder to convince a publisher to print a new book - they are more apt to go with a new, fresh name (even if it's just a pen name !) think of how many famous authors out there have 10 or more books under pseudonyms. when faithful readers find out, they feel like they've discovered treasure and there's a jump is sales.
as an aside - if someone is worried about their following a 'common' blog could be set up to update on all 3 (?) writers.

Ban said...

ps: great image for this post !

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I know that Query Tracker is doing a blog post on pen names next week, so keep checking. It's bound to be good.

I went through all this fuss awhile and finally decided that I will publish under my full name. Nobody has it and it will be easy to find me online: Michelle Davidson Argyle. I come right up in google. :)

If you don't have a really good reason for a pen name, I don't see why you'd need one. Just my opinion.

scott g.f.bailey said...

For a while I considered a pen name, because, as you say, it's something to hide behind if you're unsure of yourself. My pen name was going to be "Steve King." I think it's catchy. Okay, I'm lying; I had another name picked out: "Daniel Steele." Enough of this.

I really hate the name "Scott." I've considered changing it a dozen times over the years, but as I get older I get less fussy about my vanity, so I publish under my real name. I add in my middle initials so I won't be confused with the hockey player or the voice actor. Also, it's pretentious and I lied about my vanity just now.

To sum up: I'm no help to you at all. I understand the issues regarding writing in different genres, and how disappointing sales in one genre will make bookstores hesitate to order copies of an author's books in a different genre. The other thing, though, is that multiple pen names for a single author usually don't remain secret for long, and it can end up just looking silly. I say that if you think you'll be proud of your next book, you should put your own name on it. There is something really cool about seeing one's own name in print (as long as it's not on a summons or the like).

Sherrie Petersen said...

My friend Kim uses three different names for the same reason as you. She writes romance as Kimberley Troutte, MG fiction as K.T. Hernandez and nonfiction as Kimberley T. Hernandez. And she really doesn't want MG readers to pick up her romance thinking it's going to be similar.

Ban said...

always funny scott ! btw ... i've always liked your name. when i got my first 'ken' doll i renamed him 'cause i thought ken was boring :D

Danyelle L. said...

Interesting. I thought of using a pen name, but I have a hard enough time remembering my own sometimes. It finally came down to me decided to own my work, and that meant using my real name. I can understand using pen names if you're writing for different genres though. That makes sense to me.

PurpleClover said...

I know of a writer that uses several pen names: Barbara Mertz, Elisabeth Peters, Barbara Michaels.

She uses a different name for a different genre.

I think if you feel you can keep them straight, go for it. I personally couldn't keep them all straight. I have no qualms with writing under my married name. I think the idea of a pen name is fun but I think when it came down to filing the paperwork it would just be too much trouble (I'm assuming you'd need to file a d/b/a - doing business as and then sign the docs for the contract as such).

IF and ONLY IF I was going to write a book that I didn't want family to know about I would use a pen name. :) But that is just me.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I think using a pen name is just a personal preference. Although one author I know of, when she found an agent was told that the pen name she'd chosen sounded too fake, and so she had to choose another one.

For me, my own name is original enough (like Lady Glamis when I google my name it is only me who comes up) and honestly, keeping track of another name would just be too darn confusing.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

It sounds hard to keep track of, but in this instance I think it would actually be in your favor to use a third name -- your real-world name or otherwise. It might be best -- in terms of marketing and fanbases and such -- to avoid the overlap between your sci-fi/fantasy self or your romance self and your mainstream self and maybe even from your real-world self.

Anonymous said...

I planned to write children's books and my pen name was born. i keep it for privacy on the web.

Traci said...

I am thinking I may have a pen name. I'm just not sure what it would be. My friends have been working hard to make one up...but they end up sounding like stripper names instead of author names. :-/

Tara Maya said...

Stripper names only work with *certain* genres. ;)

Kimbra Kasch said...

I love the rose art. I've thought about using a pen name so I could write in multiple genres. But I don't have to worry - until one name is known ;D

Anonymous said...

I use a pen name because I'm private -- and because people far too often mispronounce both my maiden name and my married name. Alicia is my real first name, but Dalton comes from ancestors a number of generations before me. I love how the two names sound together. :)

I understand the need for authors to use different pen names when writing in conflicting genres. I do think it'd be hard to keep up with more than a couple personas. It's difficult enough making time for one blog and one genre market.