by Raelene Gorlinsky
Many fiction authors use pen names. This is especially true of authors of romance and erotic romance. It's a way to protect your privacy and safety, and to separate your personal and business lives. Most authors have "day jobs", and their employer or clients perhaps may not be thrilled with whatever genre the author writes. So having a pen name is often advised.
Authors who write in multiple genres may choose to use separate names for each, to clue their readers about what type of book they are picking up. They don't necessarily hide their multiple identities, they do want fans to try them in any genre, but they don't want to confuse readers. Nora Roberts in romance is J.D. Robb for her futuristic suspense In Death series. Jayne Ann Krentz writes contemporary romances, but her alter ego Amanda Quick writes historicals and Jayne Castle writes futuristics. Of course, some authors do feel that their readers will object if they found out about their books in another genre, and this could affect their sales. For example, an author who writes both middle-grade YA fiction and erotic romance does not want to mix those audiences, or deal with outraged parents.
Some readers of certain genres may have a bias toward writers of one gender or another. Romance readers worry that a man might not be able to write the emotions and heroines they want to read, so are less likely to buy a romance novel with a male name on the cover. There was an attitude among science fiction readers that women could not write this genre. (Now that so many women read scifi, that anti-female bias is less common.) So an author of the "wrong" sex may choose a pen name that could be either gender, or use initials.
But take time and care in picking your pen name! Be sure you like it and that it represents the image you want. Once you are published and start to develop a fan base within a genre, readers will lose track of you if you decide to change names. Even if you publicize the change, some readers won't get the news.
Make absolutely sure that readers will be able to remember, pronounce, and spell your name! Repeat after me: remember, pronounce, spell. That sounds simple, but a lot of writers screw it up by picking elaborate or oddly spelled or supposedly "meaningful" pen names, in an effort to be unique. Well, that name is not meaningful to readers if they can't find your website or look you up on Amazon because they don't remember your name or aren't spelling it right. And they won't discuss you or recommend you to others if they are afraid of embarassing themselves by mispronouncing your name.
Readers turn against authors if they feel they've been misled by the author's name.
~ No, do not use the pen name Norah Roberts or John Grishan. Yes, readers will be very angry when they are tricked into buying your book thinking it was written by you-know-who.
~ Do not use a pen name to falsify an ethnic background. Even if you set your stories in another country or culture, if you are white-bread American do not misguide readers by taking an ethnic-sounding name. They will find out who you really are, will be angry at being misled, will feel you are insulting that ethnic group, and will question the validity of your books.
~ Cut it out with the cutesy! Don't call yourself Suzette Sexpot if you write erotic romance. It will not sell more books for you, it will just make readers think you are ridiculous and that perhaps you are actually sneering at the genre.
Okay, contest time! Come up with your ideas for the wrong pen name for an author of a specific genre. Post the name and genre in comments on this blog by June 30 (a week from now). [For example: Suzette Sexpot - erotic romance] Our editors will select the most creative and entertaining ones. Prizes will be copies of the EC/Pocket print anthologies. (Note: If your shipping address is not in the U.S., prize is an ebook download from our EC or CP site.)