Friday, January 2, 2015

Tackling Multiple Genres and Multiple Pen Names

photo courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski via flickr

Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb. J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith. Jayne Ann Krentz and Jayne Castle AND Amanda Quick. There is a whole world of authors out there writing different genres under different pen names. As if launching and nurturing one career identity wasn’t enough! The thing is, as we enter this new year, I’m about to create a new persona in a new genre myself. So before I dig myself into a hole as I turn over this new leaf, I thought I’d do my research and ask for some advice from author friends who are already balancing multiple identities.

One of the things that I remember being told early on in my writing and publishing journey was that I had better pick just one genre that I could write in prolifically and that I should be willing to part with all of the other genres that I could be writing. I never liked that answer, and as it turns out, neither did a lot of the authors I know.

The main reason my author friends cited for writing under different pen names is the ability to write vastly different genres and (because we’re romance writers) heat levels. You’d be surprised how many authors of sweet, Christian Romance are also writing down and dirty ménage erotica at the same time! Even before the dawn of “anything goes” self-publishing, authors had all sorts of different kinds of stories in them.

In some cases, the genres any given author wants to write are close enough that they can get away with the umbrella of just one pen name. As my friend Lily Graison, who writes Historical Western, Contemporary, and Paranormal Romance, says, “I've had no problem [publishing multiple genres], and I think it may be to my advantage since, at times, readers in one genre are trying the others I write as well. Its win-win, I think.”

I’m inclined to agree with Lily, at least when the genres are relatively close, as with Romance, or when the heat level is consistent. My own experience from this past summer, however, taught me that some genres are so different from each other that using the same pen name is a recipe for disaster. I write Historical Romance as Merry Farmer, but last summer when I tried publishing Sci-Fi under the same name? Well, I could count the number of those Sci-Fi books that I sold on my hands and toes, with toes to spare. I pulled them and plan to re-launch them at some point under a different, gender neutral name (which is a whole other topic).

Readers are sensitive to heat levels too, and a savvy author will keep this in mind when planning to publish works that are studies in opposites. Another friend, who I know as Kirsten Osbourne, but who has a total of five pen names across genres, says, “I write super sweet Christian and that need to be separated from my pen names with sex.  I write naughty ménage, and that needs to be separated from my mainstream sweetness.  And I write YA, which needs to be its own beast.” Kirsten, and a lot of other authors out there, are sensitive toward their audience, and so tackle the madness that is multiple identities across multiple platforms.

photo courtesy of Orin Zebest via flickr

And it does sound a bit like madness to me. Across the board, all of my author friends who write under multiple names told me that it creates multiple headaches. Like Cassie Hayes told me, “I think launching a major pen name is always a pain. All the platforms! Ugh! But ya do what ya gotta do.” Building and maintaining a platform is a challenge in itself, but balancing several…well, that takes a serious level of dedication. But as we’ve seen time and again, there are plenty of authors who are willing—driven, even—to do it.

But apparently, it doesn’t always have to be an uphill battle. When I asked my friends if launching a second or third pen name was any easier than starting out from scratch, most of them agreed that it was. You learn things for the first time when you start at the beginning, but once you’ve gone around the block, when you go around again, you already know what to expect and what to prepare for. This seems to be true for both the traditional and self-published authors I polled.

Sometimes, the answer is to take an entirely different approach the second time around. “I actually do very little for my Ashley [Merrick] pen name,” says Pamela Kelley. “I put up an author page and twitter, but I never tweet other than link what is posted on FB which is not much. Interestingly, Ashley sells as well with less effort…so I think you can put up a new pen and not have to spend tons of time building the social media platform.”

Others aren’t as confident. As Leslea Tash says about launching platforms for additional pen names, “Ease was definitely there, but, to be honest, having three pen names is exhausting and the charm of writing "whatever I want" is wearing off at this point. Keeping up with everything I need and want to promote is impossible.” A lot of the authors I polled feel the same way. To a certain extent, the thrill of producing on a large scale across multiple genres can become more trouble than it’s worth. But not for everyone. Kirsten Osbourne tells me that she still loves writing for all five of her personas and couldn’t imagine dropping any of them. Her fans feel the same way.

So as I get ready to split my personality and start writing under a second pen name, I think the most important thing that I’ve learned from those who have gone before me is to be prepared. A certain level of organization is necessary in order to keep all those ducks in their rows. Like some of my friends, I plan to put a different sort of energy into this new pen name and brand than I do for my Merry Farmer brand. I’m entering this game with different expectations than I had when I jumped into the world of publishing for the first time, and I think in the end that will help me navigate whatever pitfalls I encounter. I’ll meet you back here in the future to give you an update on how Merry 2.0 is doing!


Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.


6 comments :

  1. I agree that there are good reasons for keeping your writing identities separate when they are so far apart, and sadly gender neutrality is still an issue in this day and age. Managing three online identities and websites etc. is time consuming. I did not consider writing my nonfiction under a different name than my fiction, just didn't occur to me, but would consider it for different genres. The tricky part is that psuedonyms are often busted, so be prepared if you write naughty nurse erotica and sweet YA romance to face the "choir." ; )

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  3. Odd as it sounds, there's also a certain negative aspect to over-saturating the market with too many books in the same name. Aren't we all a little suspicious of people who can produce more than we can? Mostly they are more focused and on-task. Or have certain kinds of help that buy them time.

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  4. I'm one who would do it. Though it's true it'd be work maintaining more than one platform, I like the idea of each genre being a different name. I started with mysteries, so I used this name. Luckily, I have MANY at my disposal! That a different story though...

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  5. I write everything under one name, fiction and nonfiction, and never really thought about breaking out pen names. However, I can see the reasoning behind using different names for genres that are not compatible. This was an interesting article, and kudos to those writers who can turn out so many books under so many different names.

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  6. Good food for thought, Merry. I need to ponder this because I have several books in various stages of completion that fit different genres.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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