So the romance teakettle was in a bit of a tempest last week when Jane Litte from the Dear Author review blog announced she was also indie author Jen Frederick.
Jump HERE to read her statement, detailing her reasons for keeping the pseudonym separate from her Dear Author persona.
Jump HERE to read an anonymous post on The Passive Voice blog, detailing why her rationalizations might be kind of bogus.
This is a tremendously complicated issue. I can totally see why Jane Litte would want to keep her roles separate by using different names. I can also understand why the anonymous blogger (who kept their own identity private for fear of retaliation by Ms. Litte or her allies) felt betrayed when it turned out that the Jen Frederick they knew from a private author discussion board was actually a prominent reviewer.
I can respect Ms. Litte for the stand she took in support of Ellora's Cave authors. She hasn't backed down, even though she's now the subject of a lawsuit brought by the publisher. On the other hand, I've seen her and her reviewers get into some pretty petty bitchfests with other authors, which makes me question their credibility.
Like I said, it's complicated.
Whether she's a hero or a villain or somewhere in between, Jane Litte is a smart and successful businesswoman, and her Jen Frederick pen name is going to be a lot more prominent when that movie deal goes through.
So why use a pen name?
Ms. Litte says she "partitioned off the fiction writing from the blogging, to keep (her) writing identity private" because "it was important that DA (Dear Author) remain its own, inviolate entity." She did it to keep her writing life separate from her day job, and of all the reasons to choose a pen name, I think this is the strongest.
Liv Rancourt is my pen name, and I chose to use it because I didn't want people doing google searches for Amy Caldwell, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, to find pages of hits for vampire porn (as my children affectionately call my first book). When I started out as a writer, I had kids in Catholic school and sang in the church choir. I wanted the freedom to write on any topic without worrying what people who knew me in those contexts would think. I don't care so much any more, but back then I needed the barrier.
Now, if you're thinking about writing under a pen name so you can get back at the guy who broke your heart in high school or the Ice Queen who beat you out for a promotion, you should probably take a hard look at your motivation. As it says at the bottom of this post from WritingWorld.com, using a pseudonym won't protect you from legal action if the axes you choose to grind fall into libelous territory.
Building your brand.
Another reason for choosing a pen name is to compartmentalize, to give each genre you write in a separate identity. An easy example is romance writer Nora Roberts and thriller/suspense writer JD Robb. Same person, different genres, different personas.
Choosing separate pen names allows you to develop a clear brand for each one, which can help attract readers. The biggest downside involved is the amount of work involved in developing and maintaining two separate author brands - separate twitter profiles and Facebook pages and blogs and oh boy I might have a seizure just thinking about it.
It's possible to craft your brand on a level above genre - basing it on humor, or tough-talking characters, or a specific setting or socioeconomic level. Janet Evanovich, for example, writes funny, quick-thinking heroines, whether she's doing Stephanie Plum mysteries or Lizzy & Deisel paranormal stories or Kate O'Hare spy thrillers. Because she's so consistent, readers know what to expect from Ms. Janet, regardless of the genre of the story. (Jump HERE for a thoughtful post by Belinda Pollard on whether you need separate pen names for different genres.)
Building your brand - the reprise.
- Say your surname is made up entirely of consonants. You might want to consider a pen name.
- Say your name is undeniably feminine - Maybelle Valentine, for example - and you write political thrillers. You might want to consider a pen name.
- Say your parents, Tom and Mary King, named you Stephen. You also might want to consider a pen name.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. There are circumstances where the name on your birth certificate should stay there, while you put something different on your published work. The tricky bit is figuring out what name to use.
The name should resonate with you and should be accessible for your readers. It's got to be something you can live with, because for the foreseeable future you're going to be seeing and hearing it nearly every day. It should fit within the expectations for the genre you want to write. Ms. Valentine from the example above might be a hard sell as a thriller writer, but she'd fit in fine writing cozy romances.
There are all kinds of places to get ideas for pen names. Liv Rancourt is a close variation of my great aunt's name, Livia Rancourt. You might find a family name that would work, or a list of names in a source like the phone book might give you ideas. Wait, except we don't really have phone books any more. Use google then. You can do anything with google.
More seriously, here's another great post by Belinda Pollard with ideas for how to choose a pen name.
Learning and perfecting the craft of writing is important. So is learning the business side of publishing. Choosing a great title for your story is key. But how many times have you asked a friend,
"Hey, have you read the new one by (fill in the blank with the author of your choice)?"
The name you choose to publish under is the thing most readers remember. It'll be tied to their memories of your work, and it's a symbol of trust that you will both entertain and connect with them on an emotional level. In writing, as in every other part of life, you should think real carefully before doing something that betrays somebody's trust.
What about you? Do you have a pen name? Why? Do you have any thoughts on the Jane Little/Jen Frederick brouhaha?