Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Writer's Words of Wisdom: Should You Use a Pen Name?

Nom de Plume or Not?

This is one question many authors have to struggle with when they are getting ready to publish. Funny thing is, there is no right or wrong answer. It truly is an individual preference. There are many established authors who will be ADAMANT you use a pen name, especially in the romance genres. Some may even call you an idiot if you don't have one. Yes, I was called that when one author found out that Tammy Dennings Maggy was my real name at the time. (I've since remarried). It ticked me off to have someone call me stupid because I chose to stick with my own name, but then I had to put myself in the other author's shoes. She wasn't saying it to belittle me. She was trying, in her very rude and crass way, to protect me. Why? To keep my private life separate from my writer life? Maybe. The main reason was to protect me from potential stalkers.

Now while this may be a very valid concern and a very big one for romance writers in the 80's, I'm here to tell you from personal experience, stalkers come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. They don't just go after those in the spotlight. They stalk every day people. I have been a victim of such a person. He grew very attached to me as his dog's veterinarian. It got to the point he was sending me flowers almost daily and flipping out if I was on my day off and not there at his beck and call. 

He decided to take matters into his own hands and followed me home one afternoon. I had stopped into the veterinary hospital for a staff meeting. He once again brought flowers for me. Unfortunately one of the staff mistakenly told him I would be there that afternoon,  and she would be sure I got his gift.

Instead of being happy with that, he waited in the parking lot until the meeting was over and followed me home. Lucky for me, two of my neighbors were home when I pulled in my driveway and he was scared off.  Needless to say, I had a police escort for a bit until my stalker moved out of state.  I was not a published author then, just a veterinarian.

Like myself, many of my author friends write erotica and erotic romance...what their friends and family refer to as smut. If I had a dollar for every time a member of my own family said that, I would be able to retire as a veterinarian and devote all of my time to writing. Sigh. A girl can dream can't she?

If you don't want your family, friends, members of your church or PTA find out what you write, then create that alternate personality and let the words flow. The most important thing here is that you follow your dream. If it means you create  another name for yourself, DO IT! 

Will you write in more than one genre?

The advice of many publishers these days, is to keep separate pen names for each genre you decide to explore in your writing. I can see the questions forming in your minds already. "Wouldn't that make it harder to build up a following and market my name?" Not really.

When you are first starting out, you want your name to be associated with your work. If you write young adult fiction, you want your new fans to be able to find you easily and not pick up books written by you in other genres. Quite a few readers are very fickle. If they like your style, they will expect more books from you in that particular genre. If you zip around and try first sweet romance and then your next book using the same pen name is say a horror novel, you are going to turn off some of those readers you fought hard for in the beginning.

Readers aren't stupid. They will read the covers and descriptions of your books...usually. More often than not, once they get hooked on you, they will grab anything and everything you write under that name, BUT...and that's a big but, if you give them something that turns them off they just may stay away from any more new material from you. For example, quite a few readers who love M/M romances are completely turned off if they find their favorite author has written a M/F romance. I had one such person tag my book For the Love of Quinn as "no thanks" simply because it was M/F and she only read M/M. Why even bother to tag the book you ask? Because she can and it's her way of making it known that she would try my work if it fell into the genres she enjoyed.

So do yourself a favor and use a separate pen name for each genre you wish to explore. I currently have three pen names. As Tammy Dennings Maggy I wrote M/F and F/F erotic romances and poetry. Within those genres I've dabbled in contemporary, paranormal and vampire subgenres. I write M/M and menage erotic romances in those same subgenres as Lia Michaels. Stephanie Ryan is my chosen pen name to write mainstream sweet romances, young adult fiction, and mainstream fiction. Stephanie has control of a few of my old works in progress and a new one called The Do Over where the heroine gets a chance to go back in time, knowing what she knows now, to relive part of her past. I could easily use this same idea and turn it into an erotic romance, but that's not the way my muse is directing me. 

Would I want someone under 18 years of age to pick up something written by Lia? Hell no! Would I want to face the wrath of their parents? No frickin' way! It's bad enough under aged kids get their hands on explicit adult materials. I'll be damned if I'm going to make it any easier for those inquiring minds.  If you are known for writing young adult fiction and suddenly turn out a GLBT erotic romance, will you be willing to take the backlash? 

Remember the hoopla over Judy Blume's coming of age novel Forever and then her adults only book Wifey? No? Look into that when you get the chance and you'll know what I mean. Ms. Blume was well-known for her children's books so when the new ones came out, many parents automatically allowed their kids to read them just because of name recognition. Get the picture now?

Isn't it too much work?

It's all in how you look at it. Yes it means more work for you overall. Nowadays, authors are expected to do the majority of their own promotions. Next week I'll talk more about that, but let's just say in order to get your name out there and be seen, this takes the form of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, websites and blogs just to name a few.  For each pen name you should have these things. The more times your pen name is out there, the more likely someone will find you and your work.

Now once you have an established following, if you wish to combine some of those things, then by all means do so. Personally, I'm finding keeping those all separate works best for me right now. I don't keep it a secret I use multiple pen names (obviously), but it helps me, and those who follow me, keep each group of story lines separate.

Again, it's all up to you and your muse. 

Take home message

As a writer, it's more important that you stay true to yourself then take one person's advice as gospel. Listen to those who've come before you. Take their advice to heart, and do what works best for you. Pen name or not, your work is your own. Stand up and be proud of it. Work at it daily. Listen to the constructive criticism. Learn from it all so you can be the best storyteller you can be.

Let your Muse be your guide. After all, it's not the name that's on the cover of the book that's important, it's what fills the pages inside that will grab the reader and take them on a wild ride.

See you next week!

Two other authors are participating with me this week. Here are the links to their websites. Go ahead and stop in and find out what they have to say. 


  1. Great post, Tammy. I, too, write under my real name. Although I have had personal experiences with stalkers, they didn't deter me from sticking with my real persona. Like you, I believe a stalker type is gonna stalk whether you are in the public or not. I seem to attract that type simply by smiling at the grocery store. (I wish that was an exaggeration.) Right now I write romantic suspense, but have a WIP that is strictly suspense. I plan in sticking witb Amber Lea Easton for that, hoping my readers are okay with the slight deviation. We shall see, won't we?

    I have a great pen name picked out, though, if I decide to go too far off my path. ;-)

    You made excellent points. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thumb typing on my phone...excuse the above typos please. :-)

  3. Great post, Tammy! I think all writers struggle with this issue. My first works were under a pen name, and I even have non-paid stories on erotica websites under an assumed name. I hate to admit it, but my ultimate decision to post under my real name was more of a point of pride for me. I gave up a lot of big dreams in exchange for being a stay-at-home Mom. I wanted my friends and family to see that I was still doing something (even though being a full-time Mom should be considered enough ;) )

    I can see why you would consider alternate names for various genres. If readers get used to M/F and you start writing M/M, they could be torn between buying your work because they like your style and not buying your work because that's not their cup of tea. I have a great alternate name I still use on the rare occasion I feel the need to write something really 'smutty'.

  4. I see pen names as a way to let other sides of ourselves out. Letting the erotic side out is damn :-)

  5. Thanks for stopping by everyone! Like Jessica, I wanted my first published work to be with my real name for bragging rights. I wanted to be able to show those who never thought I could do it that they were wrong. Now I feel comfortable branching out with different personas. Everyone still knows it's me, but it's fun to step out of the box and explore different worlds, sort of making yourself into a character too.

  6. Deciding to use a pen name was the easy part. It was to keep my family life separate from my work life. And it's fun to strike up a bit more risque persona as Paloma! The hard decisions came when I had to figure out who I would tell, how secretive I would be, and if I'd use my own photo online. It's definitely a lot to consider as an author.

  7. Thanks for stopping in, Paloma! Besides creating the worlds that are within the pages of our books, coming up with a pen name or several can be an exciting adventure.


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