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Pseudonyms

Crumbly Writer

This began with a private discussion, which I'm now opening up to a wider discussion so others can contribute or learn something.

Background: I wrote a story that features a lesbian detective. Despite knowing a few lesbians in my time, we never quite got around to discussing their personal lifestyles. As such, I had to do a LOT of research on both lesbians and big city police detectives. Once I was done, I wanted to ensure I wouldn't offend anyone with obvious errors, so I handed some of my lesbian friends select chapters to read. But then, I asked, 'Should I write this under a pseudonym, or will lesbian readers assume a straight guy writer has no clue what he's writing about?'

It was suggested I use a pseudonym, since they'd never seen any books by guys in the 'lesbian stories' section of their bookstore.

At that point, I asked several authors who'd used pseudonyms, to see whether it was a good idea or not. I had several reservations, and I wanted to see if this was a stupid idea or not.

My issues:
1) Would it sell better, or worse?
2) Would it open new markets?
3) Did I need a new website to support it, which I'd have to support indefinitely in the future?
4) How would my regular and loyal fans discover it if it's under another name?

I got an interesting response from a 6-figure author (indirectly through an intermediary) who'd published under a pseudonym. Her answer: Don't do it!

There are several reasons, but here are the main ones:
1) It won't sell. A first book by any author doesn't sell well. There are SO many new authors, the first thing readers do when they see a new book is to Google the author. First books sell few copies, but each subsequent book sells more of the previous books. Creating a new ID is almost guaranteeing fewer sales, and less 'associated' sales by releasing a new book.
2) The overhead is killer. Besides the new website, the new Amazon, print and other accounts, there's also the new bio, author photos, etc. If you screw up on either, you're toast. Consistency and brand name recognition are your biggest selling points. Tossing those away will only hurt you.
3) Identify what your market is. Anytime you sell a new book, you potentially uncover new readers. But if you start a new ID, will you win new readers, or lose old ones?

In my case, I wasn't targeting lesbian readers. I was targeting ALL readers, so creating a new ID didn't make sense. My concern was not screwing up and offending anyone, and I think I got that right.

So in the end, I decided not to use a pseudonym.

Note: The above was based on self-publishing. I know many SOL authors write using pseudonyms to prevent one story from hurting their rankings.

How does using a pseudonym on SOL differ from what I outlined? Would the rest of you write a gay porno, or a romance story if you thought it would hurt the scores on your other stories? How do you identify your 'market'? Would publishing radically different (or just new genres) hurt that 'market'?

Dominion's Son
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


How does using a pseudonym on SOL differ from what I outlined?


Well, I would think that a good chunk of the authors that write strictly for SOL use a pseudonym to keep their writings from being tied back to their real life.

Some could loose their jobs if their employers found out. Me, I'm no so worried about my job, but my family would not appreciate the stories I am writing.


Would the rest of you write a gay porno, or a romance story if you thought it would hurt the scores on your other stories?


I appreciate the scores as feed back, but I don't write for the scores. However, I wouldn't write gay porno because those kinds of stories don't appeal to me.

Both of my stories will have FF because it ties in to the Polyamory/harem theme. MM Simply doesn't appeal to me.

I might read a story with some MM if the story is good enough and it's a relatively minor part of the story.


How do you identify your 'market'? Would publishing radically different (or just new genres) hurt that 'market'?


Personally I don't. Both the stories I have in progress are personal fantasies that I decided to "put on paper"* and flesh out.

I have been a long time reader and decided to share the stories after I started writing them.

*No actual paper has been harmed in the making of my stories.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Dominion's Son

DS, I reference "gay porn" simply because that's the biggest hate vote squick on SOL (more so than poop and diaper stories). I wasn't suggesting it as an alternative, but was simply asking, if your audience would disapprove of a new story type, would you use your current ID.

Concerning pseudonyms, I started writing as Crumbly, because like many of us, I was writing for a 'porn site'. (My first story had a lot less sex in it than I'd initially planned.) However, when I first published, I started using my real name, which is now my 'brand'.

No actual paper has been harmed in the making of my stories.


No, but you've crucified billions of harmless electrons, sending them far from their families, across the globe to do your evil bidding! 'D

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

No, but you've crucified billions of harmless electrons, sending them far from their families, across the globe to do your evil bidding! 'D


:D

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

However, when I first published, I started using my real name, which is now my 'brand'.


One of my favorite published authors is actually a pseudonym not for a single person, but a Husband/Wife team that writes together.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

I wasn't suggesting it as an alternative, but was simply asking, if your audience would disapprove of a new story type, would you use your current ID.


Yes. I don't write for my audience, I write for me. I decided to post just in case someone else might like them and I've gotten lucky for the most part with the two stories I have in progress.

Peter_H

If I may pitch in a word or two here: Many actors consider to be 'typecast' to be somewhat of a death knell. A dead end road for new opportunities [not] rising.

An author who shows versatility and manages to touch different fields, different subjects, different genres does, in my opinion, gain mana and does not lose it.

Of course, there is the 'squick' factor that some topic might turn away some narrow~ or single-minded readers. Hey, it might win you new readers as well. And, the moderately open minded reader who opts out of one story due to 'squick', may well return quite happily for another if they deem the author to be a good writer.

Part of the issue here is how the author manages to project themselves: are they someone on a soap box who hammers away at the same agenda over and over, are they someone with a particular fetish who does not touch other material, or are they someone who can deal with different subject matter on its own merits? If you can show you're one of the latter, then you won't need a pseudonym, it would, indeed, be detrimental.

Crumbly Writer

@Peter_H

An author who shows versatility and manages to touch different fields, different subjects, different genres does, in my opinion, gain mana and does not lose it.

Getting away from the issue of erotic squicks, I see it more as a matter of genres. Many authors get started in writing in specific genres (Mysteries, Romances or, in my case, Science Fiction). In that case, crossing from one genre to another will expose you to new readers, but then, you need to establish yourself in that new genre the same way a newbie author would.

Speaking of squicks, I'm preparing two separate stories, one about lesbians (with no sex involved) and one about gays (with sex scenes). People are very particular about these topics, so I stand to lose a LOT of fans (thus I probably won't post the gay story to SOL), but the stories wanted to be told, and they chose my fingers as their literary vehicle to deliver the message.

Again, in my case, my book about lesbian detectives is not being marketed to lesbians, but to mainstream readers. The character's sexuality is really incidental to the story, thus a pseudonym isn't really appropriate. With the other book, I'm hoping that writing a gay story will expose my books to a new market, a market of avid readers who might ordinarily never encounter me, but again, that's an incidental reason for writing the book.

I'm not sure you can label someone writing a series of mysteries, or romances as "hammer[ing] away at the same agenda over and over". Assuming the books aren't political tomes lecturing readers on correct behavior, I fail to see how two different stories in the same genre have much in common. (Though, I'll admit, many authors end up as stereotypical clones of themselves as their books rarely vary from a set formula, but I consider those the exceptions, rather than the rule.)

Replies:   Peter_H
sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

Crumbly Writer was advised not to use a new pseudonym;

There are several reasons, but here are the main ones:

1) It won't sell. A first book by any author doesn't sell well. There are SO many new authors, the first thing readers do when they see a new book is to Google the author. First books sell few copies, but each subsequent book sells more of the previous books. Creating a new ID is almost guaranteeing fewer sales, and less 'associated' sales by releasing a new book.

One bit of evidence is:
J K Rowling's Harry Potter series is a best seller at least in Britain but when The Cuckoo's Calling (which is in a different genre) was published it flopped because the author's name was publisheed as Robert Galbraith and not J.K.Rowling

Switch Blayde

@sejintenej

J K Rowling's Harry Potter series is a best seller at least in Britain but when The Cuckoo's Calling (which is in a different genre) was published it flopped because the author's name was publisheed as Robert Galbraith and not J.K.Rowling


Stephen King is another example. His SciFi novels under the pen name of Bachman flopped until people discovered it was him.

As to writing the same genre, sometimes authors write what they know. John Grisham is a lawyer so he writes legal thrillers.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
Chris Podhola

@sejintenej

J K Rowling's Harry Potter series is a best seller at least in Britain but when The Cuckoo's Calling (which is in a different genre) was published it flopped because the author's name was publisheed as Robert Galbraith and not J.K.Rowling


Hmmm .... flopped?

I guess you could say that, but let's take a poll here. How many self published authors who are reading this would dance for joy if their books sold 8,500 copies in one year (which is the approximate number of sales 'Cuckoo's Calling' received before it was revealed that Rowling was the real author. Sure, by Rowling's standards, it was a flop, but comparing Harry Potter to Cuckoo's Calling doesn't really make a lot of sense, does it?

Not that I don't think the advice given to CW was bad. I think there were many good points brought up. All I'm suggesting here is that I've read the synopses for Cuckoo's calling and to be honest, I wouldn't buy it, despite how much I loved Rowling's Potter series. I'm sure her book is selling much better now that so many people are aware of who the author is, thus proving how important author recognition can be. What I'm pointing out here, however, is that it was her first series that gained that recognition and earned her those sales. I suspect that if she had written Cuckoo's calling first, it wouldn't have done as well as it has now. A good story, compelling, and genuine, will find a way to climb out of the rubble.

Bondi Beach

@Switch Blayde

Stephen King is another example. His SciFi novels under the pen name of Bachman flopped until people discovered it was him.


Another reason they flopped is that they were crap. At least the one or two I was never able to finish were crap.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Peter_H


If I may pitch in a word or two here: Many actors consider to be 'typecast' to be somewhat of a death knell. A dead end road for new opportunities [not] rising.

An author who shows versatility and manages to touch different fields, different subjects, different genres does, in my opinion, gain mana and does not lose it.

Of course, there is the 'squick' factor that some topic might turn away some narrow~ or single-minded readers. Hey, it might win you new readers as well. And, the moderately open minded reader who opts out of one story due to 'squick', may well return quite happily for another if they deem the author to be a good writer.

Part of the issue here is how the author manages to project themselves: are they someone on a soap box who hammers away at the same agenda over and over, are they someone with a particular fetish who does not touch other material, or are they someone who can deal with different subject matter on its own merits? If you can show you're one of the latter, then you won't need a pseudonym, it would, indeed, be detrimental.


Exactly. All of the above. As for "writing for your audience," forget it unless you're under contract to produce a certain kind of story in a certain kind of field.

To put it another way, there's nothing wrong with writing for [an] audience, as long as you're willing to accept the accompanying limitations. No thanks, although I admit I'm probably not going to write much more incest or under-age sex-except perhaps for my own enjoyment or for SOL alone-since there's no mainstream outlet for it (although Lulu will accept incest).

Chris Podhola

@Bondi Beach

Another reason they flopped is that they were crap. At least the one or two I was never able to finish were crap.


Lol. I was thinking this, when I wrote my reply, but tried to word it a little more politely. I read all of the ones that he wrote as Bachman, but none of them were anywhere near his best works. They were average at best.

I think quite a few famous authors have run this test where they publish one or more works to see how they perform, but as you point out with the Bachman books, none of them were near his best work. I've often wondered if they had made this attempt with something a little more worthy, if it would have had better results.

Peter_H

@Crumbly Writer

Oh, squicks do not have to be erotic. One of my squicks for instance is jingoism. Can't abide it. Survivalists. Express misogyny or misandry. (that is, as an agenda rather than a story device).

And I don't agree on this point: once you have an established readership, you will not necessarily need to establish yourself in a new genre. Yes, this may hold true in terms of winning new readers who fancy that genre as their primary interest, but i.e. I followed Lois McMaster Bujold from hard sf to mil sf (despite that being a squick) to fantasy to romance ... because I consider her to be an exceptionally good author. And I can say that about any number of others .. Iain Banks, Patricia Wrede, Ursula LeGuin ... all people who have crossed genres freely. They didn't need to establish themselves, because they already brought a horde of devoted readers with them.

Chris Podhola
Updated:

There is another thing that should be mentioned for anyone who does feel they need a new pseudonym and that's the psychology of the name you choose.

We've all heard the saying don't judge a book by its cover. We all know what that saying means, but how many of us take the time to realize why we have the saying in the first place. We have it, because as humans, we judge books by their covers and to remind us to try not to. It's imbued in us instinctively.

We should be mindful of this not just for pseudonyms but for character names as well. Our readers will make judgments on us and our characters based solely on the name(s) we choose.

Think of a bad guy's name from one of your favorite books. What if Stephen King had decided to name Randall Flagg, Jeremy Higgins instead. Doing so wouldn't have changed the story at all, but Randall Flagg definitely sounds more ominous than Jeremy Higgins.

The same can be said for author names or pseudonyms as well. What if Stephen King's real name was Richard Bachman. Would Carrie have sold nearly as many copies when it was released? My gut says no. It wouldn't have. Matter of fact, I think if Bachman would have published x number of titles and then decided to publish a few under the pseudonym of Stephen King, I'd be willing to bet the numbers would have spoken a different language.

And the same might be true for J. K. Rowling. Her name sounds as stately to my ear as Stephen King's does. Psychologically I think both of these names work well from a marketing standpoint. Much better than Richard Bachman or Robert Galbraith.

So, if you do decide it is time for a new pseudonym and you want to give your books the best chance possible for sales, choose a name that speaks well to the psychology of buying.

And as a side note, if your real name is as psychologically wrong for buying as Chris Podhola (I've often wondered if I should abandon using my real name entirely for my main works) maybe consider writing under a more interesting pseudonym instead. (If you care about sales).

Chris Podhola
Updated:


Maybe you should switch it to "Chris ProdWhoras"? 'D


Was that supposed to be funny? It wasn't. It just completely lacked class.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Chris Podhola

Sorry, Chris, just trying to lighten the mood.

Now you see why I never became a comedian.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola

@Crumbly Writer

Now you see why I never became a comedian.


I didn't lose sleep over it and neither should you, but for future reference, tread lightly when crafting jokes about people's names.

docholladay
Updated:

Maybe that is why a lot of the time with a published author. When they have something published under a different pen name they tend to notify it as being by writing as "name".

Replace the "name" with the appropriate pen name. Max Brand did that among other writers but in the recent past the custom has changed it seems and the usage of a different pen name is very seldom done or if done its not acknowledged as a rule.

Who can really say which method is best.

edited to replace the cut out portions.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola
Updated:

@docholladay


Who can really say which method is best.


I agree. This is why I stated it as 'my opinion'. I have no empirical evidence that one person's name would automatically result in better sales than another person's name. I would point out, however, that many of the world famous authors, household names, if you will, are names that seem to have a nice ring to them. Such as:

Ann Rice

J. K. Rowling

E. L. James

Stephen King

Dean Koontz

James Patterson

Ernest Hemingway

Edgar Allen Poe

Charles Dickens

William Shakespeare

Agatha Christie

And the list could go on an on. Am I saying that none of these authors have talent? No. Not at all. They all earned their stripes by writing books that are amazing. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but to me all of these names have a nice ring to my ear when I speak them aloud. All of these names leave me with a positive impression. Is that because I know them as popular authors? Maybe. But I have never personally read Ann Rice. I don't know if her works fit me or not, but I think I would be willing to try her if for no other reason than her name sounds important to me. I don't know why that is, but it does. If her name were Bertha Schmuckmeier, I don't think I would feel that way no matter how many copies she had sold.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Chris Podhola

I agree. This is why I stated it as 'my opinion'. I have no empirical evidence that one person's name would automatically result in better sales than another person's name. I would point out, however, that many of the world famous authors, household names, if you will, are names that seem to have a nice ring to them.

Why do you think Rowling publishes under the 'name' J.K., the same with E.L. James?

Chris Podhola

@Crumbly Writer

Why do you think Rowling publishes under the 'name' J.K., the same with E.L. James?


With E. L. James. I have to wonder if she doesn't believe the same thing I do about names. (Her real name is Erika Mitchell). I think her choice to use a pseudonym was a wise one. Not that there is anything wrong with her name, but Erika Mitchell impresses me as a little common; average even. E. L. James, has a little better of a feel.

As far as why abbreviate? Doing so gives off a more stately feel. (Again, this is my opinion. I haven't taken the time to study psychological impacts of names. I don't even know for sure if other people have).

Did her pseudonym choice have an impact on her sales? Was it solely responsible for her success? No. I doubt that (although I couldn't force myself to read her first book entirely. I tried hard. I really did. I just couldn't get through it), but again, I wonder if she had chosen a pseudonym like Mary Fartsmith, if that would have caused a detrimental impact on the story's sales? My guess is that it would. (But it's just a guess).

As far as J. K. Rowling goes. Her first name is Jo, or Joanne. Personally, I think J. K. Rowling sounds better than Jo Rowling, or Joanne Rowling, from a marketing standpoint.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Why do you think Rowling publishes under the 'name' J.K., the same with E.L. James?


E.L James is a straight pen name, you would have to ask the author why she chose that name.

As to Rowling, there are a number of historic figures (not just authors) who went by one of FI MI Last Name, FI Last name or even MI last name.

Rowling is her real last name and her first name is Joanne, Neither the Wikipedia page on Rowling or her bio on her own website lists her middle name. I suspect that J.K. Rowling is simply FI MI last name rather than a true pen name.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

As to Rowling, there are a number of historic figures (not just authors) who went by one of FI MI Last Name, FI Last name or even MI last name.

Many authors use initials to hide their sex, not wanting it to prejudice readers' opinions of their works. I recall once seeing an article about this concerning J.K., but no longer have access to it. I could easily be confusing different authors.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Many authors use initials to hide their sex, not wanting it to prejudice readers' opinions of their works.


There are famous men, not authors who go/went by initials in their day to day lives. Whether Rowling did so to conceal her gender (a little difficult once they start putting your photo on the back cover and or dust jacket) I still don't consider it a pen name.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
docholladay

The choice of names might also have something to do with how easily a pen name can both stand out and be remembered. Since some sales after an author is well established (print) can and does effect sales both new and used.

Ernest Bywater

Sometimes there are purely practical reasons for using a pseudonym.

I remember seeing an article (it was many years ago) about a man who made a good living writing romance stories for a major publisher. In the article he was just retired and admitting he used over dozen names (all female) for the stories he wrote for them. He said he had no choice as they refused to accept more than one story per author every so many weeks (I think is was 6, but not sure) and to make a living at their pay rate he had to sell several times as many stories as they'd accept from one person. So he set up a bunch of names via a number of different agents and rotated stories between the names, pouring out a pile of stories each month. Thus he made plenty of money by gaming their rules. When he retired and admitted what happened the publishers weren't happy.

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@Ernest Bywater

Their own fault then. I remember when I volunteered to work a bookstore just to learn how to do it. I was surprised as all hell at the way the publishers of Romance genre books used the commission system to push distributors to overload a bookstore's shelves with romance titles instead of a balanced assortment of titles. Romance titles had a much higher commission of the distributors than any other genre. So of course if the store was dumb enough to let them do the stocking, guess what they stocked. Problem with that is after its on the shelves over a certain period regardless of how well it moved the store ate it as the saying went.
Can't really blame the route salesmen since their paychecks depended on commissions. The man I studied under had a coding method he used on those little stickers for pricing that told him at a glance what was moving or not. He was always sending back the romance titles because they didn't move fast enough. His income depended on how much he could sale overall not on just one grouping.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

There are famous men, not authors who go/went by initials in their day to day lives. Whether Rowling did so to conceal her gender (a little difficult once they start putting your photo on the back cover and or dust jacket) I still don't consider it a pen name.

I don't [consider initials a pen name] either, but is was raised as a promotion tools (i.e. people with better sounding names become more successful than those with cludgy names).

However, when authors feel the need to disguise who they are, they'll often use initials, either theirs or invented ones, just so they don't have to admit which sex they are. We have writers here who have done that when writing certain stories.

Replies:   ustourist
ustourist

@Crumbly Writer

There is also one author with a definite male first name who often writes from a female point of view. I find that anomaly disconcerting enough to avoid the stories because it continually nags at me that it isn't written by a female even though it purports to be.
As far as using pen names goes generally, my surname lends itself to being corrupted to an offensive one and I had more than enough of that at school and in business, so I would never use it on something I wrote for publication.

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