To Pen or Not to Pen That May Be the Ultimate Career Question

Recently, I launched a new site (www.andriabuchanan.com) and announced to the world my three book publishing deal with Entangled Teen to write a MG/YA romantic-fantasy series called the Chronicles of Nerissette. The most important thing to note here isn’t that I managed a teaser trailer all by myself (I’m pretty proud of that actually) but that I’ve decided to do it under a penname.

Why you might ask? The decision was pretty simple but it requires an explanation. When I wrote my first book—Luck of the Devil—it was written for an adult audience. And my then 8 year old couldn’t read it. Which caused more than a few family fights let me tell you. So, as a compromise, I offered to write my daughter a series of books that she could read and the characters and world of Nerissette was born.

Then the contract comes through and my editor and I sit down to discuss things. Things like “wow Luck of the Devil has enough profanity in it that I wouldn’t be allowed to do a reading at the Kennedy Center because it’s over the Lewis Black f&*$ limit” or “wow I’d sure hate for a kid to pick up Luck of the Devil by mistake because I’m their favorite author and read about the Devil getting a blow job”. And that was where we decided maybe a pen name was in order and Andria Buchanan was born. Not because I’m ashamed to write YA or Adult. Not because I don’t want adults to read my YA work. But because my adult work isn’t suitable for children.

Now a lot of people will tell you that pen names are great. That they’re wonderful. That you should use a different pen name for every subgenre of romance you write. You should keep pen names in reserve because you don’t want to over saturate the market under one name or people will get sick of you. That your quirky paranormal fans aren’t going to love your gritty contemporary spy thrillers.

Personally, I think all of that is balderdash. I think romance readers are flexible in what they read and smart enough to understand that you need the same variety when you write. I think they’re also smart enough to know how to read a back blurb cover and then say “Well I like Author XYZ’s cute ghost stories but you know serial killers aren’t really my thing” so they set the book down and read something else. No harm no foul. I also think that romance is a pretty friendly genre with rabid readers who will keep reading your stuff as long as you put out quality work. It’s not oversaturation that turns off readers it’s a drop in quality by writers.

If you’re using pen names for any of these reasons take a good hard look at your writing and your audience and see if really dividing your time and your energy is worth it. Because that’s what a pen name does. It divides your time and your energy and your branding abilities and adds work to your day.

Now on the opposite side of the argument, if you’re like me and write adult romance and MG/lower YA where the adult books have content that isn’t suitable for younger readers – a pen name is a good idea. It’s more work, yes, but it’s also respectful to your readers to make that definitive break between brands. That’s one reason you should take a pen name. If you write books with profanity or erotica or a lot of gory violence and you want to write YA/MG ? Save everyone the headache and take a pen name.

If you have an audience that would be offended or detrimentally affected by reading all of your work, separate out the work focused on that audience with a pen name. Take the extra time to respect that audience and their particular situation. Don’t put your hardcore BDSM erotica that involves group sex on the same page as your MG works or your sweet Christian cozies. Can you write both? Sure. Why not? Just respect your audience and your brands by keeping them separate.

To wrap up, if you’re taking a pen name because you’re worried about oversaturation or genre confusion, seriously consider whether the effort is worth it. It may not be worth the headache. If you’re doing it to protect or respect one of your audiences from the content of your other books – then in my opinion it’s not only the respectful course of action but totally worth the effort.

What do you think? Do you love pen names? Do you hate them? Are there any situations that you think they should be a hard and fast rule? Do you think I’m totally off base?

2 thoughts on “To Pen or Not to Pen That May Be the Ultimate Career Question

  1. I wrote an article about reasons someone might want to use a pen name rather their real name, and I had never considered that it might be to keep children from inadvertently picking up the same author’s adult-oriented material. Very interesting! I hope you’ll keep updating on how this choice affect you in the future. Best of luck to you!

  2. RIght now the biggest challenge for me is that I have to completely build another persona. I never realized how hard it was to be “me” until I suddenly had to have another “me” around as well and no, she doesn’t help with the dishes.

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