“I didn’t know how you were going to pull this off, but damn if you didn’t do it!” —fan mail from my romance Penname.
She’s talking about Penname’s sprawling 9 book series and how, in book 7, she’s even more invested than before in the characters.
When I started the grand experiment of writing under Penname, I expected money (maybe) and challenge (definitely), but I didn’t expect the fervor of the fans. Fan-love and money are the benefits of writing stories that are just what the readers want to read. I may hide behind a Penname, but readers don’t care—they see me anyway in the books. It’s a side of me that my SKQ readers don’t often see—much as I try to give SKQ all the freedom she would like, Penname has the freedom of distance, that not-me-ness that loosens the restraints. Sex and swears are just the beginning. Penname stays within her PNR genre constraints, but inside that box, anything goes.
ADVANTAGE OF A PENNAME
Beyond the freedom of anonymity, the main advantage of using a different Penname when you switch genres is the Also-Boughts on Amazon. My SKQ penname writes across several genres—YA SF, steampunk romance, future noir, middle grade. That makes for a mishmash of also-boughts and Amazon’s recommendation algorithms have trouble making sense of it. So do fans—many of SKQ’s fans will only read in one of the genres then move on. My Penname, on the other hand, rocks the Amazon algos—not only does she sell more because she’s writing in a popular genre, but her fans know just what to expect from the next book… and eagerly await its arrival. This makes it easier to build a fanbase because readers know what they’re getting—with SKQ, it’s a guess. She writes For Love, so that may be robots in the future or steampunk princesses in the past. Yay for Creativity! Boo for Marketing.
Most successful authors, tradpub or indie, start in one genre and build that to success before branching out. And that’s what I recommend you do as well. (Do as Auntie Sue says, not as Auntie Sue does… or rather, do as Auntie Sue’s Wickedly Sexy Penname does.)
DISADVANTAGES OF A PENNAME
It’s all well and good to plot out World Domination, but becoming trapped within one writer persona can be stifling. Especially if that persona is making money—money is the most gilded of cages. This is one reason why I still write SKQ as well as Penname—switching between the two is a vital re-energizing force for my creativity. But keeping up with two Pennames? At the hectic pace that indie publishing seems to demand? It can be killer.
My answer to that is to boost my productivity and hire an author assistant—things not every writer will be able to manage. Or want to. My current efforts aren’t so much aimed at boosting productivity (I already write at the 500k+ wordcount per year pace) as maintaining productivity while increasing joy and reducing stress—an optimization that’s far from easy to accomplish but well worth the effort.
So bear in mind—if you’re actively writing under two pennames, you’ll need to write at twice the speed. And if you take breaks from one penname to write in the other, you will perpetually have longer gaps between books than otherwise. This is the main drawback.
Most people think of managing social media for two pennames as being the main disadvantage, but social media doesn’t sell books—my Penname hardly is on social media at all, and then only to announce a new release or sale, and trust me, she sells lots. How? By writing to market, building her newsletter, sales and advertising. That’s basically it. SKQ is on social media more, but as I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been pulling way back on social media—for reasons unrelated to sales, but I didn’t have to worry about it impacting sales, either.
CAUTION: People are often tempted to lure readers from one penname to another—if you’re separating them out because they’re in different genres, don’t undo that by mashing them back together. You’re just going to muddy up your also-boughts and algo recommendations, which can be critical to finding the right audience. If you truly don’t care if the also-boughts are mixed, go ahead and use a single name.
Note: it’s easy to change your penname. A while ago, I switched my indie publishing books to S.K. Quinn precisely so the also-boughts for those books wouldn’t be The Legacy Human or some such. Now the also-boughts are other indie-publishing books, which helps them find their way to the right readers.