What’s in a Name?

namegameHere’s a question I keep seeing crop up with some regularity: when should authors look into switching to a different penname?

Some things seem clear. If you’re writing adult fiction with graphic sex scenes, then you’re probably going to want to use a different name if you write something that’s for YA (or younger) audience. Or, say, if you’re hit by a plotbunny for an inspirational. If you write romance and cross over into an entirely different area—maybe crime fiction, or even nonfiction—a name change might be in order.

But what if you’re just switching subgenres within romance? If you write gay romance as A.B. Cee, do you need to switch to C.B. Ayy for “mainstream” (M/F) romance? Do you need an erotica penname separate from your romance handle? How about if you usually write light, fluffy romance but your new book is dark and disturbing? Is it worth the additional time, effort, and expense to promote two (or more) identities? What’s more dangerous: dividing your potential audience and possibly confusing readers, or taking a risk that readers will buy something they don’t want to read (and complain loudly about it)?

I’m not about to say that there’s a single answer here. Some authors have done well with two (or more) pennames, even within the romance genre. Adult versus YA seems to be a fairly clear-cut decision, as does romance/erotica versus non-romance genres. But some authors have dividing lines between M/F and M/M, between erotica and romance, between contemporary and paranormal/suspense/historical, and so on.

Two fellow authors who’ve posted about this very question recently are Marie Sexton and Sarah Madison. Marie has a new story in the works that’s a huge shift in tone from the usual for her, so she’s chosen to use a slightly different penname. She talked about her reasons here. And Sarah has been struggling with the penname decision, mainly for M/F vs. M/M stories, and she’s decided to take a survey to see what readers think. The survey is here if you’d like to share your thoughts. It’ll be open through Saturday. 🙂

Personally, I already have enough trouble juggling two identities, real-life and penname—and mine are fairly similar, so even that’s not a huge issue. I would definitely use a penname if I were to write for the under-18 crowd, simply because of the content of my published adult work, and I most likely would if I branched out beyond romance. But for romance, without some concrete numbers proving that it makes a substantial difference, I’m likely to stick with this name no matter what type I write. And even with that proof, I might stick with it anyway.

Why? Well, for multiple reasons, but in part it’s because I feel pretty strongly that one of the best ways to help move LGBT+ romance into the mainstream is to treat it as if it’s already there.

I completely understand why others have made, or will make, a different choice. In particular, for those who’ve been writing in both M/F and LGBT+ for a while, setting up different names was probably necessary when they started publishing, and it makes no sense to change that. For others, publishers or agents may have suggested (or insisted on) a different name, or authors might have needed to separate things for personal reasons. Some feel that readers won’t pick up an M/F book written by someone who also writes M/M, and that could have a big effect on sales. There are many valid reasons to use more than one penname for different types of romantic pairings.

Thing is, none of those reasons really apply to me. I use a penname because I have extended family who might cause drama over what I write, but my main purpose there was to shield my grandmother, and she’s been gone for almost year. I’m not reliant on my writing to pay the bills, and I don’t expect to move in that direction, so sales aren’t as much of a concern for me. And because I write part-time, I don’t have the time (or energy) to maintain an additional persona if it’s not truly necessary.

At the moment, the next few projects on my writing slate are gay romance, but coming up after that is at least one M/F pairing. More may well follow, but I have no plans to leave gay romance behind. I’ll write whatever kind of romance tickles my fancy. And as of right now, I plan to stick with Shae Connor for all of those stories. I hope people who like my writing will come straddle the fence with me. 🙂

Image courtesy of naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2 responses to “What’s in a Name?

  1. Sarah_Madison

    I’m afraid I have to use a pen name. On at least one occasion, I had a contract that contained a moral turpitude clause, very ambiguously worded, that would have allowed my boss to fire me if I was in violation of what he deemed ‘correct’. Because I was desperate to find a job closer to my parents (I’d become one of my dad’s caretakers, working ten hour days and pulling the night shift with my father), I had to sign it.

    I live in a conservative state and was raised by a conservative family. Frankly, my family wouldn’t understand my writing *any* form of explicit romance, but especially not M/M romance! And I need the income, so this issue is important to me.

    What it usually comes down to, however, is that while I loved the stories by Elizabeth Peters, I felt ‘meh’ about the same author’s stories under the name of Barbara Michaels. Different tone of story, despite both being romances. Because I loved the one, I picked up the other. But on discovering that I didn’t care for the second, having two different pen names allowed me to choose between them.

    The whole reason for doing the survey, though, is that I’m hoping for proof that I don’t need to build another platform and start from scratch! 😉

    Thank you so much for signal boosting the survey! So far the overwhelming numbers support your stance: that it doesn’t make any difference to the reader. However, so far most of the participants read primarily M/M romance, so the numbers may be a bit skewed! 🙂 I’ll tally them up and post them next weekend. 🙂

    • I hope you get some response from the M/F side! I was gratified by the positive responses the gay romance authors got at RWA last year, but that was from other authors. I’ve been told responses were also good at RT, though, and that’s more reader-oriented. We’ll see how things go there in May. 🙂