Monday, 23 June 2014

Week Nine: Juggling Pseudonyms

Increasingly, writers are being asked to split themselves in two. Or three, or four. Or five.

Writing as schizophrenia: the freedoms and hazards of the multiple-pseudonym approach.

I'm not talking about being a writer and also having to develop the skills of a marketing and promotional campaign manager, public speaker, social media guru and whatever else lies ahead for us in this increasingly beleaguered profession. I'm talking about the need to write different genres under different names.

For the uninitiated, this may seem like nonsense. Stick to one name, and publish whatever you like under it. Well, it's an option. But because of the way the human psyche works, or perhaps because of the way publishing has worked for the past few hundred years, a writer tends to be associated with a certain kind of publication. So let's say you have always written crime fiction, then suddenly produce something different - say, historical romance - under the same name, you are likely to land yourself in trouble.

Firstly, you will annoy your loyal readership by producing something that nonplusses them. Secondly, you will annoy your new readers who, loving your fabulous romance, order some of your backlist only to find themselves reading crime fiction.

By Joanne Rowling, aka J.K. Rowling, aka Robert Galbraith

This may be one possible reason J.K. Rowling chose to publish her new crime novels as Robert Galbraith (the fact that male writers often reach a wider readership and are more likely to be nominated for literary prizes and win them is a whole other kettle of publishing fish).

So you say, right, my writing name will be Jane Acrostic for crime, and Jane (or Joe) Bloggs for romance.

Then you realise the awful truth.

Because it doesn't stop there, at the choice of a pen-name. All writers are now expected to promote themselves wildly and without shame, like people who leave saucy business cards in phone boxes. If they don't, and subsequently fail to sell, or even if they do and subsequently fail to sell, they may end up without a publisher.

So both these writers - Jane Acrostic and Jane/Joe Bloggs - need separate Twitter accounts. And Facebook accounts. And probably email accounts. And blogs. And reader lists. And marketing plans. And bloggers to reach out to.

Some writers plough on and write in other genres under a third or fourth pseudonym. The sky's the limit if you are a flexible enough writer, and have the time and patience to tweet and blog under a gazillion names.

You could keep stories under each pen-name in separate notebooks or doc folders, to avoid confusion.

In this cannon fodder-rich, advance-poor world of books, you may find yourself split another way: between traditional publishing and self-publishing. You may be an established traditional novelist with flagging returns who chooses to self-publish their rights-reverted backlist. Or you may be unable to make ends meet on the advance offered by your traditional publisher, so have to moonlight as Juliet Boobs on Smashwords or Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, tossing off a quick sexy read every few weeks to draw in a few extra pounds to feed the electricity meter. Or maybe you got funnelled into writing one kind of book early on, and have always yearned to write something totally different.

So let's say you choose to go down this route, writing in several different genres. How might it work?

I have done this myself, writing historical and YA fiction as Victoria Lamb and steamy historical romance as Elizabeth Moss, both for traditional publishers, not to mention a few other names that collectively bring home the bacon. My brother tells me this is known as a 'portfolio career' in music, which is his field. I know how it works for me. But everyone is different. I shall describe my own experience here, and hope others may comment on this post to share their experiences too.

By me
Also by me

First, you need to discuss a change of genre with your agent and/or editor, if you have one. They will probably be resistant; it's hard to establish a writer's name in the first place, let alone TWO names. But let's assume your first name is flagging a bit, and they are less hard to persuade. Or you are 'between publishers' and free to relaunch your career. Unless you plan to self-publish - in which case you might want to consider making writerly friends within the new genre and finding someone who might advise you on a quid pro quo basis - then you will probably need to produce a large sample of the proposed manuscript and a synopsis, to indicate ability to work in this new genre. You may even need to produce the entire book before a contract will be agreed. (Some hard grafters do this every time, though I try to avoid it at all costs. There's always another bill waiting to be paid ...)

Once a change of genre is approved - and this is far from certain, publishers being shy of change at the moment and inclined not to take risks - you will need to discuss your new name.

Yes, this is by me too

Some writers - like Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks - have chosen to use the same name, but stuck an initial in the mix for the new genre. I personally find that confusing, but that's just me. You might want to use another related name, or something personal to you - Lamb was my mother's pseudonym, Moss my first married surname, and Victoria and Elizabeth are my middle names. Or you could be totally cynical and choose something that fits the new genre: something hard or sinister for crime, something sexy and enticing for romance. Never forget, your mission is to build an entirely new persona, and your pseudonym will be at the forefront of that effort.

By my mum, Charlotte Lamb

If you find it hard to juggle several writing names, get organised. Use whiteboards or corkboards, and list projects, accounts and contacts under each name. Be careful with online passwords for email/blogs etc; you're supposed to have different ones for each account, and not keep a written record, so make sure each password is memorable for that name, or use some Master Password software to help you. I frequently use Twitter on iPad, which allows me to keep all my Twitter accounts permanently logged in and switch between them with a couple of flicks, so I can post easily on different accounts within a space of seconds. TweetDeck also allows this, though I find it unwieldy with more than three or four names, as it lists accounts horizontally instead of on separate flickable pages. You may want to see what works best for you.

Develop a solid persona for each name, and stick to it wherever possible. I tend to leap between names on social media, as so many people know I have several, there's no point hiding the fact, plus I find it amusing to troll myself under another name. But you may prefer to draw a strict line between them. Certainly it is less confusing for readers if you keep each pseudonym in a separate 'box' and never mix them up. I find it a touch dishonest to create totally new biogs for each name, but that's only because so many people know who I really am in person. If you're keeping them separate, and will never meet anyone in the flesh, you can invent a whole new life for your biog. Just make sure you don't 'come out' later and risk alienating people who only read your books because they wrongly believed you were from Basingstoke, or a former concert violinist, or a devout Anglican.

By - you guessed it - me!
If you choose to do a public event under one pen-name, and are reasonably well-known under another, be aware you may be exposed at that point. People take photos, and innocently blog or tweet them, unaware of your guilty secret. So if you don't want your trad publishers or your jam-making Quaker romance fans to know you also wrote that smutty tale of swinging couples, don't turn up at the London Fetish Fair to promote it - unless clad in a concealing gimp mask.

Decide early on how much promo you can manage for each name, and which name will benefit most from each kind of promotion. Book marketing is not 'one size fits all.' To sell in a new genre, you usually need to do some research: find out where your main readership is likely to be hanging out on social media, or sites like Goodreads, then target it. Make as many friends as you can, insinuate yourself into groups, copy what other writers do. Yes, it's a bit creepy. But you can relax somewhat once the initial push is done. You just need to get your new pseudonym known and accepted in the best places for your book, and after that, you can concentrate on the new books you're writing and on building a career in that genre.

And if you think all that sounds like bloody hard work, it is. Welcome to my day.

QUESTION: Do you have more than one pen-name, and how do you cope with the separate promo? Or do you have a question about writing under more than one name?


  1. I write under two pen-names to suit the two genres. Adventure fantasy romance - Ailsa Abraham and detective gay fiction as my twin brother Cameron Lawton.

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  3. I love that idea, Alisa! Brilliant!


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