People who are, and/or self describe as writers and authors are regularly asked the same series of questions. ‘Have I read anything you’ve written?’ (Answer – I don’t know, let me read your mind for a moment’.) and ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ (Answer – it depends, keeping my eyes and ears open mainly. That and Facebook.) But the one that gave me pause for thought this week was ‘Why did you publish your first book under a pen name? Are you ashamed of it?’ Forgive the cliché, but that is a really good question and one that I considered before I hit publish on Kindle Direct Publishing.
Publishing under a pen name is a well known phenomenon and (reasonably) common. George Elliot anyone? Robert Galbraith? Richard Bachman? Before anyone skips straight to the comments, I am definitely not comparing my efforts with theirs! What I’m actually saying is that if it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for me!
Assuming that you (dear reader) now accept that there is precedent, and have not switched off because this is an opinion piece not a short story (come back on Friday for one of those), let me answer the question (finally!).
I have recently published a novella, as an e-book, under a pen name. I did so for three very specific reasons:
- It is a genre novella. I prefer to call it pulp. It’s actually quite niche. A revenge story, with some gore and adult language. I intend to publish other work later, which will not be in the same genre or so niche. I also intend to continue writing niche/pulp/genre fiction. I don’t want my readers (assuming that I ever have any…) to be confused and pick up something which is well outside their expectations. Simple solution – write under different names.
- I already write, in a different field entirely, under my own name. (No, you won’t have read it, or at least it’s very unlikely unless you are a professional internal auditor or work for the same organisation I work for.) I wanted, for myself and for professional reasons, to separate the two styles of writing and content.
- Yes, I admit it, to some degree I am ashamed of it. Actually, not true. I’m not ashamed so much as I can foresee a time when I will be ashamed of it. This is my first attempt at a novella, and will contain plot holes and probably typos and grammatical mistakes. My defence is that it is a short, plot driven adventure story meant to be read on a train/tram/bus for fun, not a piece of literary fiction to be analysed and examined in detail. I wouldn’t recommend it to my mother’s reading group. It’s aimed at a very specific market and as yet I am still exploring whether there actually is a market!
You will notice that I haven’t told you what my pen name is…That is because this is an opinion piece not an advert for my alter-ego’s book. If you’re not interested in the advert I’d skip straight through to the final paragraph!
If you want to read the book, in the full knowledge that it is a different style and genre to most of the postings on this blog, it’s 99p/99c (or equivalent) to download from Amazon, or you can read it for free if you’re enrolled in Kindle Unlimited or from the library if you’re an Amazon Prime member. The links are UK: Amazon UK and US: Amazon US. My alter-ego also occasionally Blogs and tweets.
I’d love to know what readers who have made it this far think. Is publishing under a pen name duplicitous? Does it help readers when an author’s work in one genre is all published under the same name? Or am I simply trying to justify publishing work which I don’t want linked directly to me? (Although that ship sailed when I published this blog entry I suppose!) Leave me a comment, let me know.
(C) Chris Johnson 2016