Should I use a pen name?

In my post over at Write Anything this month, I talk about writing horror. Specifically, I talk about my conflicted feelings surrounding my horror writing. Chris Chartrand left a great comment about using a pen name to write Westerns, thereby to distinguish his work in that genre from his work in others.

Frankly, when it comes to writing fame, I'm a bit of an egotist. I've always looked forward to seeing banner headlines like "New Bestseller by Tony Noland" or "Tony Noland Signs Five Book Deal for $8,000,000". Seeing some other name in that slot just wouldn't be the same.

Or would it?

What if I were to use an "open" pen name? Instead of setting up a fictitious name and wearing it all the time, what about using it as an identified persona? Everybody would know it's me writing, but because the byline is different, it would be clear to my readers what to expect and what NOT to expect. That might clear up some of the reader confusion (and disappointment) that comes when readers approach my work, with all the different genres I cover.

If the byline says "Tony Noland", it will be a Tony Noland story (whatever that means). Could be sci fi, fantasy, lit fic, etc. Anything except horror.

On the other hand if the byline says (for example) "Valois Yafud", you'll know that Mr. Yafud writes horror and nothing but horror. If you like that kind of thing, you'll see the byline and keep reading. You might even seek out horror writing by Mr. Yafud, because you liked my horror stories. If you don't like my horror or any horror at all, you'll see the byline and skip it.

There wouldn't be any faking or confusion. It would be an open secret that "Valois Yafud" is really "Tony-Noland-writing-as-Valois-Yafud". Consider a story that opens with two kittens happily playing with a ball of yarn. If it's a Yafud story, you will have a clue about where the thing is likely going; if it's a Noland story, you may still be surprised, but you'll know that there is at least one direction it won't go.

There are certainly precedents for purposeful pen names and open secrets in writing.

What do you think? Is this something that would aid you as a reader, or is it an overly complicated solution? Is this the best way to handle the problem of writing in multiple genres?

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Those are some pretty good points. I myself have debated using a Pen-name for my paranormal books and my real name for my Fantasy titles. (Fantasy is one of the hardest genre's to break out of or into if you're established).

    The only problem I have is that you have to market that other persona as well. Everything you've done to market your name (contacts, reviews, interviews) has to start ALL OVER AGAIN from scratch. I have a hard enough time doing that with ONE name let alone a second secret one.

  2. I thought you were going to bring up Stephen-King-as-Richard-Bachman. :) Especially as I have no idea who Xan Marcellus (sp?) is or isn't. (off to Google).

    Personally, unless it was an Ellery Queen kind of thing, where I was writing with a collaborator and we agreed to create a "joint name", I expect I'll just let the chips fall. If there are any chips, and they actually do fall. :)

  3. Monica: Yeah, the double-duty of marketing & promotion would be a downside, to be sure. I barely know how to market my own work; if I were to do another name, I'd have a big hurdle. Unless, of course, I leveraged one to bump up the other, but that seems weird.

    Janet: King published the Bachman books quietly, without any connection. It was a perceptive reader who did the homework and outed that name. Now, although it started as a traditional kind of pen name, King uses Bachman as an open pen name. Xan Marcellus is the character created by Carrie Clevenger. She writes, tweets & blogs in character, using that name.

  4. The Bachmann (one or two Ns? I'm too lazy to look it up) stories had too much of King's style in them for the connection to not be made. IMO. The primary difference is that the Bachmann books are a lot darker.

    I don't know about pen names. I blog under one, but mainly so I can talk about people I know without plastering *their* names all over the 'net. In the trad-pub world, your first book pretty much sets your genre in concrete, so you need a pen name if you want to write another genre. For those of us planning to bypass that whole gauntlet & self/indie-publish, it's not such a big deal.

    I think as non-traditional publishing continues to grow, the "one name - one genre" meme will fade as readers accept that their favorite authors might expand their reading horizons.

  5. I actually have a pen name all set up for when I decide to write squishier stories (like some romance/happy/non-paranormal things swimming in my head), and what I intend to do is publish those as "Christina Vincent writing as Victoria Rosewood" and make sure it's clear that the adult themes in those would be very different than those written by simply "Christina Vincent." What I want to do, though, is be published and established as myself first, and in my preferred genre, so Vicky's going to wait.

    I like pen names, personally, and I love them when there isn't any secret as to the true identity of the writer.

  6. If your horror writing feels like a natural extension of your other writing, you might be able to pull it off without using a pen name.

    But I tend to agree with FARfetched. If you establish yourself in one genre, switching things up can confuse your readers, which is never good for a brand of any kind.

    In spite of the extra marketing effort, I think it would be worthwhile. It's kind of like developing a strong character: once he knows who he is, it's easier for him to make his way in the story - even if it's just a marketing story.

  7. FAR: What I saw in the Bachmann books was that the endings were weak. They sort of dribbled out to an end. I read them before the connection was outed; in thinking about it, I figured that Stephen King took the novels that weren't up to the King standards and put them out to at least break even on the time invested in them.

    Interesting thoughts about how will or will not "lock you in" to one audience/genre. Will have to pay close attention to that aspect of things!

    Stina: "Christina Vincent writing as Victoria Rosewood" That's a great name for romance. Would "Tony Noland writing as Valois Yafud" have the same impact for horror?

    Stacey: It does feel natural to write, but the reaction from the readers is what's problematic. I'll tell you, once you stab someone in the eyeball or set a kitten on fire, the readers expect you to do that kind of thing in every story. The pen name would be a solid way of saying, "This is not a horror story."

  8. Hi Tony. Nerine Dorman lists her latest book, Hell's Music as Nerine Dorman writing as Therese von Willegen. I think it's a simple, classic (post discovery era in the old days when pen names were still huge secrets) professional way of displaying both names at once.

    Besides Moni is right. I don't want to market that over again. It sucks.

  9. I have a friend who does this very thing. She writes young adult fiction under one name and romance/erotica under another. She has her photo on both blogs and the two identities are in no way a secret, but it allows readers (and parents) to know what type of material they are puchasing. It works well for her, although she does suffer from split personality syndrome somtimes because she blogs and tweets from both.

  10. Hello, it's Danni's friend. LOL She sent me here to comment. Yes, I write under both the names listed here. Julie Particka is my real (maiden) name and Seleste deLaney is the pen name. I'm sure there are people who don't know we are one and the same, but since I make it so blatant in my google sig, I'm definitely not trying to keep it a secret.

    The marketing difficulty *is* there. I have separate business cards, separate websites, separate blogs, separate Twitter accounts...

    But for me, the trade-off is worth not mixing the two because they are sooooo different.

    On the other hand, a friend of mine writes slightly less steamy adult stuff and mildly steamy YA/new-adult (all of which are pretty dark). She decided against a pen name because even her YA/NA stuff is sexy and dark, and she's more likely to focus on the adult stuff.

    Something to keep in mind if you do a separate name is even if they are always linked, people will call you by your pen name so it needs to be something you are comfortable answering to, Valois :P And signing.

  11. How about Tony Noland for one genre and T. Noland for another (like Iain Banks/Iain M Banks). Or just put an adjective into your name (like The Simpsons Halloween credits): Tony 'Spooky' Noland, Tony 'Naughty' Noland, etc

  12. Carrie: That's a good way to do it. And you're right... these days, "pen name" is basically an invitation to Google someone's real name anyway. Might as well be upfront about it.

    Danni: ... and I believe your friend commented below!

    Seleste/Julie: Thanks for the great comment. This is really useful info on the value of, and the difficulties with, using audience-specific author names. We were joking about this on twitter, too. Could I get used to being called "Valois"? Probably not. I'd have to pick something more dashing sounding, like Clay Granite.

    Peter: That's a possibility, if I were to brand the series as "Tony Noland Presents: Horror" or "Tony Noland: Sci-Fi". Seems a bit clunky, though, to be honest.

  13. My vote, for what it is worth, is to use your own name. Asimov did it. You can too.

  14. Thanks for the link, again.

    I use a pen name, only because of my job. I work in the corporate executive world and the things I write (erotic) could be a problem for me. Otherwise, I would have used my real name. When I go to conventions I intro myself by my pen name and it always feels weird. I'll get used to it eventually. Another 10 yrs I can retire and then be *Me* writing as Dorothy Shaw.. That's if I ever get published. LOL.

    One hurdle at a time. =)
    Great post.

  15. I ended up having to use a pen name because I'm published as a scientific author and my short stories were popping up in google searches. No good when I'm job hunting as you can imagine. It isn't a genre specific thing per se. It's just a necessity if I want to have both things in my life.

  16. In recent months I've heard from more contemporary successful authors who do use pseudonyms than not. The practice is to create a pen name for each genre: YA, paranormal, Horror. After you're successful you can bring down the walls, but keep the name as a sort of brand. They know Tony Lotsofland is the brand that will give them a scary novel, while Tony Floatingland is all about fairy romance stories.

    I'm stubborn in using my real name for everything. Maybe someday it'll cause me grave pains.

  17. D. Paul: Part of the problem with using examples like Asimov is that back in the print days, the kind of people who read Analog didn't read other mags. These days, with everything online, it's much harder to have that kind of silo arrangement. Definitely a complicating factor. Also, the Wikipedia article says that Asimov made extensive use of pseudonyms, including "Paul French", as white-bread sounding a pen name as could be imagined.

    n.b. I'm going to combine comments here:

    Wookies Girl: I use a pen name, only because of my job. I work in the corporate executive world...

    antisocialbutterflie: I ended up having to use a pen name because I'm published as a scientific author and ...

    These are excellent reasons to use a pen name for your writing. I note that FARfetched cited the need to maintain some distance between one's writing and from family members, another good reason. Since it feels weird to use a pen name at a convention, how would it work to use several? Which one would you put on the nametag? Or would you just pick one and say, "For this con, I will network, promote & sell as Jane Doe. Next week's con will be as Janice Doughtery."?

    John Wiswell: I wonder if the leveling and opening effect of the internet is such that it just becomes more of an effort than it's worth to try to maintain a true secrecy about a stable of pen names. If each one is separate, then each one needs its own blog, twitter account, promotion time, etc. Hard to imagine pulling that off and still leaving any time to write, let alone hold down a day job.

    They know Tony Lotsofland is the brand that will give them a scary novel, while Tony Floatingland is all about fairy romance stories.

    Ha! I think I'll go rather different for my pen name, and leave my real name as it is. I'm still trying to say "Valois Yafud" with a straight face.

  18. I was really pleased to read this post and deliberately left it to come back to so I could read all the comments. Very helpful! I write novels for children and some other adult fiction but have thought about using a pen name so the children don't find things they shouldn't be reading. I think there are a lot of genres you could get away with using one name but when it comes to different age groups it's another thing altogether, depending on genres within those, of course.

    Tony - I may not comment on all of your posts but I do read every single one as I get them via email. My problem is I usually read them on my iPod which is a devil to type on. Just wanted you to know.


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