The Thing About Pen Names

So you write in different genres and possibly for different audiences / reader maturity levels. Wonderful, welcome to the grand business of publishing where diversifying your content just might be key to longevity. And there’s never been a better time to be a writer. We have a damn freaking plethora – and I hate the pretension of that word – of formats to write in and vendors ready to gobble up our offerings.

But maybe, you start thinking it would be easier to market your work if you could sub-divide by genre or readership. You fancy a pen name for your picture books and middle grade fiction because they’re all light and warm and fuzzy tales, and that would provide a clear division from your edgy young adult novels that might be a touch out of the wheelhouse for your middle grade readership and / or their gatekeepers. And then you start dabbling in new adult romances and they are HOT, so, perhaps another pen name is in order there.

Take me for example. I write MG and paranormal YA under my pen name, Judith Graves, because the name alone has a creepy / campy feel that suits my work. However, I also write edgy YA/NA under the name, Judith Tewes as those stories are spicier romances that may not appeal or be appropriate for my younger readers and I wanted to keep the lines between those age levels clear.

But a few years into this multiple pen name game and I think I can speak with some authority when I say this:

The thing about pen names? They can be a real pain in the ass.

Especially in an industry where social media and having an online presence is critical to marketing. We’re talking a webpage or blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and god knows what else profiles for each name. For an actively writing writer, it can be tough enough to keep the social media stream flowing for one brand, let alone two or more.

You’ll likely end up cross-promoting anyway. I do. Which means I’m copying / pasting things from one profile to the other, or shouting out to my “other self” when she’s appearing at an event or has news to share. There’s no hiding that I’m one person with two pen names. I have links on either website so you’ll find me no matter which Judith you’re seeking.

So what was the point? Why did I cause myself double the work and ultimately divide my brand? I donno…because it seemed like a good idea at the time?

Currently, I’m stuck with both names, but in the future, no more additional Judiths will be spawned. Not by me at least. If you’re tempted to create a pen name, consider this instead…

On your website/blog have a landing page that divides your work by genre or readership, then let your readers click on the YOU they want to learn more about. Chances are they’ll explore your entire site anyway, but at least you’ve told them straight up that you’re not a one trick pony, although, you’d be enjoying the benefits of having only one social media / marketing pony to ride. (Okay, the riding / pony thing is starting to sound dirty.)

Speaking of hot and dirty, I will mention, however, that if you write erotica, that might be your deciding factor. If you’re keen on the school market for your children’s items, but also write the steamier stuff, a pen name will help soothe the gatekeepers. And then nix the cross-promotion. Keep that pen name its own fine beast in your stable.

Learn from me, friends, much as I love her to bits, I wish I’d read a post like this before I decided to bring Tewes to life.

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Judith Graves/Tewes resides in small town northern Alberta, where she: writes, sings, plays bass guitar in an all-woman band, walks her three crazy labs, and suspects she’s living the life of a superhero’s alias.

5 Comments on “The Thing About Pen Names

  1. Judith, I completely understand! I use a pen name, mostly because there were several established authors with my real name! It really became a pain after I was first published. My large personal network couldn’t find me. I can’t help but think I would have been better off using my own name and saving the hassle. Still, there’s something to be said for having an alter-ego. I have no plans to use any additional names, either!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the advice, Judith. I’ve been pondering a pen name, not for the reasons you did, but because there seems to be so much evidence that male names get more positive responses (more responses period) from agents and editors. And, to me, they seem to dominate the YA market. My maiden name is Finn. It’s a popular name right now and I thought I could incorporate it somehow.

    I asked my agent for his advice. He disagreed with my Male Name Theory and said he could send a long list of successful female authors that used their real names. Then he said. ” At the end of the day, it’s all about the writing and execution of the novel — not the author’s name!”

    I guess if I ever bring Finn to life, it will be in a novel.


    • My thoughts are that whatever you chose to do, it’s a good idea to realize you will be juggling identities, which can definitely be tricky. I don’t think what the pen name is matters as much as you, the author, realizing the task of juggling identities. Also, asking yourself “why”…why do you need to use a pen name.


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