Evolution of the Pen Name

May 7, 2014

Pen Name Blog_edited-1The pen name is an interesting thing that has been used through out the ages for many different things.  If we go way, way back, you see the pen name being used by the likes of George Eliot as a means to simply be published as a woman in a man’s world.  In more modern times, you have the pen name being used to separate an author’s work across genres to manage reader expectations.  For example, Nora Roberts is J.D. Robb in her futuristic novels as a way of indicating to readers that this is not the same type of book as you’re used to from Roberts’ other romantic works.  Or an even more famous example is found in J.K. Rowling’s transition to adult literature in Cuckoo’s Calling as Robert Galbraith.

But pen names can largely go unnoticed by readers as they are meant to.  The publishing industry wants to present a seamless front to readers that only showcases the book and not the tricky footing behind it.  For writers, this always meant the ability to try new things without damaging the reputation of an established brand under another name.  This is in fact the explanation given on J.D. Robb’s website of how this pen name came around.  Nora Roberts wanted to reach a different group of readers in a different genre without damaging or diluting the impact of the Nora Roberts brand.  As readers, this may sound like hogwash.  You just want to read a book by the author you already love.  But for the big publishing world, this was a serious consideration.

Notice my use of the word was.

With the whirlwind development of indie publishing, the pen name is experiencing a rushing transformation with an abrupt outcome: authors are dropping the pen name act for writing in multiple genres.

In the digital world, an author needs to consider the use of a pen name when writing across multiple genres in terms of search engine optimization.  It is no longer about keeping your books separate on different shelves in the bookstore.  Now it’s all about catching the reader’s eye in a digital search in the internet world and making sure he finds all of your work at the same time.  This is best done by using one name for all genres of writing.  This is also practical from a technical standpoint.  Authors writing in multiple genres with different names need separate websites and social media profiles.  That’s a lot to maintain as an author who already doesn’t have enough time to write.  So authors are dropping it in favor of the single name for multiple genres as Sarra Cannon does between her young adult and new adult books.

The one consideration remaining is if you write middle grade to adult novels and need to separate adult content from the youngsters’ stuff.  Here you will still find prominent use of the pen name.  But for those of us writing in contemporary and historical romance, you are likely to find more single pen named authors.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve added developing a different pen name for different genres to my business plan only to scratch it out.  With the ever changing balance between pen name and no pen name across genres, it’s a tough decision to make.  But I’ve finally decided on sticking with the name I have for all of my adult novels.  For my children’s books, that will be a different story, and one I hope to share more on later in the year.

And now I know you’re wondering: is Jessie Clever a pen name?  It’s so, well, clever.

Well, I’ve heard that a million times before as Jessie Clever is not a pen name.  It’s my name for better or worse.  Or at least it was until the day I got back from my honeymoon and went right to the Social Security office to drop the Clever once and for all so that I may never hear another clever joke in my life.  Except I had already bought the domain name for jessieclever.com, and I was stuck forever as Jessie Clever in the writing world.  I guess I can endure a few more clever jokes for the sake of a well-told story.

One thought on “Evolution of the Pen Name”

  1. Landam Naresh

    Do you know that in his book “A History of Writing” Steven Roger Fischer suggests that the reed pen might well have been used for writing on parchment as long ago as the First Dynasty or about 3000 BC. Quills slowly replaced reed pens from about 7th century. A quill is a pen made from a flight feather of a large bird, most often a goose. Quill pens were used in medieval times to write on parchment or paper. I found this info in here, http://www.spinfold.com/evolution-of-pen/

    September 17, 2014

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