I get quite a kick when I find out about famous authors who have made a living out of writing under secret pen names, for years, with the public being none the wiser. To me, it adds to their charm, and lends an air of mystery.
After intense research (a coffee break, avoiding actual work, and the net, grin) I found quite a few that may be a surprise to you as well.
- Ruth Rendell as Barbara Vine.
- J.K. Rowling as crime novelist Robert Galbraith. (This made international headlines when she was ousted recently.)
- Jayne Anne Krentz – has two with historical fiction writer Amanda Quick and Sci-fi write Jayne Castle.
- Anne Rice as ooh la la erotic novelist Anne Rampling
- Michael Crichton as fast-paced medical detective writer John Lange.
- Julian Barnes as thriller writer Dan Kavanagh.
- Patricia Highsmith author of The Talented Mr Ripley wrote an erotic romance as Claire Morgan.
- Agatha Christie as romance writer Mary Westmacott.
Personally I think if you are going to write in very different genres it’s a good idea to adopt a pen name. It’s also great if you’re trying something new and want to see how successful it is. You can even be rather explicit about it such as Nora Roberts writing as crime novelist JD. Robb – though I do wonder why she bothers as each book states that it is Nora writing as J.D … but regardless, a pen name can be quite a good business strategy I think, helping authors to build an identifiable brand for readers.
As a reader, there are certain authors’ books that I will buy as soon as I hear that they have a new release. I won’t even bother to read the blurb, in fact I prefer not to know and be surprised. However, I do have some expectations that it is in the genre they have written previously. This is not to say that as a reader I don’t like it when writers experiment – because I do. Sometimes it can be exhilarating. But often this ‘surprise’ occurs after they have written consistently in one genre for a period, built a reputation, and then decide to branch out. They also then, usually, let their readers know that they have tried something new.
However if a writer consistently switches from genre to genre, never establishing a recognisable brand, it may get confusing, and chances are, not all readers will follow you, or come back. Having a pen name then can help you to add some focus, and create a distinct identity. It can also be quite freeing to write under a alias as you are able to write more honestly or tackle subject matter that ordinarily may be difficult for you to write under your own name.
What’s your views on pen names? Would you ever consider using one? Do you use one now? I’d love to hear!