Saturday, October 24, 2015

My Secret Identity: Writing Under Multiple Pen Names

I've gone to four conferences in October and there is one thing I got asked about at every single one, even though I didn't speak on the topic in an official capacity: my pen-names.

For those who don't know, I write YA under the name Sarah Nicolas and romance under the name Aria Kane. (New release coming 11/15!)

Authors publish under different names for a variety of reasons and handle it a variety of ways. If you ask ten different pseudonymous authors, you might get ten different answers. Here are the most common questions I get about my multiple personalities and my answers:

1) Why do you write under a pen name?

Short answer: marketing/branding

Long answer: It's all about marketing and branding.

I actually don't write anything under my legal last name, for two reasons. One is that I started in the YA world and my real name is the same as a popular European lingerie designer (i.e. the Google Image results are not YA-friendly). The second is that someone with my name self-published an unprofessional fantasy/post-apoc novel and I didn't want that associated with my name.

My reasons for a separate pen name for romance are different. Imagine a teenager tells her mother she wants to read my books. The mother searches amazon and finds these covers:

Now imagine, on the opposite side of things, a reader who enjoys my sexy romances and accidentally buys and starts reading Dragons are People, Too, which has, like, some light making out. A hundred pages in.

Neither customer would be happy.

Frequently, romance authors will use a pen name if they live in a conservative environment, are active in their church, or are teachers. I have seen parents go all pitch-and-forky when they find out their child's teacher is a romance author.

Also, a couple of years ago, I saw a discussion on another reason for someone to use a pen name: job applications. An author had a potential employer google her (which everyone does now) and he doubted her intentions and her staying power because the assumptions are: the author already makes more than enough money (hahahahahahahahaha *ahem*) or is going to leave as soon as they start raking in the cash (again, hahahahahaha). So there's that to consider.

The old-school reason to write under different names is so that your mystery (J.D. Robb) books don't get shelved in the romance section (Nora Roberts) of the bookstore, because bookstores like to keep all of an author's books together. This is still a concern but is becoming less influential in these kinds of decisions.

More reasons other authors choose a pen name: Your name is very common or the name of another author (or the name of, say, a serial killer). You worry about stalkers. Your name is hard to spell or pronounce.  Bad sales history. Gender concerns (men writing m/f romance, women writing scifi).

2) Why did you choose the name(s) you chose?

Sarah is my first name and Nicolas is a derivative of my middle name. And the domain name was available.

As for Aria Kane, I've always liked the name Aria and it has some of the same sounds as my first name. One of my favorite names in the world is Cian, but nobody knows how to say or spell it. Also, a couple years ago, a report came out that romance authors with a strong-sounding Anglo-Saxon last name sold better than their counterparts. I don't know how true that is, but why not?

Plus, the domain name was available.

(I told you it was all about marketing)

3) What about your agent?

My agent and I have a very special arrangement when it comes to my pen name. This is a very personal decision. If you are not yet agented, you should have this conversation with any agent who offers representation. If you are agented, you should have the conversation with your agent to figure out how to proceed if you want to start writing in another category or under a different name.

Some agents:

  • represent all the author's work, regardless of genre. If this is what you want, look for agents who represent (almost) everything you're interested in writing.
  • represent only one category/name while another agent represents the other
  • work out a deal with another agent in their house who represents the genre they don't
  • any mixture of the above three options

4) How do you keep them straight?

Sometimes I don't. I signed an Aria email the other day with "Thank you, Sarah."

It requires different email addresses, different social media accounts, different personalities.

People look at me like I'm crazy when I say Aria and Sarah have very different personalities. The key is: they're both me, I just accentuate different aspects of my personality, depending on who I am. For example, I let out every bit of my flirtiness and dirty mindedness when I'm Aria. Sarah is more snarky/sarcastic. I'm all of those things.

5) What should I call you?

I don't care. I know some authors will, but if I'm at an event as Aria and you call me Sarah, I'll answer and won't correct you. I now answer to Aria almost as automatically as Sarah. I'm "out."

Sometimes I even forget what name I should introduce myself as. If you see me glance at my badge before I say my name, this is what has happened.

I hope that answers some of your questions about writing under multiple names. If you have any other questions, let me know in the comments!

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