What’s in a pen name? Lots of writers and bloggers use one, and for a variety of reasons. It might be, as is the case for many erotica and romance writers and sex bloggers, that you are forced to protect your real identity to avoid losing your job. It might be that you want to protect yourself and your family from any backlash that can, unfortunately, come from being in the public view – and let’s face it, if we’re writing online, we’re in the public eye to some greater or lesser degree.
Your reasons might be more business- or writing-related: it might be that you’re trying to separate one type of work you do from your other writing, be it fiction from non-fiction, or children’s books from erotica, or whatever the case may be. There are many other reasons which are individual to each writer who uses a pen name, and all are valid, precisely because they are important to you, if you’re a writer. And most of the time, readers don’t get an inkling of all the agonising that goes on behind these decisions. They only see the finished work, be it a novel, a self-help book, a PhD thesis or a blog post. Or even a tweet!
In this post, I’ll try to show you how this looks from my perspective as a writer of erotica, but also as a writer of non-erotic literary works which have emotive and often crime-based content, as well as some of the other work that I do.
Why I use a pen name and why I find it useful
I’ve been writing seriously in one form or another (fiction, non-fiction, academic) since 2006 and for years before that, and in this time I’ve amassed a whole load of words, some in my legal name, some in this pen name, and I’ve edited in both names, too. Personally, I couldn’t care less if people know me by my real name, but when I first began writing erotica a few years ago, I opted to use a pen name in order to put some distance between the genre and my children. They know what I write and they’re completely okay with it. Neither want to read it – but that’s fine because one isn’t legally old enough to, anyway, and if they walk in the room, then my laptop lid goes down until they’ve gone away again. I’ve gone so far as to make most of my work totally unrelated to my children. I don’t even use the same last name as them in my ‘vanilla’ work, but that’s more down to me wanting to keep my business life and my personal life apart. And this is where it gets interesting for me as a writer.
I find that I am much happier and able to communicate better when I feel that I’m writing as Ina than I am when writing under my ‘other name’. It’s a weird piece of mindset that I feel stronger as a writer as Ina, less likely to care if I have a bad review (although don’t get me wrong, that’s still pretty horrible), and, most importantly, I feel more able to write as my authentic self using a name I wasn’t born with, married into, or adopted in any other way.
What do I mean by that? I simply mean that, as Ina, I feel free to just… create. And to create my way. I don’t feel tied to a name and bound to the associations with it that I make. I don’t agonise over whether the words are literary enough, or whether the story is going to judged as ‘bad’ by some big name academic. I don’t even worry too much about whether all readers are going to see my work as ‘worthy’. All opinions on writing are subjective to a point; granted, there are obvious points of grammar and punctuation which make a piece of writing readable and even enjoyable, but different readers like different things. Not even all erotica readers will read anything they encounter (as many people who don’t read the genre seem to think they do). People have preferences and, as writers, we have to work with that and respect a reader’s choice to either read or not read our work.
None of this means, however, that I don’t care very deeply about what I write. Anyone who knows me well would be able to tell you that I don’t just fling the first thing I write out into the ether. I still agonise over each piece, trying to make it do what exactly it is I want it to do, to create the effect I want it to have on the reader. But I do this from a very personal, honest standpoint because I want my writing to feel to the reader that it has integrity. Everything I write comes from a place of ‘truth’ somewhere inside of me, and I find that easier to access when letting work into the world as Ina. Ina is free to do, think and write as she pleases; the other me who feeds kids, scrubs toilets, cleans up after the dog and edits for authors and business doesn’t seem to have that freedom of expression and beats herself up about not being perfect enough, not working hard enough, not being helpful enough – just not being ‘enough’.
I can be extremely serious and intellectual-sounding (yes, I do that, sometimes, honestly, and note that I said ‘intellectual-sounding’!) because I care a great deal about writing, about books, and about the people I love, admire and respect who are working hard to do the same kinds of things I am. And then there’s the other side of me which, if you’ve read enough of my blog, particularly the erotic content, you will know as a very different persona! However, all of it is intrinsically me. What happens, I think, having analysed how it works for quite a while now, is that I write as me, whoever or whatever that is. I edit as me, either for myself or for others and my authentic self is visible because my ‘voice’ and the way I work is constantly present.
What happens with my fiction after the creative process, then, is that the persona becomes involved after the creation stage, and that’s when the external tribulations of who I’m meant to be perceived as set in. So much so that, as an example of this, I have a novel (a pretty serious one involving the Women’s Liberation March, eugenics, child murder and suicide) that I have been working on since 2007. I still haven’t released it because my other persona is waiting for some kind of literary approval – from where or whom I have no idea – if no one can read it, no one is going to be able to love it or hate it either way! It has been occasionally debilitating and, at minimum, downright irritating and frustrating. I can only assume this approval needs to come from myself, and I need to give myself permission to let it loose.
But here’s the crux of the matter: I have to remember that it doesn’t matter what I write, or who I write as, I’m still me. My ‘voice’ is the same, no matter whether I’m writing about an orgy or the crimes of women in Agatha Christie novels. Regardless of the genre, I still write about the emotional and psychological turbulence behind relationships, and it’s often soulful or dark in some way – although sometimes it’s just plain hot, too (so people tell me!). What you’re getting when you read my work is some part of me, telling the story in the only way I know how, and that’s the most authentic form of storytelling I believe there is.
Multiple pen names? Yes or no?
So, is it a sensible move, as far as author branding is concerned, to only have one pen name or to have multiple pen names, depending on what you write? As I mentioned earlier, if you’re writing children’s books and erotica or something else which, ethically, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny under one pen name when some poor child wants to show their parent the book the teacher was reading in class, and they search for the author on Amazon and… you get the picture. In that case, separating your work would be the most responsible, child protection-friendly thing you can do. But what about someone like me? Or you, if you’re a writer? And what do readers make of authors who use one name for writing across the board?
There’s such a lot of conflicting advice out there that’s it’s difficult to know where to start. But, having read an awful lot of it, listened to podcasts, and watched YouTube videos until I can recite them in my sleep, I’ve come to one unmistakable conclusion: you have to do what feels right for you. And only you know the answer to this. That might sound really wishy-washy advice, but it’s true. When I’ve read something that completely advocates splitting your work up into different author names based on genre, it makes sense, logically to me. When I come across something that advocates writing under one name and making each type or genre of work look ostensibly different through its covers, maybe its logo or its font, that also makes sense to me, considering the way I feel about my writing.
There’s another factor to consider in all of this, too, and that’s the whole scenario of author branding, particularly important if you want to be recognised as the writer you are or if you want to sell your work. It’s a massive topic, and I’ll just touch on it in this post, but consider needing to raise awareness of your work (that horrible word ‘marketing’). If you want anyone to know what you’ve written exists, then you have to do it at some level, whether it’s writing on a blog, posting to social media, or moving to the heady realms of advertising. And if you want people to know you exist, you have to interact with people, too. I’m the first to admit I could do better on this score. The introvert in me closes shop sometimes when it comes to having to actively ‘talk’ to people, especially on social media, although I’m trying to get better at it.
Now imagine having several pen names and having to do this for all of them, all of them with an intentionally different ‘voice’ and trying to do different things. I can tell you that it’s time-consuming and hard work. That’s not a problem in and of itself – hard work is what you expect to have to put in as a writer if you’re writing seriously (and if you don’t think that, then you need to learn fast that, actually, you do). But if you are trying to be many personae and you’ve got a blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Tumblr, Medium, and who knows what else to post to for each of your pen names, some of which hate straightforward copying of content so it needs rewriting and repurposing first, you can spend forever marketing non-existent work because you’re never going to get the chance to write anything! Even if you’re only using one pen name, it becomes time-consuming to try and keep up with every type of social media there is. My advice is to choose your favourite(s) and stick to them. You’ll be more inclined to be actively participating then. Someone remind me to heed my own advice, please!
That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to manage multiple social media streams. In the erotica and sex blogging world the amazing Kayla Lords, for instance, does it incredibly well, producing content as Kayla Lords, Loving BDSM and The Smutlancer, but they’re all coming from the same point: the overarching brand of Kayla Lords. So, while the content she posts on each website has a different focus, the ‘voice’ is always the same and, for me, that is her authentic writerly self shining through. In the vanilla world, there is a fabulous podcast on The Creative Penn in which Joanna Penn, who is working under three pen names currently, discusses the whole idea of author branding and writing under multiple pen names. Slight spoiler: writing in multiple pen names is not necessarily the advice you’ll get. If you want to listen to it, you can find it here. (And if I ever find myself managing to achieve the success either of these two incredible women have done, I will be one happy creative!)
I need your help – and your opinion
So where does all this leave my authentic writer self? Well, I think it leaves me, at least as far as fiction is concerned, where I’ve known it should have left me a number of years ago, dropping what I feel I should do, and over-thinking it, and instead doing what my instinct tell me is the right thing to do. My instincts aren’t usually wrong. But to see what readers think, I’d love a bit of help. I don’t usually write posts asking for help because, when I post here, I like to offer something back to the writing and reading community, one way or another, usually through fiction. But this time, I am actively seeking opinions.
- Does it matter to you, as a reader, if an author has one name only but writes in multiple genres? Do you reject an author who does this, or do you pick through and find the books and series you like and leave the others alone?
- Are you a reader who reads everything an author you like writes, no matter what it is? (I confess to doing this with a handful of authors)
- If you happen to like my work (and, believe it or not, some people do!), would you be surprised to find me writing in multiple genres? I have dropped some of my literary fiction onto my blog in the past, if you delve around a bit! What about non-fiction?
If you read my work regularly (and even if you don’t), and you feel you can offer a view on my questions here, please do contact me. You can reply in the comments, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can tweet me @InaMorataWriter. I promise to read and take note of all your comments. Or if you feel that you can identify with the issues I’ve raised here, you’re trying to make up your mind about how you move your own writing forward with pen name(s) or not, and you want to sound out your ideas, write to me or DM me and I’ll do my best to help.