In the previous posts about pen names, I’ve stayed fairly theoretical; all the reasons you should (and occasionally, shouldn’t) use pen names.
As I write this post in June 2020, my stance on the use of pen names is:
- If you’re prolific and write in more than one genre, you must use a pen name for each, if you want to maximize your sales. It’s no longer a luxury or even an affectation to use pen names. It’s purely good business sense.
- If you’re not terribly prolific (let’s say, less than a book every six weeks), then you should probably not be writing in a different genre at all. But if you insist on diving over the Amazon 30 Day Cliff by writing in more than one genre, you’re still better off using a pen name to keep your Also Boughts clean.
- And you should work on getting the books out there faster—which is what this site is all about.
- If you’re already using more than one pen name, consider deeply whether you want to be open or closed about those pen names. Using an open pen name will help keep your readers in their separate genres, but there will be some cross-over, because readers are loyal to authors they love. If your different genres have no cross-genre appeal (Christian romance and, say, horror. Or Erotica and children’s fiction), then you should keep the divide between your pen names absolute. Don’t tell readers of one pen name about the work you do under the other pen name.
I did do a quick dip down into the practical side of juggling pen names, and I thought I’d get back into the weeds again for this post, as I’m still getting questions about how to manage it all.
I have for a number of years now been slowly separating the genres I write into various pen names.
Earlier this year, I ramped up that effort, and also severed the more obvious links between two of the pen names. There are now no (even buried) links leading a reader from one name to the other. This means relying upon readers discovering the pen names organically. It’s a slower way to build a platform and readership, but it is becoming even more vital, these days, to work with the algorithms.
The Amazon Cliff Might Be More Deadly Than We Think
I currently have three active pen names. As I indicated in the earlier part of this series, if you’re using multiples, the easiest way to handle them is to rotate through them, one book after another, so that no single pen name or series is neglected.
However, earlier this year I came across anecdotal claims from authors who do use pen names that Amazon penalizes authors who fail to publish less frequently than every thirty days, not just overall, but for every single pen name.
In other words, it’s not enough to write a book every four weeks and rotate through your pen names. Amazon wants to see each pen name publish more frequently than every 30 days.
That seems like an impossible task. And there is no evidence one way or another, because writing in multiple names and genres and still releasing every 30 days for each pen name is next to impossible.
However, that is what I have set out to do – to find out for myself (and you).
One of my genres is becoming moribund. Sales have tanked badly despite everything I’ve done to revive them.
On the other hand, one of the other pen names is booming, with hardly any effort on my part. Organic sales are scaling upward very nicely indeed.
I have put aside the failing genre, for now, and for the next six months to a year, I will write in just the two other genres.
In addition, to gauge the behavior of the algorithms and the 30 Day Cliff, I am doubling my daily word count so I can put out a book every two weeks, meaning I will be releasing a book in each pen name, every 28 days.
You may have already noticed that uptick in wordage in my weekly log posts.
In a few months’ time, I should be able to analyze the results and decide if the 30 Day Cliff really is for each pen name, or for the author’s KDP account overall. I will report back on this, and what it means for authors and their pen names.
Another Approach to Pen Names
In this entire series, I’ve not mentioned using pen names as market research, for most authors blanche at the merely the idea of writing under two names and being prolific and get all wound up about their “children” and the art of writing fiction, so suggesting that pen names are tools tends to raise hackles. A lot.
But pen names should be considered as useful tools in your business’ arsenal of tools and tactics.
Even more extreme: You should use pen names to experiment and find a niche that works for you.
For twenty years, my primary genre has worked for me. Now it doesn’t. I’m putting aside the genre and the name and getting on with other types of writing to see what sticks.
Some authors will write a single series under a pen name to see if the series gets picked up by readers. If it doesn’t, they shrug and move on to a different name + series, and repeat until they find a niche that has traction.
I think waiting only for the length of three books or so might be a little hasty. Readers can be slow to find new authors. I’m going all in on my other pen names—a few series of about five books each, publishing regularly and rapidly. After a year, I’ll have a good idea of how they’re going and can decide to continue or drop one or the other.
I will promote and market the moribund genre in the meantime, and in a year or so, I may write a new series (or finish an incomplete one) and see if interest has revived in that pen name.
Indie authors are often cited as being highly flexible, able to respond to market shifts far more swiftly than traditional publishing, which takes over a year to bring a book to bookstore shelves. This is an advantage you should utilize to the hilt. Using pen names to adjust to market demands is another way to do that.
This is another way learning how to write and release rapidly will benefit your career.