I’ve been chatting with some authors about the use of pen names. This week it’s Steven B. Moores, author of Dead on Cuban Time, Cherub’s Play, and Love’s Last Stand.
Tell us about you as human, and you as author.
In my day job I’m an attorney with the US Environmental Protection Agency, helping keep the world clean for Democracy. It took me a long time to become a published author. During that time, I wrote a number of stories in different genres, won or been a finalist in many writing contests, and, to date, published three novels.
What made you start writing fiction and how long have you been at it?
I began writing fiction in the most clichéd way ever known. Just before leaving town for law school, I read somewhere that Harlequin would give you $1500 for three chapters and an outline of a short romance novel. How easy could that be? Not at all, of course. But, once I tried it, I was hooked. I worked on that story all through school. A couple of years later I entered it in the RMFW Colorado Gold contest and tied for second place (they did that back then). I thought I was well on my way to fame and fortune, but that book, as my friend and author Sharon Mignerey says, was my “learning how to write a novel, novel.” With any luck at all that manuscript will stay in the bottom desk drawer and never see the light of day. But it wasn’t until I found RMFW and a good critique group that I started to learn what writing fiction is all about. Even so, it’s been a long haul. On the bright side, almost every story I’ve written or started has won or been a finalist in contests all over the country. But contests don’t automatically translate into published works.
How long did it take you to get published (traditional or self-pub or hybrid—just explain)
If you count writing part-time during school and during my day job career, it took fifteen years before I self-published my first mystery, Dead on Cuban Time. I had an agent for that book, but she couldn’t sell it. We got the nicest rejections, including one publisher who said they liked it better than a similar story they just put under contract. Dead on Cuban Time is available on Amazon.com as an ebook, and I need to write the sequel. It took me another ten years or so to get traditionally published.
How many books have you published under your real name (or 1st pen name)?
I published Dead on Cuban Time under my own name, Steven Moores. Since then I’ve had two books traditionally published, both in 2018. I wrote Love’s Last Stand as a historical romance, using my initials, S.B. Moores, mostly to hide the fact that I was a man writing romance. Even so, the book is marketed by Five Star as “Frontier Fiction.” I used the pen name Katie Grant for Cherub’s Play, which is marketed by The Wild Rose Press as a contemporary romance. I consider the book more of a romantic comedy, but, again, I used a pen name to conceal my gender.
Why did you decide to publish under a different name? (I assume it was your decision, but if it was your publisher’s decision, please address that and also how you felt about it—it seems to me that it would double the time it takes to market but maybe not.)
My publishers and I agreed to use a pen name because the books were romance; however, in hindsight, I’m not sure that was the best marketing decision. A man writing romance would stand out from many women authors in the genre.
How did you come up with your pen name?
Other than using my initials on Love’s Last Stand, my only pen name has been Katie Grant. I had two friends in San Francisco, Katie and Grant; and, putting their names together sounded modern and upbeat, unlike the flowery names romance authors have used in the past.
How does having a pen name affect any marketing you do?
If you write in different genres, like I do, using different author names can present a challenge. The goal in marketing these days is branding, which means when a potential reader hears your name, she knows what to expect from the author and his stories. If you write in different genres under the same author name, readers can be confused. This may be changing, as I explain below.
Do you market the same with all three names? How does that work?
These days, unless you’re Stephen King or Nora Roberts, publishers expect their authors to do most of the marketing. I can’t say I’m a marketing genius, far from it, but I’ve tried not to pigeonhole myself or my readers. I like writing in different genres. You can maintain separate author identities with different publishers, but maintaining different author websites, FaceBook pages and other social media platforms for separate genres is not very efficient.
Like many authors, I’m way more interested in writing than marketing. However, the current focus on author marketing may be changing reader expectations. Social media have made it much easier for an author to create a relationship with her readers. Once that relationship is established, readers who are familiar with an author will know if she writes in different genres and be less likely to mistakenly choose a novel outside their favorite genre. Using individual book cover themes for different genres also helps keep things seperate, even if the author isn’t using different pen names across genres.
What are the pros of using a pen name?
Marketing issues aside, there are other reasons why an author may want to use a pen name. Some peoples’ names are hard to pronounce or just don’t lend themselves to an author identity. Would you rather read a contemporary short romance by Savanah Smiles or Reinhardt Fenstermachernstein? Either could be a superb author, but there’s a bit of psychology at play in genre marketing, and an appropriate pen name can be part of that.
In addition, an author may realize her story, if published, will generate controversy she’d wish to avoid. If you were writing an absolutely brilliant fantasy trilogy in which Mother Teresa is a werewolf who preys upon blind Jewish orphans, you may want to avoid the scrutiny, both pro and con, your book generates. A pen name here may help avoid the problem, but, as I mentioned, hiding your identity can create marketing problems. So, if you’re writing the Mother Teresa story, see if you can get your publisher to do most of the marketing.
Long ago I heard a rumor that may or may not be true about a writer (Louis L’Amour, I think, but don’t hold me to it) who, for contractual reasons, lost the use of his own name. It took him years to get it back and, in the interim, he was forced to use a pen name. This may not be much of an issue these days, but it pays to read the fine print in your contract. Either that or hire a lawyer before you sign on the dotted line.
The decision to use a pen name usually depends on whether you wish to conceal your identity, for whatever reason. That being said, my publishers maintain author pages on their websites that clearly identify who I am, if a reader chooses to look.
If you could do it all over again would you do it differently? How and why?
If I had it do all over, which maybe I still do, I would seriously consider focusing on one genre (and one publisher), at least for two or three books, using either my own name or a pen name, but not both. If I enjoyed that genre and had reasonable success, I might continue in that vein. If I achieved little success, I would feel less committed to staying in that genre or with that name.
Be sure to include all your social media links, and an author photo if you have one.
I am on FaceBook at: facebook.com/StevenBMoores. I also have a totally amateur website at stevenmoores.net, where I did absolutely everything you can do wrong in setting up a blog. In the not-to-distant future I hope to have a more professional site at stevenmoores.com.