At the 2011 Romantic Times convention, we interviewed the New York Times bestselling romance and mystery authors Jennifer Ashley, Ashley Gardner, Allyson James, and Laurien Gardner – all at the same time! (The latter three names are pen names for Jennifer Ashley.)
I’ve always wondered why authors (particularly genre writers) use pen names, and whether it’s better to use a pseudonym or pen name, or if you should write under your real name. I asked all four “writers” (e.g., Jennifer) why she write under different pen names.
Ultimately, she’s glad she took different names, for two primary reasons:
- It lets readers know to expect a certain experience when they purchase a work by a particular name. Readers get fanatical about certain authors and grow to love a certain style or subject matter, and it helps in genre fiction to keep your titles consistent to fulfill audience expectations.
So she employs her pen names by genre and title: she writes historical, paranormal, and contemporary romance as Jennifer Ashley; mysteries as Ashley Gardner; paranormal romance and urban fantasy as Allyson James, and also historical romances goes by Laurien Gardner.
- It allows her to experiment. She wanted to dabble in erotic romance; writing it under the name of Allyson James allowed her to do create without risking turning off the Jennifer Ashley audience – and, if she failed at it, she could quietly “kill off” the pseudonym without jeopardizing her brand.
Jennifer didn’t mention this, but in a later interview with Angela James of Carina Press, Angela notes that sometimes writers will also use a pen name if their brand is “long in the tooth” or if their last novel flopped, in order to skirt the stigma they may otherwise have with book buyers.