A New You—In Name Alone? When to Adopt a Pen Name

Hi all, Julie here! I’m excited to welcome as my guest today, author Sophie Littlefield, aka Sofia Grant. Her new novel, The Dress in the Window, hits shelves tomorrow from HarperCollins/William Morrow. I’m very excited for Sofia’s book, and I’m thrilled to have her here with a great post on pen names. So without further ado, here’s Sofia!

For the first ten years and twenty-plus novels of my career, I wrote exclusively under my real name. But this summer, The Dress in the Window will come out under the pseudonym Sofia Grant.

The decision to use a pen name was not undertaken lightly, but after extensive discussion with my agent and editor, who ultimately felt that my new novel might reach the greatest number of readers if it was launched as a ‘debut.’ While it is not a secret to anyone who does a simple Google search that Sophie Littlefield and Sofia Grant are one and the same (the media kit and marketing materials even make this clear), the switch is an effective signal to both booksellers and readers that this book is a departure from those that I’ve written in the past.

WHEN IS A PEN NAME A GOOD IDEA?

  1. You’re writing in a new genre – It’s been one of the great pleasures of my career that I’ve been able to write in a variety of genres, from mystery to young adult fiction to an apocalyptic trilogy. However, my move into historic fiction was a greater departure and an opportunity to reach readers who don’t often choose novels in my past genres. In particular, my latest novels are suitable for book clubs and reading groups. Writing under a new name means that my future backlist should consistently appeal to these readers.
  2. Your sales have slowed – One of the difficult realities of publishing today is that downward-trending sales present a problem for acquiring editors and marketing departments. Simply put, brilliant writing is not enough on its own to overcome poor sales numbers. However, a new pen name—even if it’s clear that it belongs to an existing author—provides a sort of clean break. You have a chance to start putting numbers on the board and build on them.
  3. You’ve taken a break – If you’ve been away from publishing for a number of years, you’re probably tired of readers asking you when they can expect a new novel or the next book in your series. Rather than explain your absence, it may be easier to make a splash under a new name.
  4. The audience for your new book is distinctly different from your existing readers—When choosing whether to use a pen name, you must always consider the opportunity cost, which in this case is name recognition among your past readers. If, however, there is little crossover, it may actually be preferable to keep the two readerships distinct rather than disappoint existing readers with a book that is dissimilar to what you’ve done in the past. Some scenarios that come to mind include switching from nonfiction to fiction (or vice versa), from children’s books to adult, sweet romance to erotica, cozy mystery to graphic thrillers.

Adopting a pen name is not a decision to undertake lightly: in addition to starting from scratch in developing a readership, you may find that you need to develop a separate social media presence. It can be awkward to signal to colleagues and existing readers that “Yes, it’s really me.” And you’ll need to get used to answering to a second name. Still, the benefits of a pen name may make it the right choice for you now or at a future point in your career.

Thank you so much for being our guest here today, Sofia, and congrats on your new book!

Sofia Grant is the author of THE DRESS IN THE WINDOW (July 25, 2017; HarperCollins/William Morrow). Called a “writing machine” by the New York Times and a “master storyteller” by the Midwest Book Review, Sofia has written dozens of novels for adults and teens under the name Sophie Littlefield. She has won Anthony and RT Book Awards and been shortlisted for Edgar®, Barry, Crimespree, Macavity, and Goodreads Choice Awards. Sofia works from an urban aerie in Oakland, California. Visit her at sofiagrant.com.

        

8 Responses to A New You—In Name Alone? When to Adopt a Pen Name

  1. Linda W. Jul 24 2017 at 9:13 am #

    I was thinking about writing YA fantasy fiction under a pen name. I’ve previously published ESL books and a lot of nonfiction for preschoolers.

    • Sofia Grant Jul 24 2017 at 10:28 am #

      Best wishes, Linda! I think that might be a wise choice.

  2. Sofia Grant Jul 24 2017 at 10:27 am #

    Thanks for inviting me to drop in, Julie!

    • Julie
      Julie Jul 24 2017 at 9:17 pm #

      Thanks for sharing such a great post! Though I write under my own name, I’ve been curious about pen names for a long time, and you did such a great job of explaining when it makes the most sense. 🙂

  3. Lyn Fattorini Jul 24 2017 at 5:27 pm #

    “Sofia works from an urban aerie in Oakland, California.” What’s an aerie? Google doesn’t know.

    • Sophie Aug 26 2017 at 9:24 pm #

      Wow, silly google! 🙂 straight from the dictionary –

      Definition of aerie
      1
      : the nest of a bird on a cliff or a mountaintop
      2
      obsolete : a brood of birds of prey
      3
      : an elevated often secluded dwelling, structure, or position

  4. Fatima Zahra Jul 25 2017 at 1:12 am #

    This is great advice! Would you recommend a pseudonym for first time writers?

    • Sophie Aug 26 2017 at 9:27 pm #

      hi fatima! you know, it really depends on your own goals and situation. I have a friend who used a pseudonym because she was worried that her community would be displeased that she wrote super-spicy romances, and another who had had a bad experience with a stalker. Still others choose a name that is easier to spell or remember than their own. (My maiden name is impossible to spell so I wouldn’t have used that one.) I wish you the best!

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