Think it’s not possible to market your books if you’re writing under a pen name? Think again.
I received an email this week from a reader who is feeling confused about how to start marketing her books as she writes under a pen name and hasn’t shared her writing endeavours with her friends or family.
And I spoke to another author recently who is terrified of marketing her books (written under a pseudonym) in case anyone discovers her true identity and reveals her author career to her abusive ex.
Each of these writers are using pen names for different reasons but both feel their writing will be doomed to obscurity as a result. I say absolutely not!
Why use a pen name?
People choose to write under pen names for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s as simple as preventing contamination in the ‘also boughts’ - David Gaughran explains this brilliantly in his interview on The Creative Penn podcast - sometimes it’s to enable an author to write more comfortably in contrasting categories (Erotica and Children’s books would be a good example of categories you may want to keep apart), and sometimes an author wants to conceal their true identity.
Throughout history women have written under male pseudonyms as a way to be taken seriously in the literary world. However, more recently JK Rowling assumed the name Robert Galbraith as a way of starting afresh after the success of Harry Potter, while male writers have assumed gender neutral names to ensure commercial success when writing female protagonists (think SJ Watson and Before I Go To Sleep).
But does writing under a pen name make any difference to your ability to market your books?
Well, in short, no, not really.
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Avoid public appearances
Thinking back to the author who was afraid of being ‘found out’. She was adamant that she couldn’t publicise her books because she refused to do newspaper interviews, book signings or public appearances.
But most indies know that opportunities to do these things rarely fall into your lap; if you want to do them, you’re going to have to hustle for them. Plus, as I often advise my author clients, these traditional forms of book promotion are best suited to traditionally published books. Digital promotion is far more useful for the majority of self-published books.
If you’re worried that you can’t publicise a book written under a pen name because you don’t want the real you to appear in public, the only promotion you need to cross off your list is public appearances. A virtual blog tour or online publicity is a much better idea for an indie author anyway.
Forget friends and family
Next, let’s consider the writer who is worried she can’t depend on friends and family to help promote her book because she is keeping her writing top secret.
Seriously, asking friends and family to help promote a book can be one of the biggest mistakes a new author can make.
You do not want family or close friends reviewing your book because this is against Amazon's terms of service; specifically, they don't allow a relative, close friend, business associate, or employee to post a review to help boost sales.
Reviews from friends and family could result in the reviews being taken down or much, much worse. Plus, let's face it, there’s nothing that looks more suspicious than a bunch of gushing 5 star reviews from people all sharing the same surname!
You do not want friends and family buying your book either if they don’t normally buy books in your genre as that can play havoc with your ‘also boughts’. If your grandma is desperate to buy a copy, encourage her to wait a couple of months until the algorithm works out which books to show alongside yours and where to show your book.
Beyond buying and reviewing your book, which you don’t want friends and family to do, there’s not a great deal else they can help you with (imaginative, out-of-the-box ideas aside), so this is not something that you need to worry about when writing under a pen name.
What you really want is to grow a loyal tribe of readers who love your work.
Define your strategy
When it comes to book marketing and developing a strategy for book promotion and growing an author platform, there really is no difference whether you write under your real name or a pseudonym. The same principles apply:
- Be clear about your objectives - what do you want to achieve with your books and writing?
- Plan a strategy to reach your objectives - that could be growing an email list through promos, guest blogging and Facebook ads or publishing fast and frequently.
- Choose the best tactics to implement the strategy.
- Take consistent action.
- Monitor what’s working and adjust as necessary.
Before you get started with any of these things, however, it’s vital you figure out who your target reader is, so that you can identify the best ways to get your book in front of them and engage them with your marketing messages, whether that be in email, on a blog or using social media.
It’s about your readers, not you
This is a crucial point when it comes to book marketing, regardless of whether you use a pen name or not. It’s not about you, or your pseudonym, it’s about your reader.
What does your reader care about? What do they want to hear about from you? Your reader most likely couldn’t care less what your name is, or whether it’s your real name, so long as you are entertaining them, or informing them, or delivering on whatever promise you make.
When you look at it from the point of view of your readers and focus completely on providing them with honest value, you won’t need to worry about anyone being concerned about whether you use a pen name.
Your author headshot
Finally, there is one more issue to tackle when it comes to pen names - the author headshot.
There are a number of places where you may feel you should post a photograph of yourself - your website, social media, in guest post bios, even in your books perhaps. And although there is no obligation to use one, I strongly recommend authors do use headshots as they are far more engaging to readers than a jacket image or something generic.
That said, your author photo doesn’t have to be of you. It’s perfectly ok to use a stock image as your headshot, so long as you check it’s royalty free and you have the rights to use it.
You may also choose to use a cartoon drawing of yourself, or of your pen name character, or some other image that represents your brand. Whatever you choose, keep it consistent across social media profiles and your website, just as you would if you were using your own headshot.
So there is no need to let using a pen name stop you from marketing your books. Depending on your reasons for using a pen name - whether you are concealing your identity altogether, or simply developing a few different writerly personas - you may have to strike a few things off the promotion to do list, such as live events. But no one should try to use every tactic in the book marketing tool box anyway.
Whether you write under your own name or a pseudonym, focus on your readers and choose the book marketing strategy and tactics that will best suit those readers, your books and you.