When I first started self-publishing, I considered using a pen name for the first couple of books I published. I didn't because I write too many different kinds of fiction, and if any had a different name, they probably all should have one.
Every now and then, I do regret that I didn't use a separate pen name for my children's fiction... except I really couldn't. For two reasons: one is that most of the children's fiction I wanted to self-publish has already been published under my own name. Same with my fantasy and mystery short fiction.
The other is that my "children's" fiction tended to be all for different ages, and most of it was actually written for adults. I couldn't find a clean line to draw between my different stories.
So I ended up just using my own name because it was easier, and because in the end, my work is unified by my own style, and genre has little to do with it.
Enter the Story Game
When I started playing with the Story Game a couple of years ago, even before I thought of writing stories from it "for reals," I planned to write these books under a pen name.
I had three reasons for this:
1.) The books might suck, er, I mean be kinda cheezy* (in a cool, pulpy sort of way).
I enjoy pulp and old movies. When I read, I can forgive a certain amount of extra cheeze or illogic or datedness in a story if it has something to compensate for that. Usually, with a pulp story, there is a certain zest to it that comes of being written fast, cheap and sure.
And I would like to have the freedom to write something cheezy or stupid. Even if others know I wrote it, using a pen name feels like saying "Hey, I warned you." Or maybe "I meant to do that, honest." It's like... giving myself permission.
Let's be honest here: I tend to give myself permission to write whatever I want anyway. And these books aren't coming out any cheezier or dopier than anything else I write.
And ... if I ever do come up with something truly cheezy and dopey later, then I'll want to use yet another pen name to separate them from these books.
*(NOTE: "cheeze" is not the same as "cheese" though both can be stinky or tasty, depending on circumstances.)
2.) A pen name puts another layer of separation between one kind of story and another.
Most of my work is very hard hard to divide one genre from another. But I plan for this series to be very consistent and up to code in terms of their genre, even if they are a series of stand-alone books, and even if the genre in question is a little dated.
So if these books have genre consistency... that means they'll have a chance to appeal to people who like to know what they are getting. The sort of people who don't like my regular work.
Furthermore, these books were planned to be different in style, not just genre. So even people who like cross-genre fiction might not like my regular style. Using a pen name, then, would give them a fence line. "End of Safety Zone. Here There Be Quirks!"
As far as I can tell, the style and appeal of these stories are turning out to have pretty much the same quirks as my regular fiction.
So the fence is kinda pointless. (Here there be quirks, and also there there be quirks.)
Typographically speaking, my name has only one good thing going for it: the first and last name are about the same length. Which means you can stack the first name on top of the last and they'll look nice and square. But that's about it. No interesting opportunities for nesting or interactions between letters, or to play with different size and stacking.
If I use a pen name, though, I can choose it based on typographical possibilities! I can choose the initial letters, and all the rest of the letters and make each name any length I freaking well please. I can have interlocking As and Vs, or nest a short first name between the risers at the beginning and end of the last name. Or do that thing with the large block sanserif type where a long first name is stacked, in small type, on top of a gigantic but short last name.
I can change an N to an M just to make the text line up the way I want. I can add or subtract a vowel.
As I look over various pulp covers for the right "look" for the series, I find that the one that works best is one that depends on the type being really plain and boring. No stacking, no interlocking. Who cares whether it's an N or an M?
I can't find any examples just now, but it was a post-pulp paperback style, oddly self-conscious, while pretending it isn't. Kind of a "hipster meets grunge" thing: where there would be this incredible mid-century modern art, but the typography and design elements were so plain they seemed to say "Hey, this is just a cover on a cheap pulp paperback - it's what's inside that matters." Kind of pretentious and anti-pretentious at the same time.
Which is something you can say for a lot of visual arts of the period.
And for that particular style, it doesn't matter what your name is. It's like typing it on a typewriter. If it comes out ugly, that's just how it is.
(Maybe, someday, when I track down the examples of what to do, I'll explain why I think this would be a good style to use.)
So anyway... much as I like the idea of using a pen name for these books, I am beginning to lean away from the idea.
It will, of course, ultimately depend on how these books come out, and how the art comes out. It's just looking more and more like it's all a part of my existing brand.
See you in the funny papers.