Every time I tell someone my new books will be released under a pen name, I get the same response.
Generally accompanied by a furrowed brow or concerned head tilt, of course, indicating that they're not judging me, exactly, but they're worried. Have I actually gone mad? Am I writing... *averted gaze*... porn?
It's actually a great question. I've had success as an author under my own name, writing bestselling YA Fantasy and venturing into New Adult Fantasy Romance. I have letters in front of the "bestselling" part of my author title, should I care to use them. I have an audience. A decent social media presence. Presumably loyal readers. I'm established, dammit, even if I only manage to get a book or two out a year.
Why on Earth would I throw that away and start over?
See? Good question. I wish I had a snappy answer, but it's complicated.
As I said, under my other name I write Fantasy. The kind with magic, dragons, sorcery, swordfights (though we tend to avoid those, as I find them tedious). A solid dose of romance. Plenty of humour to offset the darker bits. Those books reflect a bright side of my personality. Serious shit happens, and no one is really safe... but you can be pretty well assured of a Happily Ever After, or at least a Happy For Now for most characters. It's not necessarily light or fluffy, but it's pretty fun.
I adore those books and the High Fantasy genres, and will never turn my back on them. I will return to those worlds and characters I've created... I just need a break.
Not time away from writing. Heavens, no. That would probably kill my spirit.
I'm just... exploring.
You see, one day long before I published my first Fantasy book, a vampire tapped me on the shoulder as I was out walking my dog one Easter Sunday, and she described a scene to me. Church bells. A family late for the service.
And a vampire watching silently from the rooftop across the street.
I started drafting. It was great, I had fun. But I also had this massive Fantasy trilogy I needed to get out. And when the first book found a solid audience who wanted more, my poor vampires got put on the back burner. Oh, I picked at them once in a while. I finished the draft of the first book, sent it to a few people (who adored it, except for one guy who suggested I change everything... there's always one).
But the thing is that when you're a new author, they tell you not to bounce around and confuse your audience. And these vampires... well, they don't fit with my AUTHOR BRAND, that all-important marketing tool we're advised not to muddy up in any way.
This series is darker than what I usually write. Like... finding entire families violently slaughtered in their kitchen dark. Blood spatters on the ceiling. These aren't the kind of vampires who fall in love with innocent humans and want to shelter them.
It's also sexier than what I usually write. While I have done sex scenes before (vague in my YA, on-page but tasteful in my NA), I haven't made things quite this hot before.
And quite honestly, these stories will deal with issues I don't want to have to answer questions about at church and family gatherings.
Loss of faith. Loss of one's soul. Being an outsider in a community one feels trapped in, seeking change while feeling completely powerless. Powers that run deeper than what living humans can generally sense or understand.
Basically, while it's still speculative fiction, still romantic, still with humour thrown in to balance the darkness, it's a whole different ballgame. Not better, not worse (I am still holding myself to my usual high standards for writing, editing, etc.). Just different. And while I'm still writing what I want to read, there's a good chance that some of my old audience won't want to follow me here, and that people who aren't into swords and sorcery will.
So I made a choice. I could use my own name and risk alienating people who picked the books up looking for the same experience I usually offer--including the occasional 12 year old who reads my YA stuff--or I could create a clear separation. A new Author Brand, in fact.
Am I missing out on bringing my old readers over? Maybe. I'm not going to be secretive about the pen name. If people want to follow me here, they'll be able to. I'm not a naturally secretive person, after all. My street team already knows the secret. Heck, they helped pick this name. My newsletter readers under my own name will hear all about it, and eventually so will readers on social media. Maybe some day I'll even add an "as Tanith Frost" section to my also by pages in my Fantasy books. Hey, if I like reading both genres...
But I like the separation. Fans under my own name will know that when I (she) releases something new, it will be in line with my older stuff. It might be a slightly different genre, but it will offer a similar experience or be set in the same kinds of worlds. No one will have to think I've changed or lost my way because I'm playing with vampires and werewolves and people are biting each other and saying "fuck" a lot. I'm taking 2017 to get this series and name established, and then I'll be free to publish under both names.
The lines will get blurred at times. I'll be writing Fantasy in the future under my own name that will be sexier and bloodier and more adult. I might publish YA as THIS NAME some day if it's set in the same world as my vampires.
But I'll do my damndest to keep my audiences happy while I have fun playing in my twin sandboxes.