Deciding whether or not to use a pen name is just one of many choices writers have to make when preparing to publish. It’s an easier decision for some than for others.
Two years ago I published This New Mountain under the pen name Cate Macabe. I had never intended to write a memoir (not mine or that of a private detective/grandmother), but from the start of that journey I knew I would use a pseudonym. My reasons were simple: 1) I write science fiction and fantasy, and I didn’t want to confuse future readers who might someday search for my other work; and 2) my writing style is significantly different for the memoir and my speculative fiction.
If you’re not sure taking on a pen name is right for you and your writing, here are ten reasons in favor of using one, followed by possible complications if you do.
Why to Use a Pen Name
- Need to separate genres – keep them separate if your audience has different expectations (children’s books vs. erotica)
- Recognize that gender names sell better in specific genres
- women for romance, men for science fiction
- some names bring to mind a specific type (strong, manly names for military or crime fiction, girly names for chick lit)
- Your real name is too hard to pronounce or spell, or sounds “ugly” or silly
- Create a brand or persona (a name to identify with; catchy, easy to remember)
- Separate your work as a writer from your private life or from your profession
- Avoid confusion – your real name is the same as another author or celebrity, or a personality/profession you don’t want to be identified with
- Your real name is too common
- Present your work without the pressure of living up to a previous success
- Different writing styles – readers come to expect a consistency in style
- Fresh start – if previous work has not sold well
- People might see you as being phony or trying to hide something.
- People who know you under your real name might have trouble finding you and your work
- Payments – for indie authors, make sure payments are made out to your real name or that you can take payments under your pen name
- If published under one name already:
- You start from scratch – not all readers will follow you to your new work, messes with branding
- Social media – keeping up with posting under different names (maybe separate websites, too)
- Contract violation – some contracts forbid publishing under a different name or in a different genre
Choosing to use a pen name is a decision that should be made carefully, knowing it will add complications to your life (and deciding which one to use is even more complex). Rachelle Gardner, author/blogger/editor, gives this advice for those considering using a pen name:
We’re not going to completely get away from pseudonyms, since there are real reasons people use them. However, for now I’d say, only use [a pen name] if it’s crucial – if there’s no other way. And if you use one – it’s best to use only one name in your online presence – website, blog, Facebook, Twitter. Just inhabit that name and become it.
If you’d like to find out which authors use a pseudonym, go to this site for a comprehensive list.
Have you thought of using a pen name? Do you already use one for your writing or an online presence?
Image “Carrying Pen” courtesy of rattigon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net