Thursday, 8 March 2012

Pen Names

Who are you? No, I really want to know. For months I’ve been hanging with a great group of authors over at the Musa Publishing crib. Many of those authors have pen names – aka PSEUDONYMS. I still don’t know one particular author’s name that I’ve come to know well and count on for support and help. I find pen names funny. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of a “secret identity”. The authors want to keep their private lives private. Their pen name is their business name. Yet, on facebook, there’s a real photo of them next to their fake name. I find that hilarious—like unmasking Batman or taking off Clark Kent’s glasses. Pen names intrigue me, so I did a little digging, and came up with these tidbits compliments of the Daily Writing Tips blog:

Authors throughout the centuries have used pen names. You’ve probably heard of the following authors:

·         George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair)

·         George Eliot (real name Mary Ann Evans)

·         Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)

 Authors use pen names for a wide variety of reasons. These include:

        To remain anonymous (especially if producing a politically or religiously sensitive work)
     This is perhaps less common today, but sometimes occurs if a very personal or sexually explicit work is written.

         To change or conceal gender

In the 18th century, many female authors used male pen names in order to be taken seriously. George Eliot is the most famous example, though the Bronte sisters all wrote under pen names too.

This trend still continues in some genres today: for example, female fantasy or science fiction authors will often use a gender-neutral name (Robin Hobb) or use their initials (J.K. Rowling) as the genre has traditionally attracted more male readers and authors. A similar effect can be seen when male authors adopt a female pen name to write a chick lit or romance novel.

         To write across multiple genres

Lewis Carroll also wrote mathematical textbooks under his real name (Charles Dodgson), so adopted a pen name for his children’s novels. Authors today who write in multiple genres will sometimes use a different name for each one, to avoid confusing readers.

To recover from poor sales or reputation

If an author’s real name has attracted criticism, it may be worth considering changing to a pen name. Sometimes, the first few novels by a new author don’t sell well in bookshops, leading publishers to reject future submissions. Therefore, changing to a pen name is often recommended in these circumstances.

So there you have it: if you are trying to build up a reputation in multiple genres, using a pen name (or several pen names) is probably a good idea. Even if your real name (or current pen name) has been slammed or attracted heavy criticism, switching to a new name could be a good way to go. However, adopting a pen name means building up your reputation again from scratch— a lot of work, but it may be well worth the time and effort to do so.

 A final thought: if you’re using a pen name in an attempt to remain anonymous, be aware that people are often curious when they suspect a secret—you may well be “discovered” under that mask you worked so hard to create. In some cases, this can lead to great publicity, but if your publisher or fans suspects you of trying to conceal a less-than-stellar past, it may backfire.

 To be you, or not to be you? What’s your choice? I’ve decided to stick with my real name.
Images: stock photos 8767425 & 10879311


  1. I wanted to use a pen name but my aunt talked me out of it. "I don't want to have to explain the name."

    I do have a pen name for my middle grade series though. I didn't want a child picking up my romance. "Hey! I know her! Mommy? What's an orgasm?" LOL

  2. Interesting post. I use a pen name. Only because my first few published stories (under my real name) aren't something I'd want a teen to read. They're quite macabre. Also a pen name allows me to approach my writing like a business. I like having two hats.