Stephen King’s done it. Ian Rankin’s done it. So has Elton John.
What am I talking about? Using a pen name or pseudonym, of course. But why would you want to? Well…
- If you’re writing erotica and children’s books, you don’t want readers mixing up stories about cute, fluffy rabbits with another kind of Rabbit!
- Obviously if you’re name is Martha Frump and you’re writing steamy romance novels, they might not sell as well as an author called Desiree Fontana.
- If you’re writing in a completely different genre, you might use a pen name so readers know that instead of quirky chick lit, they’ll be getting a psychological thriller.
- You might want to avoid persecution or discrimination from a subject that’s emotive, political, or includes propaganda.
- It can be extremely liberating because you’re able to write about something you might not normally do.
I’ve noticed a lot of authors who use a pen name to distinguish between styles or genres actually mention that they’re using a pen name, which, to me, kind of defeats the object. For example, Sophie Kinsella will have on her covers, “Writing as Madeleine Wickham.” This may be because traditional publishers have had clauses in their contracts that authors can’t write books that compete with each other within a certain time period, so having a pen name may get around that.
So should you use one? Well, the choice is entirely up to you. When I wrote Trafficked: The Diary of a Sex Slave, which is a serious psychological thriller, it was a million miles away from my quirky, funny chick lit, but I decided I didn’t want to use a pen name for several reasons:
- As a reader, I don’t just like one genre. My reading is eclectic, and I’m sure many other reader’s tastes are, too, so I don’t think by writing another genre I’ll be losing readers. In fact, I think I’d be gaining them.
- I wanted to use my name to do something useful and raise awareness to a subject that is all to often forgotten about. That’s the power of being an indie – we can write what we want, when we want.
- I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and I want to see my name on those covers!
I’m now writing a children’s book, and I’ve decided not to use a pen name again because it won’t just be read by children, it will also be read by parents who are reading it to their kids, and if they like my style, they’ll also hopefully pick up my adults books, too! Plus, if the children like it, when they get older, they’ll also check out my adult books.
If you’re thinking of using a pen name, then consider the pros and cons and weigh it up carefully. And if you’re called Princess Pom Pom and feel like that name doesn’t really suit someone who writes serious astrophysics, here are some tips:
- Pick a unique pen name you like that fits in with the genre of your work.
- Avoid choosing a common name, and I’ve heard you should go for ones with higher letters in the alphabet such as A-M as it can improve visibility.
- If you want to avoid sexism, you can choose letters to hide your gender like JK Rowling’s done (although everyone knows she’s a woman now!).
- Research the name to make sure it’s not trademarked.
It’s your turn in WG2E land! Are you using a pen name? Would you want to?
Happy Writing! – Sibel XX