While we may not be Batman, writing is one of the few professions where you can have a secret identity….well….a false name at least.
Should you use a pen name?
So, with that said, should you use a Pen Name? (and no, I wouldn’t recommend using “Batman” as your Pen Name…though that would be amusing)
That really is a question only you can personally answer.
Some people prefer to see their actual birth name on the spine of a book. Others prefer the anonymity of a pen name (pseudonym).
However, before you go rushing to choose your new name or to perhaps sneer at the very idea of using anything other than your given name, let’s look at the effects it can have.
Unless you have a gender-neutral name, your name will probably expose your gender.
Is this a problem? Well, yes and no. Firstly, no it shouldn’t be a problem and it is not always a problem. However, yes it can sometimes be a problem.
While many readers don’t care about the gender of the author, some readers admit to avoiding books by someone who is the opposite gender to them. This often comes from the assumption that women write only female main characters and men write only male main characters.
So if a man doesn’t feel as in touch with a female main character, he may avoid reading books written by women and vice versa.
Pretty sad really, because I’ve read some great books by women whose protagonists were male and men whose protagonists were women (and vice versa).
JK Rowling specifically chose to use initials rather than her first name as it was seen that books were the protagonist was a young boy, would be heavily read by boys… who may be put off by a female author. (When will crap like this end!)
So to combat this, she chose to represent her name in a way that would conceal her gender.
As mentioned this is not the majority of the case thank goodness! Most avid readers don’t judge by what gender the author is. However, some people do and there have been instances were editors do too.
The genre is another one of those areas that can be “considered” dominated by a specific gender. Whether that is true, there are readers who again may shy from certain authors.
For example, Romance appears to be considered a female-dominated genre. Are their male writers of romance? Yes. Are they successful? Yes, some are. However, there are a lot more male writers of romance who choose to use female pen names.
In a supposedly female-dominated genre, by doing this those women who may have been put off by a male author, would not know the difference and would then buy the book.
If they later found out, they have already read the work and if they liked it may be more open to male authors.
Heavy action or sci-fi has often been seen as a male-dominated genre. That is definitely changing but again, I’ve met men who won’t even contemplate reading a sci-fi book written by a woman.
Single or Multiple
If you have the interest to write over several genres you may consider whether you want a different Pen Name for different genres. Obviously having several names may not be the best, but there are a number of authors who use two different pen names for their different genres.
Using the same name has a benefit of you already having a fan base. So say you use Jane Doe as your pen name and write romance.
Then you switch to the genre crime using Jane Doe again. Those fans of your Romance will see your name and possibly buy your crime book.
However, there is the possibility that those fans may not be crime fans. Maybe even though it is crime, they still expected you to pull out your typical romance and so were disappointed. Who can say?
Beyond the Pseudonyms
Before the Internet people who used Pen Names could hide within the secret name. Stephen King also wrote under the name Richard Bachman, going so far as to include a false photo of “Richard Bachman” and writing an About the Author.
Of course, nowadays no one knows how long the secret of your true identity will be hidden for. After all, someone will want to update your page on Wikipedia!
Also, all it takes is going to a book signing to either a) out your gender or b) out your real name (if someone who knows you happens to be there).
So it is a big possibility that your Secret Identity if you choose to have one… may not remain secret.
Another point to consider when thinking about a Pen name is bookshelf placement. Books are arranged on shelves by author name, surname to be exact. So if you have a last name that begins with T for example, chances are you are going to end up pretty low down.
Is this a problem?
Yes, because people are lazy. Most people don’t like to bend down. People prefer to do their browsing at eye level. This does not mean that having a name or choosing a name that starts with a letter at the end of the alphabet will be bad. But you might not get seen as often as you should… at least not in a bookstore.
What’s in a name?
If you do decide on a Pen name, think carefully about what it should be. Consider things like length, a very long name might not look so great on a book cover or spine. A difficult to pronounce name might not be one that gets discussed as much.
There is no legality issue with having a pen name, as long as payment, paperwork and taxes are all made out to your real legal name and not your pen name.
The only legality can come if there is already an author using the same name as you. People can fight over their names although even just adding in an initial or spelling a name different (think Stephen or Steven) can help to remove that issue.
In the end, the choice to use Pen Name(s) is yours. There are reasons why people use them, reasons why people don’t. Often the biggest issue comes from the identity of gender and how it does seem to affect some readers.
My own personal advice on the matter, if you decide to use a Pen Name, think about it for a while. Decide on a few you like, check to see if other authors already use it (not to say you can’t, there is more than one Jacqueline Carey apparently).
However as mentioned above, it is always best to avoid using the same name as an already existing author.
You want something that works for you and so you need to be happy with it.
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I hope you found this article interesting.
What are your personal thoughts on using pen names? You for them, against them? Don’t care either way?
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