One of the cruellest truths that every writer must face is this: If you publish your work, your name will go on the cover of it, and everybody will know you wrote it. And then everybody will read all the words you wrote, knowing that it was you who wrote them.
People are scary. The judgement of strangers is scary. And that is where the trusty pen name (or pseudonym, if you’re feelin’ fancy) comes in. I actually use a pen name—Rumsey was the name of one of my ancestors, and I liked the alliteration—and it works well for me. But is it the right choice for you?
You might want to use a pen name if:
- Your real name is scary and complicated. I write under a pseudonym because my real last name is a whopping ten letters’ worth of old-fashioned German nonsense. I want readers to remember my name, not just remember that they were scared by how many letters it had.
- Your writing career might have an adverse effect on your other career. If you’re clawing your way to the top of a law firm, do you want your coworkers knowing that you write erotica? Will your children’s series about love and friendship damage your image as a hardcore MMA fighter? These are serious considerations. Personally, in my non-writerly life, I’m pursuing a career in publishing…and I don’t want anybody to think that I only want to work in publishing because I think it’ll be good for my books. Write whatever you want to, but have a think about how you present it to the world.
- Your name doesn’t fit the genre. Are you going to pick up a horror-thriller by Primula McSweetieSparkles? …Maybe, but wouldn’t you pick it up more quickly if it was by Maura Gore?
- You’ve already published in one genre and you’re trying something totally different. First, congrats on publication. Now, consider our beloved queen, JK Rowling. Her name is synonymous with Harry Potter. When she tried her hand at murder mysteries for grown-ups, she wisely adopted a new name (Robert Galbraith) so that the new series wouldn’t be associated with stories for the younger set.
- You’re a shy potato. Hello, yes, this is me. This is like 98% of us. I have several reasons for using a pesudonym, and my innate desire to hide under a large rock whenever someone asks to read my work is definitely one of them. It’s no longer the largest reason…but it’s still there.
But then, it might be better to use your real name if….
- Your real name can generate sales. Maybe you’re a professional in the field (like how Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist in real life) and your name can lend credibility to your writing. Or maybe you’re just really h*ckin’ famous—like, Kardashian-level famous—and you can generate sales on name recognition alone. Okay, it’s a long shot, but…it could happen?
- You’re proud of what you’ve produced and you want to show off. If you’re a strong, independent writer who don’t need no pseudonym, then you’re among the bravest of us. The rest of us salute you from behind our keyboards.
Do you use a pen name? How did you come up with it? Why do you use—or not use—a pseudonym? What are some reasons to use your real name, and how do you become brave enough to do so? Which do you think sounds better, “pseudonym” or “nom de plume”?