What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a pen name?
A pen name has one purpose: to hide or screen your identity from your reader.
There are several legitimate reasons to do that, the most common one is when an established author wants to write in a new genre. I talk about that here.
Some authors just have an issue with using their real name–either they are afraid no one will like their book and they don’t want to be embarassed later, or they are afraid they’ll be the next J.K. Rowling and want to protect their privacy. Sometimes the subject matter of the book is such that they need to protect their identity (for example, if it’s a memoir about something that’s socially unacceptable, or where you could get sued if people knew you wrote the book). Or maybe they don’t like their real name. Or maybe the publisher doesn’t like their real name. Whatever.
The disadvantage is that your friends, neighbors, old boyfriends, the teacher who said you’d never write worth anything, will never know it’s you when your book ends up on the NYT Best Seller list.
It might also create some issues if you’re out there promoting your book and people recognize you, but usually only if you’re already well known. For example, if Hilary (she’s a first-name celebrity now, right?) used a pen name to write about politics. That could be a problem.
A similar problem is that some readers will feel cheated if they find out you’re not using your real name. This is more of an issue with non-fiction where you’re presenting yourself as an expert in the area you’re writing about. They wonder if they can trust what you’re saying.
If you want to use a pen name, talk to your agent/publisher about it. Discuss the pros and cons with them and then make a decision. Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal either way, but I do like to see authors use their real names when possible because I think if they’ve gone to all the trouble to write a good book, they deserve all the credit and perks that come with that.
4 thoughts on “Pen Names”
I used to have this wacky fantasy about all the guys I ever had crushes on, but never asked me out, wandering through the bookstore one day and seeing my book, picking it up and having a feeling of tremendous regret that they let me slip through their fingers. Yep, that’s a great reason to use your own name — in my opinion.
As far as I know it hasn’t happened yet, but I did have a visiting teacher say she saw one of my books and figured it had to be me because my name is so unusual. 🙂
i was just passing through the blog-ring and happened upon your site and it definately has perked my interest enough to come back. very cool.
i’ve been asked several times if i have a pen-name, and to be honest i haven’t put much thought into it till now. so, least now i know some reasons why and why not… guess i’ll have to think on it (later). meanwhile, i think i’ll go linger around some of your other postings. c-ya
While I find it intimidating to use my own name, it forces a sense of honesty into all I write. I feel more accountable to my audience than if I remained anonymously hidden behind a pen name.
However, I also believe that if I did use another name, I could still be as honest, and perhaps I would dare to add more details than I otherwise would. Maybe an anonymous writer is a better one? It seems to be such a two edged sword, so I will conclude that the individual writer must ultimately decide the optimal launch point for the unique story they have to tell. Either way, the world is waiting to hear the story.
When my first novel was accepted, I went through the dilemma of what name to use. Realizing that half of the people who knew me would recognize my maiden name and the other half would recognize my married name, I finally decided to use my full name, and it turned out to be the best decision I could have made.
I’m convinced that many of my early sales were because people recognized who I was and bought the book out of curiosity. (After all, a sale is a sale!) Several of them then went on to give my book as gifts to friends, enjoying the prestige that they knew the author.
I also had some fun experiences with long lost friends finding me again after my first novel made it into print.
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