My Author Webpage

My Author Webpage
If you like this blog, please support my books.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pen Name or No

Today's post has to do with an issue I have recently confronted in my writing -- whether to use a pen name instead of my real one.

A pen name . . . or nom de plume . . . as some say, is simply a made up name used in place of your real name as author of your work. There are reasons why one might want to do this. And reasons why one might not want to.

Why you may want to use a pen name:

Here are several popular reasons to use a pen name instead of your real one.

-- You want to change your gender. In certain genres, romance for instance, it seems that female authors are better received. This is particularly true if your main character is a female. And in other genres, thrillers perhaps, there is a preponderance of male characters. So you may want your author gender to be male. (These are just examples. I'm not trying to pick a fight.) If you are writing in a genre where readers prefer authors of a certain gender, maybe you want to switch yours if your God-given version isn't right for the task.

-- If this is your first book, you may wish to preserve your privacy by using a pen name. We all know that once our personal information is spread across the internet, it is widely available to anyone with nefarious intent. So privacy might be another consideration.

-- If you are already known for writing in a different genre, or different medium, you may consider a nom de plume either: 1) to avoid confusing your readers as to the type of book they are buying; or 2) to preserve an alternate author image in your previous work. St. Paul newspaper columnist, John Camp, writes as John Sandford, presumably for this reason.

-- If your real name is very common (eg. John Smith), or you share a name with another author, you might consider a pen name so your fans can more easily find your work on a search engine, or to avoid confusion with the other author.

-- If you want your author name to have a certain pizazz, you could spice it up a bit. "Rocky Savage" may sound more masculine to some than "Tracy Ween."

-- Or you may have one of those given names that might be male or female (like Stacy, or Sean, or Jamie). And perhaps you want to make your gender clear for the readers.

Why you may not want to use a pen name:

-- For many self-published writers, their personal name recognition (at least by friends, relatives and community) may be their best initial marketing tool. You might not want to lose that advantage by using a pen name. Community is a great place to start building your following. See my earlier post on The New Prevailing Wisdom - Begin at Home.

-- If you have already established some name recognition with your other writing pursuits (columns, short stories, etc.), you may want to extend your "brand" to your new works. Using your real name as author of your new book(s) is a great way to do this. Hopefully, any goodwill you have established in your previous writings will transfer to your new audience. This is called "leveraging goodwill" in the marketing world. And lots of big companies use it. At one point the Gerber Company was known only for its quality baby food. But they have leveraged the the goodwill of their brand into baby clothing lines, and other areas as well. Why should we think a food packager can make clothing? Who knows . . . but this leveraging works.

-- If your name is recognizable in some non-writing circle -- eg. you're a sports or entertainment figure -- using your real name can be a huge advantage. How many people would have bought "Chelsea, Chelsea, Bang, Bang" if the author were not a famous comedian?

Well those are a few reasons I have come up with.

I am currently trying to balance name recognition, with the potential to confuse (or even alienate) my audience, as I approach publication of a new novel in a completely different genre from my "Beck" suspense/thriller series. I'll let you know later what I decided to do.

If you have other reasons for using a pen name or not, I would love to hear your comments. Maybe we can get a discussion going.

That's it for today.

Cheers!

John

12 comments:

  1. I write under a pen name because my real name is difficult to pronounce and spell. I also write under a different genre (academic) under my real name, and it just helps me and my readers keep things straight.

    Some people, when hearing I have romance subplots, think I have the pen name because I'm ashamed or am afraid of judgment. I'm not. I just want to keep things as clear as possible. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. My actual name is very common (even more so after I got married), so I also use a pen name. This was a good post about the pro's and con's of it.I agree with Belinda, using a pen name is definitely not about fear of judgment with me, I just know there are way too many others with my name :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Rayvenne.
    You and Belinda have both mentioned "fear of judgment" as a possible reason for a pen name. I know it doesn't apply to either of you. But maybe it does apply to someone else who may be writing about, say, abuse or religious hot button issues.
    Thanks for stopping by. John

    ReplyDelete
  4. I use my real name because an author friend told me it already sounded like a writer's pen name. So I figured why bother trying to invent a new one?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Scary,

    I wish my folks had given me one of those great author names. I get "Belcher" a lot. LOL.

    Thanks for stopping in.

    John

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great post! So many options...

    My real name is on my romantic suspense books - because I saw no reason not to use it, and wanted my own name on my books. I'm using a pen name for my erotica for two reasons - the first to keep it separate from my main rom. suspense, and the second because I work for local government, and if my employers found out about some of my erotic subject matter they may consider that a liability and find a way to get rid of me. Obviously I'd rather that didn't happen until my books start making me more money...so better to keep it quiet-ish.

    I'm not hiding my pen name, just not being overt about it or linking it from my "real name" site, etc. So my regular readers who like erotica will know it and be able to cross-over there, but I still get a small layer of protection.

    I'll use a pen name for my horror too - just seems right to distinguish that from my romance. Don't want my rom. readers confused, or vice versa.

    Note all these names is what got me looking into establishing my own publishing company name to sort of hook them together professionally.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Jamie,
    I like the idea of your own publishing company to link your books together, even though author names are different. Subtle . . . but effective.

    Thanks for stopping by, Jamie.

    Cheers!

    John

    ReplyDelete
  8. I was so close to publishing AMITY under a pen name...I have a day job in one of those industries that employs lots of lawyers and snoops and regulators. But, eventually I figured I was in for a dime, in for a dollar...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks, Jeremy.

    There is no real anonymity in today's world anyway.

    Cheers!

    John

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm writing under a pen name so I don't get yelled at for publishing online instead of in a "real" environment.

    "Don't you know you've just give up your first publication rights by publishing online?"

    Yes, yes I do.

    Also, I'm a chicken :)

    Good post.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Mercy,

    Actually, while you may have "given up" your first pub rights, you may also attract the attention of a traditional publisher if your book sells well. Then if you want, that publisher could get your SECOND pub rights. :)

    Thanks for stopping by. John

    ReplyDelete