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Someone recently asked about the advantages and disadvantages of using a pen name in your writing. (You know who you are. I’m finally answering and I’d love to give you credit for the question. Email me or identify yourself in a comment.) This young writer expressed uncertainty about using her own name on the book and wanted to know if she should use a pen name instead.
What is a Pen Name?
A pen name is the name the author uses in order to avoid using their own name on their work (book). For instance, instead of using my real name on my fan fiction stories, I use Kay Martin (instead of Susan K. Marlow). How did I come up with this pen name? “Kay” is my middle name, and “Martin” is my maiden name.
One Circle C short-story contest winner a few years ago used a pen name for her entry. I knew her real name because the entry form required it (to send her the prizes), but all contestants could choose a pen name if they wished. What pen name did this young writer use? Paige Turner. I thought this was rather clever.
Why a Pen Name?
An author uses a pen name for many reasons. For instance, I am a children’s book author. When readers see Susan K. Marlow, they associate my name with historical adventure books for kids. But what if I wanted to jump in and write a fantasy series? I would probably choose a pen name so readers would not be confused between the two genres (categories).
My author friend has over one hundred books published under her real name, Colleen L. Reece >> However, her publisher wanted her to write a western series with a male protagonist (main character). It might turn some potential male readers away if they saw a woman author writing a western that is geared toward a male audience. So, she chose the pen name, Gary Dale, for her name on the books in this particular series.
Another reason to use a pen name is if you have a name that is very long, hard to spell, or simply too unusual for readers to remember. After all, you want them to remember your name so they will buy more books, right? You can make it up, choosing something fun, poetic, or easy to remember.
Or what if you have the same name as another author? That could be awkward, especially if the other author writes books you don’t want anything to do with. You would definitely want to find a different name to slap on the cover of your own book to distance yourself from this other author’s work. For example, if your name is Sarah Stone, and another Sarah Stone writes horror books, you might want to use your middle name for your historical fiction, like Marie Stone (Sarah Marie Stone) to keep readers from mixing up your historical books with the other author’s horror stories. If they trusted you and read the other Sarah Stone’s books, that would be a literary disaster for you.
A couple of other reasons might be to keep everything about the real you private, or to hide your writing from friends or family.
Why NOT a Pen Name?
Although I spent a lot of post time highlighting the “pros” of using a pen name, I strongly suggest any budding author not use a pen name. Use your own name on your books. Why? Today, marketing your book (to help the publisher) is pretty much a must-do. Authors need a brand and a platform, and it gets mighty confusing to have both a real name and a pen name. How would that work out for you at an author signing, for example? Is it you? Did you really write this book? Why isn’t your name on the book? When are you “Susan Marlow”? When are you “Kay Martin”?
Honestly, I believe keeping your own name is the honest and most sensible thing to do. When a customer buys a book from you at an event, would they make out the check to you or to your pen name? Chances are, the customer would just fill out “pen name” on the check and then you have some explaining to do to the bank. It was hard enough (back in the old check-writing days) when customers wrote “Circle C Adventures” on the check instead of filling it out with my name. If I didn’t catch this mistake during a busy time, I found out later that I was not able to cash the check. I had to call and ask the customers to write another check, sometimes days after the convention was over. Very time consuming.
So, be blessed with your name and use it on your books, unless God is specifically nudging you not to. I hope this helped the young writer who asked this question. It was a fun one to dig into!
What about you? Would you use a pen name? I shared my “Kay Martin” pseudonym. Now, it’s your turn to share a pen name you would use if you felt you needed one on a book you were writing. Let’s have some fun with this!