3 S.R. Johannes: Writing under a pseudonym

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Writing under a pseudonym

Today, we are going to learn a little about using pseudonyms in your writing and marketing.

What is a pseudonym?

A pseudonym is a fictitious name used by a person to hide an individual's real identity. Also called a "pen name", pseudonyms may be used if a writer's real name is likely to be confused with another writer or individual or is determined to be unsuitable. It is very common with actors as well as authors. Authors who write in fiction and non-fiction, or in different genres, may use pen names to avoid confusing their readers allowing them the creative freedom to explore different genres.

Using a pen name provides a degree of anonymity. which provides you freedom to write and speak freely "from the heart."

Why should you write under a pseudonym?

  • you don't like your name
  • you want something easier to remember
  • you want to keep your anonymity
  • you want to write in different genres and don't want to confuse readers
  • you want to be mysterious
  • you don't want people to know if you are writing about them
  • you want to hide your gender
  • you don't want your "day job" to find out
  • you write for different publications across the publishing field
  • you have the same name as a famous author or person

Some famous writer pseudonyms

  • Samuel Clemens' writing under the pen name Mark Twain.
  • Meg Cabot has written under the name Meggin Cabot, as well as the pseudonyms Patricia Cabot and Jenny Carroll.
  • Lemony Snicket is the legal pen name of Daniel Handler.
  • Jane Austin used the pseudonym "A Lady" as the author of her first novel Sense and Sensibility.
  • Joanne Kathleen Rowling is known as JK Rowling
  • Richard Bachman is the pen name of Stephen King.

Here's what Jill Myles, author of Gentlemen Prefer Succubi, says about why she uses a pseudonym for her writing.

Why did you decide to write under a pseudonym? How did you come up with your name?

There were a variety of reasons why I decided to write under a pseudonym, and I had to weigh the pros and cons. The major pro, in my mind, was the anonymity it offers. I'm not ashamed to write romance - the opposite, actually! - but in this day and age when your personal information can be found online by anyone that has your phone number, I'm very protective of my real identity. Plus, I work for an extremely conservative financial company in my day job, and having to explain/defend why I write 'dirty vampire romances' is not a conversation I wanted to have every day.

As for my name, I picked Jill Myles because it was short and punchy and relatively easy to remember. No mystery, I'm afraid. :)

What are the challenges of having a pseudonym?

I think one of the challenges is that relatives, family and friends have a harder time understanding why I wrote under a pseudonym! I've had instances when my real name got out and I had to go back and clean up posts and such, or have conversations with a few people as to why I'm de-friending them or deleting things they wrote. It's not that I'm mad! It's that I'm trying to be protective and consistent.

How does marketing differ if you publish under a pseudonym?

There are really no pros or cons to marketing via a pseudonym. You are just using it in exchange of your real name. I think if you had more than one name at the same time, it might be beneficial, but if you just have the one, it's the same as marketing under your real name (readers don't know the difference).

Check out Jill Myles writing and blog at www.jillmyles.com. Today is the last day to enter the Agent Holly Root contest. If you stop by and comment at any of the blogs (1 entry per comment!), her agent, the incredible Holly Root - will be giving away a free Query Critique. Jill will be announcing the winner onWednesday, January 27th .

This contest is open to all writers - adult writers as well as children book writers - because Jill's awesome agent is Holly Root at Waxman Literary and literary agent to adult AND children's book writers.


feywriter said...

This is great. I've considered the possibility of using a pseudonym for a reason not above: my name is super common. Something to discuss with an agent though. Thanks for the great post. I've enjoyed the blog tour.

Ash. Elizabeth said...

I'd probably pick a pseudonym because my name is extremely common and boring.

P.S.--went to borders today and Succubi Like It Hot was on the new mass market release shelf-thingy.A worker there insisted I read it until I told her I already did. Thought I'd let you know because its probably at the front of the borders near you!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Fun blog tour! Thanks for posting info, Shelli (if that's your REAL name :-)

Addled Alchemist said...

Hmm... Something to think about. Thanks!

The Queen B said...

Thanks for this post. It was very informative.
Also, I have to do a fangirl shout out to Jill *waves* ;)

Christina Farley said...

The idea of a pseudonym is interesting. I can see why people choose one.

Hardygirl said...

Ha! I've had my pseudonym chosen since I was five years old. I'll probably never use it (except for using it as my password on everything . . . so I'll never tell!!).


C.R. Evers said...

very interesting! Great post!

Jemi Fraser said...

Jill has made some great points! A pseudonym can be a smart choice in many circumstances.

Margay Leah Justice said...

I think something can be said for writing under a pseudonym - or not. Each has its merits, just as each has its drawbacks. Great information, Jill!


Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I guess this is one time when I can be grateful for my relatively strange and memorable name.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I've heard/read that if you change from a small press market to a large market it's a good thing to change your name. You may have a great book sales number for a small press, but it is better to be an unknown with an unknown track record with a large publishing house. It's all in how you read the data.

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for the insight into why people choose pseudonyms. *nods*

Laura Pauling said...

I'm wondering though if pen names are too common? I know several new/intermediate writers with a different pen name for every social media. Some rules to play by would be nice, because if you really did want to use a pen name and you start branding yourself before you have an agent - is that too early. What if your agent/editor don't agree with you?

Unknown said...

I don't think I would use a pseudonym for anonymity's sake, though it's not a bad idea when you think of identity theft. My real name is difficult to pronounce, which is why I go by Nisa on-line. I think if I ever get published, the same will apply. I don't want anyone to pass over the book because they can't pronounce my name! Plus Nisa is unique.

Linda Kage said...

Great post.

The two main reasons I have a pen name are because no one ever pronounces my legal last name right, and just for a litte privacy.

Jennie Englund said...

Stealing the idea of initials from AM Jenkins, I used a (stupid) pseudonym that (rightfully) irritated an editor. At the end of our conversation, he asked "What should I call you?"


Is it best to use real name in query?

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This is interesting stuff, Shelli. I knew nothing about this area - but now I do! Thanks. :-)

Elana Johnson said...

I'm glad to see that there really isn't a difference in the marketing aspect of things. Interesting things, pen names.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I've considered a pen name b/c my last name is always pronounced differently. However, I think in the end, my desire to be known would win out.

Veronica and Thomas said...

We are worried about a similar subject with our acting and modeling daughter. As she has quickly progressed in the entertainment industry her agent is pushing us to change her last name for her acting. I see the protection points because she's only nine, but the rest of our family doesn't quite understand it.

Donna Gambale said...

Really intriguing! Actually, this topic interested me so much that I wrote my own post about it a couple weeks ago. So far, I'm planning on using my maiden name as my author name, even after I get married.
And I love the name Jill Myles - great choice!

Katie said...

Great post, explaining "pen names." I've always wanted to use one just because I hate my name. Curse being born and raised in the South with a double first name!!

cleemckenzie said...

I chose a frightfully clever pseudonym, thinking it would separate my YA writing from a dull, academic stuff. It was C. Lee McKenzie. My first letter salutation with that name was, "Hi C!" I sounded like a fruit drink. Then everyone kept asking if they should call me C. or Lee. Last, it's taken me over two years to turn around when someone say, "Is that you, Lee?"

"No." Er. I mean, "Yes."