Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why Use a Pen Name?

I hear this a lot:

"You're telling everyone under the sun that you're getting published. You've used your own pictures and linked to your real blog. Why are you bothering with a fake name when you tie everything back to your real life, name included?"

Well, first, I'm proud of myself. As me. I want people to know that I accomplished something.

Second, it's not like I'm F. Scott Fitzgerald. If this book is going to sell, I'm going to need the strength of my friends, family and online network. I'm not breaking new ground. I'm just telling a good story that will never be read if no one hears about it. I need people to know who I am. I need the support.

So, why choose a pseudonym?

1) The obvious reason: You don't want people to know who you are. (Clearly, this is not my reason).

The reasons behind this reason are varied and compelling.

Some authors believe in the stigma of whatever they are writing, be it fan fiction, romance or erotica. Any genre has its definitions and innuendos. Do you want your name behind them? Judgement from other people, particularly loved ones, can be daunting. It's no wonder why some authors would choose not to face it.

Some authors do it for show. They want to add to the mystique of their brand. A faceless person behind the curtain gives readers a story to try to figure out beyond what's written on the page. It creates interest not just in one book, but possibly in a lifetime of work.

Some authors simply want to divorce their writer from their lives. By choosing a new name, they allow themselves to choose a new persona to go along with it. If someone is a stay at home mom at 35, suddenly she can become a skydiving 20 year old without a care in the world.

Use caution if you're going to make up an entire other person, though. You must be careful about ages, as an 18 year old might get praise for writing something groundbreaking that would, perhaps, be more expected of a 35 year old. And if your fans find out, and they believed your name to have some semblance of a real person behind it, they might be hurt, annoyed and turned off.

2) Categorization.

This is more along the lines of why I'm using a separate name. I will hopefully branch out as a writer and complete projects of a literary nature, or maybe break into another genre of fiction. People reading the romances will expect only those romantic types of stories from Ninette Swann. If I threw a space baseball fic in there, it would confuse them and probably lose sales.

Many romance authors have double pseudonyms, in fact, for any specific type of story. M/m would get a different name from f/m which in turn would get a different name from shape shifter or menage work. Some have different names for historical versus contemporary romances. It's all in the categorization.

3) You don't want certain people to know who you are.

This is also me. While I don't mind my family and friends and current online network knowing exactly who I am and what I do, ten years from now I don't want my kids being made fun of by some jerks because "their mommy writes porno."

If little Joey comes over and sees my real name and picture on a book with a graphic of a sex scene on the front, he's not going to bother reading through it to get the gist of the story. It's going to end right there, in loads of embarrassment for my little girls (assuming the false generalizations and stigmas in romance writing still exist).

It's one thing for you all to know me, and / or make fun of me. It's quite another thing for my tween girls to have to worry about their friends making fun of them over it.

...

To round this out, I would say that one reason people do not choose pen names is because they are ashamed of their own work. With both 1 and 3, it's not the author who is the problem. It's the society in which that author lives.

Choosing to use a pen name or not can be nerve-wracking. Before you decide how fake you want your new persona to be, and how many people you want to tell, consider your personal reasons for taking one.

I really like the way I'm going with this. I feel by choosing one in the first place, I've added a modicum of safety for my family in the future, and allowed myself room to branch out. I feel by telling everyone about it, I've spoiled any big "reveal" that critics or fans could make, which would take away from the work I'm putting forth.

So, yes. I have a pen name. But it's not a secret. And that's not so bad.

98 comments:

  1. I can really appreciate your sentiments about pen names. I came up with my pen name when I was considering going to grad school and was fantasizing about what I would have my freshman seminar students call me. Since that was over a decade ago I've had a while to live with "Emme" and it just seems fitting now that I'm starting to write.

    I have found, though, that I might need additional personas, because the first thing I'll probably publish is a children's book and I'd rather not have angry parents showing up with pitchforks because Emme also writes about naughty boy/boy bits.

    While I may use different names in different places (I have about 30 different handles I've used online in the past 23 years), I will always be the same person underneath, and that's most important to me.

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