Should You Use a Pen Name?

Photo by kconnors, Courtesy of Morguefile.com

Photo by kconnors, Courtesy of Morguefile.com

Lately, I’ve been thinking about pen names. It’s something I’ve toyed with using, a little bit, and there are a lot of reasons for it. Unfortunately, I also like my name and some day, when I get there, I want to have it connected with ME and not a name I made up like I make up my character’s names.

Why Use a Pen Name?

However, depending on the genre you right in, using a pen name could be expected. A lot of women, especially, used to use pen names because they were working in a male-dominated industry. Romance writers often use pen names because they have other responsibilities to their children, their communities, etc. and they don’t want their bodice-ripping novels brought up while they’re trying to help out at their kids’ schools or run the church bake-off.

Another reason to use a pen name is because someone else has a name that’s the same or similar to yours. Your name is your brand and if it doesn’t stand out, your sales could suffer. Also, if that’s the case, you’ll probably have an editor or an agent make that suggestion somewhere down the line. You might also choose a pen name if your name is hard to pronounce or otherwise unremarkable.

Many people discourage writers from writing in more than one genre. If you do, you will need a pen name for one or both of them so that you can keep them separate, keep your readers separate and keep your sales separate.

Why Use YOUR Name?

First of all, one of the reasons I think many writers choose to use their name is it’s a super thrill to see your name in the byline of a story or article or, presumably, on the cover of a book. Shallow? Maybe. But still awesome.

People who know you, who you’ve lost touch with, could buy simply because they recognize your name. Also, it’s a connection. You know who you are and you’ll have YOUR name attached to something you wrote. That’s exciting and empowering.

It makes marketing easier. Think about it. You can, if it’s appropriate, go to local places, such as bookshops or high schools for book signings, or your former high school or the library in the town you grew up in for events. People will know who you are and that can draw interest.

You could also consider using your real name if you have writing credits to your name, because people could recognize your name and it could help further sales.

Choosing a Pen Name

So, say you need or want a pen name. How do you choose one?

1. Choose a name that’s distinctive, but pronounceable.

2. Choose a name with some connection to you – keep your initials or use a family name (mother’s maiden name, for instance) or keep your first name.

3. Choose a name you like.

4. Think about a name that fits your genre that your readers will like

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Comments

  1. I use my maiden name because my real name is difficult for people to spell and pronounce half the time. But it is a hassle. lol

    • Robin says:

      I used to think I’d use my mom’s maiden name, but it’s difficult to pronounce and hard to spell and shes hates it, so it’s a non-option now. 🙂

  2. Diana and I just had a little discussion about this because i use a pen name for my YA and children’s books, but I want to sell my suspense and it’s a little dark for parents to think I write that type of book AND children’s books. I thought I’d use a different name for my adult suspense.
    Here’s the dilemma if I use two different names–I have two different brands. It’s a lot easier to market yourself with just one name. It’s double the work to have two different platforms. Before you choose a pen name really decide what your BRAND is and how you want to be perceived by your readers.
    Great post, Robin! One to consider.
    Michelle

    • Robin says:

      That’s a really good reason to use a pen name, I’d think, but I can see how it would be difficult from a marketing perspective.

  3. I was a journalist for many years and at my last assignment I wrote as DC Spencer. Loved it. Wish I had started out that way because it was genderless. However, for my novels I use my entire name: Davalynn Spencer. Several years of freelance work went out under that name, so I kept it for publication purposes. It’s not common and is frequently mispronounced, but I don’t mind. Maybe someday I’ll want the anonymity of a pen name and I’ll have to come up with something else.

    • Robin says:

      It would be fun to have that anonymity, sometimes, I think. Your name is very memorable. I like it!

    • Ohhh, I love DC Spencer. But Davalynn is pretty too. Thanks for commenting here. Do you think it would get complicated if you decided to write a genre you don’t typically write and keep your name? Or, do you think you would switch to a pen name if you wrote two different genres?
      Just curious.
      M

  4. I just use the name everyone has called me since college. I wrote one book under my late cousin’s name as a way to honor him, but otherwise I stick with Ace. Now, I have often wonderer if it would have been better for me to use a female version of my name because so many readers are women. But I never have done it.

    • Hi Ace,
      Funny, but I like to use M. Saint-Germain (my maiden name but without my first full name because I don’t want readers to know if I’m male or female.) I always thought I’d get more respect with a man’s name. Interesting that you think the opposite. Your name is memorable. I like it as an author name!
      M

  5. I briefly considered using a pen name, but decided against it. Being a successful author means readers know who you are. It is your brand. The best way to make that happen is for them to see your name again and again. That means your website, articles about you, your name on your books, book reviews, etc. Repitition is a great tool that works your name into people’s heads, which hopefully leads to them buying copies of your book.

    • Hi Mike,
      That’s so true! Great points.That’s why I don’t like to use my married name. Maybe I’m wrong but it’s so long that I don’t think it would fit “comfortably” across the book cover. WEIDENBENNER– What do you think?
      My maiden name seems more memorable to me, but maybe I should take a vote: Saint-Germain
      M

    • Hi Mike,
      Great points. When it comes to an online presence everyone knows my pen name. I try to use it on everything, but we’ll see how well that works for me when I finally have a book to sell. My friends only know my married name, but my pen name is my maiden name. I love having a choice, but I think you’re right about choosing one and sticking to it.
      M

  6. I use my first and middle name. Originally it was because I was writing about trafficking and didn’t want a recognizable name in case I was able to go back overseas and help with rescues, etc. Also, it just had a better ring to it than my real last name, but don’t tell my husband that. =) But having 2 names, like you said, would be tough because of marketing. I would think it would be very overwhelming trying to keep up with 2!

    • Hi Kimberly – I didn’t realize Rae was your middle name. Love the combo. Now I’m curious about what your last name really is.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I find the whole “name” thing interesting.

      M

    • Robin says:

      That’s a GREAT reason to have a pen name. Protection, essentially. But I love the combination of first and middle names. 🙂

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