Apr 30 2009

Should You Write Under a Pseudonym?

Published by at 1:51 pm under Pseudonyms,Writing Articles

Moira Allen provides useful information about pseudonyms here.  Here’s a summary of the best reasons to use a pseudonym.

1.  Your writing could interfere with your day job. If you’re interested in working in a political science or government position and every Google search for your name points to your book about how to write superhero stories, that could be problematic.

2.  You’ve published in a different genre or field and want to distinguish your new work. Your readership might get confused if you’ve always written romance and suddenly you write a sci-fi thriller.  Using a pen-name will help keep those parts of your audience separate.

3.  You suspect that your name will make it harder for readers to relate to you. For example, if you’re a guy writing for women (or vice versa), you might find it helpful to use a gender-neutral name or your initial.  In particular, military action readers are more receptive to male authors and romance readers are more receptive to women.

4.  Your name doesn’t jibe with what you’re writing. I think there is a strong gender bias in some genres. If your name is something like Thaddeus Nottingham, that would probably work for a highbrow volume about the history of opera. However, if you’re writing How I Survived Compton, you’d probably want a name that’s more hip.

5.  Your name is too hard to remember. This will help people find your work after hearing your name just once. As a rule, I’d recommend limiting your pen-name to 2-3 words.

I’ll throw in two of my own.

6.  Your name is hard to pronounce and/or spell.  That will help people find you in bookstores and online.

7.  Your name is so common that it would be would be hard to rank on Google. When people type in your name, you really want to be the top result. If I wrote under my given name, I’d be competing with an anarchist radical, a basketball player, a young political science professor, a corporate VP, a model and a singer-songwriter.  In particular, I think that it readers might confuse me with the poli-sci professor.  Most of my readers know that I am young and really like political science.

38 responses so far

38 Responses to “Should You Write Under a Pseudonym?”

  1. Holliequon 30 Apr 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I think I’ll probably write under a pseudonym like JK Rowling, probably for reasons 3/4. I’m planning to write some form of superhero story at one point, so 4 would definitely come into it later.

  2. Dforceon 30 Apr 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Would it be unwise for a newcomer to the comic-book world to do so via pseudonym? I would believe so, but I need some facts laid out for me.

  3. Wingson 30 Apr 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I’ll probably be writing under my initials. You know (these are not my initials, this is an example) like this: K.G.D.

    - Wings

  4. B. Macon 30 Apr 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Wings, I’d recommend giving yourself at least one word in your pen-name rather than just initials. I think it would be easier for a fan to come into a bookstore and ask for the new JK Rowling book, say, rather than a new JKR book. I can only think of a few celebrities that are known by three initials and none of them are authors (GWB, JTT, etc). I do sometimes refer to Orson Scott Card as OSC, but I don’t think that anyone knows who I’m talking about when I do.

    Dforce, I’m not sure what comic book publishers think about pseudonyms. Off hand, I can’t think of any reason why a pseudonym would be off-limits for comic book writers. (However, I think that the author’s identity is generally less important for a comic book writer than a novelist. I doubt that most comic book readers could even name the writer of their favorite series. The novelist’s identity is more important because a novelist IS the story; there’s no team, it’s just him and his characters).

  5. Wingson 30 Apr 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Maybe I’ll go the way of J. K. Rowling, then…

    -wings

  6. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 30 Apr 2009 at 9:08 pm

    I’m using a pseudonym for reasons three and four, also a little of 6. My name is easy to say, but there have been instances where people have spelled it wrong.

  7. Avi Arunon 30 Apr 2009 at 9:31 pm

    I’m going to write under the name of Avi Arun. Is it a pseudonym? Kind of. Also, I’ve no idea whether Avi Arun is too common or not? What do you say?

  8. B. Macon 30 Apr 2009 at 9:55 pm

    I like “Avi Arun.”

    As a minor tweak, Arun might benefit from a harder sound at the beginning. For example, you could probably add a letter or two to make the soft ‘ah’ sound into something harder. (Alternately, you could swap the syllables to make something like Runah).

    Also, I notice that bestsellers usually have names that string together hard syllables. For example, the top 5 fiction and nonfiction authors on today’s New York Times Bestsellers List are Mary Clark, Lisa Scottoline, Jim Butcher, Harlan Coben, Stephanie Meyer, Mark Levin, Michael J. Fox, Malcolm Gladwell, Tori Spelling, and Dave Cullen. There’s hardly a single soft sound there. Additionally, some other names that come to mind are Steven King, JK Rowling, Tom Clancy, Max Patterson, Stephanie Meier, Anne Rice, etc.

  9. Avi Arunon 30 Apr 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Are there any other Avi Aruns out there. I must be unique if I write by that name.

  10. Luna Jamniaon 01 May 2009 at 5:43 am

    I know what pseudonym I’d be writing under. ;)

    I couldn’t use the initials of my real name–either they’d remind my target audience way too much of school, or of some company.

  11. Ragged Boyon 01 May 2009 at 5:43 am

    I’ll probably just stick with my name at first. I think A.T. Gantt would work. But if I’m writing comics I’ll probably go by my full name.

  12. Luna Jamniaon 01 May 2009 at 5:49 am

    *cough* er, RB … I thought at first your last name was “Gnat” … then I looked again. :)

  13. B. Macon 01 May 2009 at 7:00 am

    I like A.T. Gantt.

  14. Davidon 01 May 2009 at 7:07 am

    My full name is [removed]. Think that’s a name for an author?

  15. Ragged Boyon 01 May 2009 at 8:29 am

    “I thought at first your last name was “Gnat.”

    Ha. I once declared war on a teacher for getting that wrong. Don’t worry, it’s my first name that gets spelled wrong all the time.

    I’ve only met one person that got it right the first try. It was some librarian.

  16. Gurion Omegaon 01 May 2009 at 11:39 am

    C.B. Butley….or Rob Thorn….hmmm…what about these?

  17. Alice2on 01 May 2009 at 2:40 pm

    I’ve considered using a pseudonym for various reasons.

    I don’t know what the final draft of my novel is going to look like, so I can’t say for certain if I’ll need a pseudonym. I’ve occasionally considered going by a different last name — something slightly more glamorous than my real, old-grouch-next-door last name. :P

  18. ikaruson 01 May 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Wouldn’t it be a bit corny for a superhero author to have a secret identity?

  19. B. Macon 01 May 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Ikarus said: “Wouldn’t it be a bit corny for a superhero author to have a secret identity?”

    Unless you wear a mask and tights at signing events, probably not. Also, a pseudonym is less of a secret identity than a marketing tool. Your readers can probably figure out your real name anyway.

    I think the same guidelines apply to superhero authors as other kinds of authors; if you have a boring name or coworkers/bosses that would look down on what you’re publishing in your free time, you should probably consider a pseudonym.

  20. Gurion Omegaon 01 May 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Uh…seriously. Robert Thorne or C.B. Butley. Are those good pseudonyms?

  21. Gurion Omegaon 01 May 2009 at 6:36 pm

    ‘Robert Thorn’ sounds slightly like a name for a Sci-fi/fantasy novelist. But I’m thinking my name (which is of African origin) would sound fresh and unique. Its not that hard to pronounce, but some idiots in the past have trouble pronouncing it. My last name is somewhere from the Welsh islands, methinks.

    No, I’m not gonna be writin’ it online.

  22. Gurion Omegaon 01 May 2009 at 6:37 pm

    C.B. Butley. That sounds like a writer who died during the early 18th century. I’ll take that back.

  23. B. Macon 01 May 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Gurion, I think an African name could work. For example, Jamal strikes me as both professional and stylish. On the other hand, if the name is something like Shaniqua, I’d recommend considering a pseudonym.

    Thanks for not posting your name here. There are a lot of creeps out there…

    I agree that CB Butley is old-fashioned, and I’m distracted by the “butt” syllable. I think changing the last name to Buckley or Boulder and changing the middle initial from B. (Alliterative names usually take on a cheesy 1940s feel, like Lana Lang and Lois Lane and Lex Luthor).

    If you’re interested in using a pseudonymous first name, I’d recommend something like Antoine, Adrian, Damon or Jermaine.

  24. Beccaon 01 May 2009 at 7:14 pm

    RB, I don’t even think you need the initals A.T. to make your name a perfect author name – your first and last names are great. I can just picture them on the cover of something amazing. :)

  25. B. Macon 01 May 2009 at 8:45 pm

    David, I like your first name a lot. Your last name could possibly use a bit more toughness, but I think it’s close enough that it could go either way.

  26. Davidon 01 May 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Hey, I didn’t choose my last name, you know. ;-)

  27. B. Macon 01 May 2009 at 9:19 pm

    ;-)

    David, this is just some business/marketing advice. Nothing personal.

    Also, I really doubt that the author’s name will affect publisher decisions. Generally, a manuscript is rejected or published based on how much work it would take to get it ready to be published. If your name was the main thing holding you back, it would take maybe half an hour to come up with something the editor likes better. It’s far easier to come up with a stylish name than to make a bland manuscript stylish.



    “I really doubt that the author’s name will affect publisher decisions.” The only exception I can think of is when an author picks a name that draws his style into question. “I want to write as Lady Sunshine!”

  28. Ragged Boyon 05 May 2009 at 9:25 am

    “RB, I don’t even think you need the initals A.T. to make your name a perfect author name – your first and last names are great. I can just picture them on the cover of something amazing.”

    Thanks. :-)

    I don’t know. I feel my last name is a little harsh. I suspect no one would pronounce my full name correctly. Maybe it’s just me.

  29. B. Macon 05 May 2009 at 10:07 am

    Your last name is pretty bad-ass. If you were concerned about the double ‘t,’ you could remove one of them. I think that would make it look smoother.

    I’m not sure about the first name. Your first name is the only word I’ve misspelled more than once in the last two years. And you’ve mentioned that people have trouble pronouncing it. I’d recommend looking into other options.

    Anyway. This is not nearly your biggest problem right now. Keep writing! ;-)

  30. Holliequon 05 May 2009 at 11:51 am

    I think I’ll probably end up writing under something like H. N. Quirke. I think it has style and uses my real-life initials. (Minus the N. I don’t have a middle name.)

    It’s fun trying to come up with pseudonyms. Mine start off normal and then get gradually wackier and wackier. Lady Sunshine indeed. :P

  31. Tomon 05 May 2009 at 12:02 pm

    My last name’s uncommon (very uncommon) but it’s not unusual. It’s… perfect for writing I suppose, since it has no previous connotations with the exception of with a very small group of people but it’s easy to remember and memorable.

  32. Davidon 05 May 2009 at 4:50 pm

    hey over here we have A.A milne who wrote winnie the poo now he is fairly famoues in britien dunno if you know him over there

    you think if people see my last name they might think i was related or somethign?

  33. B. Macon 05 May 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Nah. Even if your last name belongs to a literary superstar (King, Rice, Meier, etc) there is very little room for confusion unless you have a similar/identical first name. I think that’s true even if the last name is uncommon (like I think yours is). For example, Chris Buckley is a bestselling humor writer and William Buckley started National Review.

    I don’t think anyone will confuse you with the author that did Winnie the Pooh. For one, he died 50 years ago and would be over 125 today. Also, I doubt that your book’s cover will make it look anything like Winnie the Pooh.

  34. Davidon 05 May 2009 at 5:33 pm

    be funny as hell if they did though lol

    btw i had a look in wikipedia there are three david milnes on it and none of em me lol

    we got Sir david milne the british soldier

    and David milne the canadien artist

    both dead

    then theres david milne the astralien rugby player

    you should type your name see if your the one and only lol

  35. Ragged Boyon 06 May 2009 at 8:15 am

    “This is not nearly your biggest problem right now. Keep writing!” ;-)

    I’m not sure how to feel about this statement. It scares me. :-(

  36. Davidon 06 May 2009 at 8:37 am

    Ragged boy from what iv read u got no problems lol your fine they could mean finding a publisher and such

  37. B. Macon 06 May 2009 at 10:48 am

    Well, right now I would say that your main problem is that you don’t have an outline for all the issues. Your pseudonym is not remotely as important.

  38. Ragged Boyon 06 May 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Ok, thank god. Haha, I’m working on that now. Wish me luck. :-D

    I’ve been rather positive lately.

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