One of the top questions budding authors want to know is if they should use a pen name or their actual name. What are the main reasons for using a pen name?
A brief history lesson: Back in the day, or many moons ago, or whatever phrase you like to use when referencing a time long ago, women weren’t “allowed” to write for profit. Therefore, women, being the intelligent humans they are, wrote under male names and made millions. Well, maybe not millions but at least they were able to get their work published and read.
Fast forward to today, and pen names are not as necessary as they once were. So, why do people choose a pen name at all?
1) Common Names
My given name is Michelle (Peterson) Miller. A very common name. We’ve all done a Google search on ourselves…haven’t we? My name brings up pages and pages and still more pages of sites.
New authors face an uphill battle from day one, attempting to get their books in front of readers. If readers can’t find you, how will they know what a fantastic product you have for them?
I knew I wanted to be easy to find, and therefore, a new name was essential.
2) Hard to Pronounce Names
I think my name is pretty simple, Michelle. Still, I can’t tell you how many times I get called ‘Melissa’ or ‘Miranda’ or some other girl name that starts with ‘M.’ I can only imagine life with a more complex name.
Again, new authors face a difficult challenge. We work hard to get our books in front of readers. In turn, we hope our readers not only enjoy our books but recommend them to their friends and family. If your name is too hard to pronounce, those recommendations can get lost in translation, so to speak. “Oh, I read this great book. What was that author’s name? It was something different, Rosalusamontogin, or something like that.”
It’s something to think about when writing your first book. If people can’t remember your name, they may not recommend you or look to find more information about you.
3) Sexism and Racism
I hate to go here, but unfortunately, sexism and racism run deep in the book world. I am part of many author and reader groups; and shudder at some of the things people say. “I never read female crime writers; they don’t know that world.” “Men can never write romance correctly.” “I won’t buy a book by an (ethnic group) author; they aren’t writing for me.”
Writing is a very male-dominated business, believe it or not. There is a reason J.K. Rowlings used initials instead of her first name (hint: it made her gender-neutral). She then chooses a male pen name (Richard Gilbreath) when she moved to suspense/thriller books. Several other famous authors have done the same (Looking at you Nora Roberts/ J.D. Robb). You can read about J.K. Rowlings pen name here.
In Romance, the roles are flipped. Many men will choose a female name to gain recognition in this area. I went the J.K. Rowlings route and chose Mitchel.
4) Writing in different genres
Some writers love to bounce from genre to genre. I get it; if you have a story to tell, don’t let the boundaries of genre stop you. Keep in mind, if you create a following in Romance and then jump to Horror, you may lose part of your audience. Likewise, if you get your start writing children’s books and switch to romance, there may be a few angry parents.
Perhaps you are writing more as a hobby. You want to test the waters, see if you can finish a book, try to publish on your own, and you just aren’t ready to share this part of your world with anyone. Some people simply want to keep their private lives separate from their public author persona. It can be fun to play an author role and hang that hat at the end of a busy day.
There are many reasons why someone may want to use a pen name. The question remains, Should I use a pen name? The only person who can answer that question is you. At the end of the day, it’s up to you.