Lately I have been working on various projects; writing, reading, researching, and the newest addition; blogging. I usually have this entire plan in my head about the order of which I want to approach or present things, but I have been known to occasionally get sidetracked by the simplest of subjects. Much like this week when I made the discovery of pen names.
Definition: A pen name, or nom de plume, is a pseudonym that an author (or group of authors) assumes for a particular purpose or work, which differs from their original or true names.
I will be completely honest; until recently, I saw no real point in using a pen name. As a matter of fact, I was looking forward to the day where I could see my own name on the spine of a novel or displayed in a bookstore! It was my belief that the only purpose of a pen name was to protect one's identity. After doing further research, I realised just how wrong I was. Turns out, there are many different reasons why a pen name is important. Here is a list of what I found:
1. Privacy: The most obvious reason for a pen name is a need to protect the author’s real identity, though the reason one wishes to do so is not always so obvious.
Some people simply don’t want the attention, or are genuinely scared of it. They prefer keeping their identities and whereabouts unknown to the public. This is easily understandable, since we now live in a day and age where one can discover any information they want about a person simply by knowing their name.
Others may not want their books associated to them because it could interfere with their work. An extreme example in this case would be that of a priest writing adult novels containing explicit erotic content.
Not wanting to become “a target” is also something I came across during my research. This is usually the case for authors who write about controversial subjects, and wish not to expose their identity for their own safety.
2. Simplicity: Readers won't be inclined to talk about you if they can’t pronounce or even remember your name. Aliases and pseudonyms have been used by many artists in the past. Good examples are Jennifer Aniston (Jennifer Anastassakis), Rodney Dangerfield (Jacob Cohen), Whoopi Goldberg (Caryn Elaine Johnson), Elton John (Reginald Kenneth Dwight), Demi Moore (Demetria Gene Guynes) or Lou Diamond Phillips (Lou Upchurch) just to name a few.
3. Uniqueness: Odds are if you have a very common name, you will require a pseudonym. Names like John Smith or James Johnson are so popular that they do not stand out. In cases like these, a pen name is necessary to prevent the author from becoming invisible on the market.
4. Similarity: An author's pseudonym is their brand. So if by chance you have the same name as a pre-existing artist, you will need a pen name. Main reason for this is that the author could be accused of attempting to draw attention to themselves by relying on someone else’s popularity.
5. Branding: Pen names are meant to be like brand names; easily recognizable and memorable. A good pseudonym will become like advertising; its purpose is to identify your product and to help establish your reputation.
6. Disguising Gender: Unfortunately, gender bias is real. In some cases, specialists who write a book may decide to choose a pen name that will hide or change their true gender in order to protect their credibility. Examples I came across were a female author taking on a male name in order to write about football, or a male author taking on a female name in order to write about natural childbirth. The most popular example is J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, who, at the request of her publisher, used the name J.K. instead of Joanne, because they thought young boys would not read a book if they knew it was written by a woman.
7. Market Targeting: Some authors will use more than one pen name in order to write in multiple genres. The purpose of this is usually for the author to avoid preconceptions from their target audience. Like say if readers wanted to avoid a horror story because it was written by a famous romance novelist.
8. Collaborations: There have been some instances where authors from different fields decided to work together on a specific project. In these instances, it is not uncommon for authors to use a single pen name in order to identify both of them. Popular examples are Nicolas Bourbaki, Erin Hunter and Ellery Queen.
9. Starting Over: Failure can happen to anyone, but what can be painful is having that failure tarnish the name of a brand, forever affecting its reputation. For this reason, authors who have failed under one name start over a new pen name.
This recent research has made me realise that choosing a pseudonym requires a lot of thought and can be quite a challenge. When creating a pen name, we must take into account that it will forever be associated to your work. Here are a few things to take into consideration selecting a Pen Name:
- Target Readers: Are you planning to reach mostly an older or younger audience? Mostly men or women?
- Genre: What genre are you writing for? Horror, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Romance, etc.?
- Availability: Is the name currently used by someone else? Is it similar or could be mistaken with another popular name? (be sure to do a Google search on it!)
- Marketability: Is your pen name easy to remember? Does it catch the eye?
I have been working on creating a pen name for myself, but have so far been unsuccessful in finding something appropriate or to my liking. Until then, the search continues!
Feel free to offer suggestions, my current goal is to use names starting in “P”, “O”, “M” or “J”, and if possible to use at least one real word in the name (i.e. King, Castle, Little, etc).
Until next time!