Writing under a pseudonym

by Joe Moore

A couple of weeks ago, my Kill Zone blog mate, Kathleen Pickering, posted her thoughts on Brand Marketing. In it she discussed among other things using a pseudonym or pen name in relation to building a writer’s brand. One of the reasons Kathy gave for creating an alter ego and using a pen name is liability. Today I want to expand on other reasons for writing under a pseudonym.

Lets start by dropping some names. Ever heard of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, Harry Patterson, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Eric Arthur Blair, David John Moore Cornwell, and Jim Czajkowski? Chances are you have. They’re all world famous writers. But you probably know them by their pen names because they all write under pseudonyms.

Why would a successful author (or any novelist) write under a pseudonym? And should you consider using one?

By definition, a pen name is a pseudonym used in place of the real author’s name. Here are some reasons to use one.

Pro. Let’s say you’re a well-established writer who wants to change genres. You normally write young adult science fiction but now you want to write cozy adult mysteries. Admittedly, the audience is different and your SF fans might not follow you. Plus, your potential cozy audience might not accept you if they’re aware of your previous work. So changing genre can be a good reason to use a pen name. Also, abandoning a failed book series or moving to a new publisher might be a reason to take on a new identity and start over.

Pro. Your real name doesn’t market well to your genre. The action/adventure novel TANK COMMANDER FROM HELL by Mandrake Slaughter would probably attract more fans of that genre than TANK COMMANDER FROM HELL by Percival Glockenspiel. And Mandrake Slaughter is easier to pronounce.

Pro. For whatever reason, you need your identity to remain anonymous and protected. Let’s say you’re a high-ranking government official who decides to write a thriller that comes uncomfortably close to reality. To reveal your true identity would create a totally different spin on your book, one you might want to avoid.

Pro. Your name is too long or it’s hard to pronounce. In the case of James Rollins, his real name is Jim Czajkowski. A wonderful name, but not easy on the eyes. BTW, Jim also writes fantasy novels under the name James Clemens. Also keep in mind that the shorter the name, the larger it can appear on the cover. Just ask Brad Thor.

Pro. Your real name just happens to be Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Dan Brown. Start thinking about a pen name.

Pro. Sex. By that I mean that you’re the wrong gender. You want to write romance and you’re a guy. Plus, your real name is Mandrake Slaughter. Or your main character is a black female and you’re a white male with an unmistakable WASP name. The marketing starts when the reader first sees the title followed by your name. It has to make sense to them that you’re qualified to write the book.

Pro. There are two of you. Sometimes keeping the real names of writing teams works such as Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. In their case, both authors write individually under their real names, too. Other times, choosing a single pen name makes more sense.

Now for a big reason to not use a pen name: It will always come out at some point that it’s not your real name, either in a book review, or at a writer’s conference, or during an interview, or in your Wikipedia bio; the truth will be revealed that your real name is Percival Glockenspiel. But if you don’t mind the inevitable, then go for it. The best advice is to discuss it with your agent and editor. Weigh all the marketing pros and cons. It works well for some, but not for all. Have a really compelling reason before you make the commitment and it gets embossed in gold on your book cover.

So, did you know the real names of the authors mentioned at the start of this blog? Here they are:

Samuel Langhorne Clemens is Mark Twain

Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum is Ayn Rand

Harry Patterson is Jack Higgins

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is Lewis Carroll

Eric Arthur Blair is George Orwell

David John Moore Cornwell is John le Carre

Jim Czajkowski is James Rollins

Do you writer under a pen name? Have you ever considered it?

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I Feel Like a New Man

James Scott Bell
twitter.com/jamesscottbell


My next print book will be issued under a pseudonym.

In the past, there were various reasons writers chose to publish with pen names. Evan Hunter (The Blackboard Jungle; Strangers When We Meet) always considered himself a “literary writer.” To earn some extra dough he wrote police procedurals under an alias so the critics would not look at his “serious” work with a jaundiced eye. But as Ed McBain he produced a remarkable run of noir that made him a multi-millionaire. The truth came out eventually, though Evan was probably always a little jealous of Ed.
Some writers wanted to have more books published per year than a single contract would allow. Dean Koontz at one time was writing under nine or ten pseudonyms, including a female guise. He wisely got the rights back to those early works and re-released many of them under his own name after he became a mega-bestseller.
Stephen King wrote some novels under the name Richard Bachman. He says his reason was to see if he could “do it again,” by which he meant find success from the ground floor. He wanted to show that his status as a bestselling author was not the product of pure luck. His experiment was starting to show some results until a suspicious bookstore clerk outed him. So King “killed” Bachman, which was a pretty funny way to end the line.
Then there is protection of a “brand.” Agatha Christie was hugely popular as a mystery writer. Her name on a book meant clues and suspects and sleuths. So when she wanted to do romances she adopted the name Mary Westmacott to keep readers from confusion or frustration.
My own reason for taking on a pseudonym is quite simple: I don’t want the heads of my established readership to explode.
You see, my new book is different from my brand. Boy Howdy, is it different. Imagine Hemingway deciding to write for Madmagazine––that sort of different.
But this is a book, and series, I wanted to write. Plus, I now have this added authorial benefit: I get to write as two people, which I find very cool. I will be issuing books under two names, not one.
See, I loved those old pulp days when writers like Erle Stanley Gardner (aka A. A. Faire) were turning out the work, pounding their typewriters long into the night. I always thought I’d have fit in perfectly in the 1930s writing for Black Mask and Dime Detective and then putting out novels and getting called to Hollywood and hanging out at Musso’s with Chandler and Faulkner and Ben Hecht, writing legendary dialogue for Billy Wilder and Jacques Tourneur, and talking back to Harry Cohn and getting fired, then getting re-discovered in the 60s and going legend, writing into my nineties while college kids tracked me down for interviews.
Or something along those lines. One dreams.
But this is now and I am here, and I’m just thankful I get to play in a new genre.
So what is my new name, and what is the book that will have it on the cover? Well, I write suspense so . . .
 . . .I will reveal all next week.
Meantime, would you ever consider using a pseudonym? For what purpose?
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A Rose by Any Other Name…

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

A recent thread on Dorothy L regarding pen names has got me interested – I write under my own name (I mean, you couldn’t make it up!) but have often wondered about the pros and cons of adopting a pen name. It would certainly make some things easier – as it is when someone Googles my name they are likely to get a plethora of information about me, the author, as well as me, the former lawyer, (including my one published law article on tradeable gas emission permits for climate change!) and me, the former health economist, (including my MA on the costs of schizophrenia!). All up I must look pretty loony, so in some ways I wish I had written under a pseudonym. At the same time, though, I like the fact that I do write under my own name – it means people who knew me from school and college can easily find me and my books and, in many ways, it is just easier to be who I am:)

I have been told, however, that if I write a non-mystery novel I will probably have to adopt an alternative pen name so as not to ‘confuse’ anyone…this makes a sense if, for instance, I suddenly start writing erotica, but other than that it seems an enormous pain. With a pen-name I’d have to set up an ‘alternate’ me including a separate website as well as a ‘new’ social networking and marketing identity….and I have enough trouble keeping on top of all of this as it is! I do understand when authors feel that adopting a pseudonym will make it easier to gain acceptance for their work or to appear ‘gender neutral’ – some female authors, for instance, use initials when writing gritty thrillers so the fact that they are female isn’t immediate apparent (sadly this can still be an issue). I can’t say I intend to do this but I do want to write across a number of genres, including YA, and am grappling with the question of whether to use a pen name or not.

So, how many of you use a pen name or have considered adopting one when branching out into a new genre? How do authors with multiple ‘names’ deal with the marketing/web presence issue? Do they established clearly defined and distinct personas on the web or do they roll them all under one ‘umbrella’ site? What do you think are the pros and cons of using a pen name…and importantly, how do you come up with a really cool one?!
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