Is a Pen Name Right For You?

Deciding to use a pen name is a decision fraught with difficulty. When will you use it? What will you call yourself?

Take Julianna Baggott. She’s the author of 17 books including Pure, a whirlwind YA dystopian of massive scope that you can start reading on Figment. In Pure, Pressia is struggling to survive in a scarred near-wasteland. Partridge is safe inside Dome, the sheltered land untouched by the destruction, but locked away from the rest of the world. Heavy stuff. Julianna is also Bridget Asher, writer of adultbooks like The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted. She’s also N.E. Bode, author of the middle-grade Anybodies series. Julianna’s different pseudonyms correspond to the different audiences for her books; they’re both practical and playful. (I didn’t notice that “N.E. Bode” reads like “anybody” until it was pointed out to me. Well played, Julianna.)

Of course, not all of us have 17 books to our name(s). So if you’re not as prolific as Ms. Baggott/Asher/Bode, when should you use a pen name?

Your first-person omniscient narrator is a character in your book.
a.k.a. “The Lemony Snicket”

You want to maintain anonymity because it is part of your book’s elaborate back story, which involves the author disappearing from society.
a.k.a. “The Harris Burdick”

You think your name is a marketing liability because a woman writing male main characters is completely absurd.
a.k.a. “The J.K. Rowling”

You’re crazy famous and you want to publish something anonymously so your work can be valued for its own merits but then you kind of let it slip that it’s you because you’re used to selling millions of books.
a.k.a. “The Richard Bachman”
a.k.a. “The Stephen King”

You write Glee slash, and you think your parents would be very disturbed to find out you’ve written Kurt as half-cheetah and Blaine as an alien.
a.k.a. “The Klainer_4_Eva_23321”

You want to bestow your fanciful work with a misleading and unearned sense of authority.
a.k.a. “The Dr. Seuss”

There’s only so much room on a book cover.
a.k.a. “The Lucila de María del Perpetuo Socorro Godoy Alcayaga”

18 thoughts on “Is a Pen Name Right For You?

  1. You think your name is a marketing liability because a woman writing male main characters is completely absurd.
    a.k.a. ”The J.K. Rowling”
    a.k.a ”The S.E. Hinton”

  2. I found this post to be hilarious. 😛

    But you kind of left out my situation, in which the only reason you can’t use your real name is because you have paranoid parents that think stalkers find you and murder you in your sleep. 🙂

  3. I’ve considered many times using a pen name, just so that I’d have the freedom of being able to write whatever I want without anyone who actually knows me finding out that I wrote it. This was of course back in the days where I was still absolutely petrified when it came to anyone I knew, much less my family, reading what I wrote. But about a year or two ago, I realized that it’s just impossible. If I want to be a successful writer, I’m going to have to let those people closest to me read my stories. Who else will I rely on for the moral and emotional support I will most likely need. That, and who else in their right mind would put up with my occasional bouts of snippy-ness and attitude?

  4. You guys also skipped “My parents don’t know I write but I wan to find out there true reactions and kee it a secret from them.”
    A.K.A. A lot of people

  5. I agree with Kaia, my real name is quite complex and unpronounceable. Only like five people in the world can pronounce it correctly, so everyone for as long as I can remember has always called me Cree. Easy, simple, cute and rhymes with a variety of things (Tree, Bree, lead, mean, teen, we, Constantine, and even my last name Reid ^^) I think Cree Reid is a much better pen name than my actually name. It’s either that or C.M.R. because when I say that it reminds me of a car. :3

  6. Erinny Rose is my pen name; as much as I would love to see my real name in print…I want it to be my own creation…unique just like the story I’ve authored 🙂 That’s why I use a pen name

  7. I changed my last name because it is really a world-famous fast food restaurant and whenever people hear it, they either laugh or stare at me funny.

  8. Your name being the same as your character.
    I came across this problem with a story that I wrote and loved. I went through a thousand names before I came across my own name and thought aha! It fits! But when I had people read it I was criticized for naming my character after myself and the readers didn’t pay attention to the story. In fact the character was nothing like me but to them it didn’t matter. I guess to them It looked like I thought I was the character. Very embarrassing and horribly mean almost threw the story away because of it. Really didn’t want to change the name either because to me when you find the name that fits you just cant change it.

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