What’s in a Name? When to Use a Pen Name: Guest Post by Sarah Rexman

Many famous authors have used pen names. Some even used more than one: Samuel Clemens wrote under his own name, as well as Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Louis de Conte, and his most famous pseudonym of all, Mark Twain.

Authors may choose to write under an alias for personal reasons or business reasons, and those decisions are often influenced by cultural and marketing dynamics. If you are thinking of using a pen name, consider some of the most common reasons that other authors have chosen to write under a different moniker:

Your Real Name is Too Weird or Common

Is your real name John Smith or something else that is equally common? If you publish under your real name, it may be difficult to stand out and develop your brand. Choosing a pen name will help readers distinguish you from all the other John Smiths, whether they are working as writers or accountants.

Or, on the other hand, is your real name Aparicio Poppocropoulous? If your name is too strange, hard to pronounce, or hard to understand, it will be difficult for readers to remember your name or to find it when they search for your work online.

Your Real Name is Famous

Through some twist of fate or happy coincidence, do you share a name with Angelina Jolie? Or Leonardo DiCaprio? Maybe your parents were big fans of Brad Pitt or George Clooney and decided to name you after them.

If you share a name with a famous person, a pen name can help you to distinguish yourself. That way, when someone sees a book written by “Brad Pitt,” they will make the proper assumption that it is written by THE Brad Pitt instead of becoming disappointed when they find out it is you instead. Don’t let your name get in the way of enjoying your book.

You Want to Protect Your Identity

Even if you start publishing novels or other books, you may not be able to quit your day job. Using a pen name to publish your work can help you to keep your professional endeavors separate – either because you don’t want your boss to think you’ll leave your job once a book sells well, or because you are writing about topics that could be controversial or present a conflict of interest for your job.

On the other hand, you may become wildly successful once you start publishing, quickly earning fame and fortune. If you worry that you won’t be able to handle the scrutiny of fame well, a pen name can help you protect your real identity so that you can fly under the radar when you are out buying groceries or having a meal with your family.

You Write in Multiple Genres

If you write young adult fiction under your real name, it might be advisable to adopt a pen name when you decide to start writing erotica. Or if you write romance stories under your real name, you might decide to choose a pen name when you try your hand at war thrillers.

Your name becomes your brand, and if you want to change your brand significantly by writing in a new genre that differs dramatically from the one in which you are known, using a pen name can help you to distinguish those brands and to ensure that you don’t alienate or confuse readers.

The decision to use a pen name is often a personal one, but it can have ramifications for your brand and your success. Have you used a pen name for your writing? Tell us your reasons in the comments!

About the Author:

Sarah Rexman is the main researcher and writer for BedBugs.org. Her most recent accomplishment includes graduating from Florida State, with a master’s degree in environmental science. Her main focus for the bedbugs site involves answering many questions such as, “what do bed bugs look like?”.

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