To Pen Name or Not to Pen Name?

Photo credit: Athanasius on Flickr
So here’s a topic I’ve somehow managed not to cover, or even mention for that matter—pseudonyms!

Pen names are relatively common amongst writers and are used for various reasons, some of which include:

  • Avoiding gender bias. Unfortunately this one really only applies to ladies, because most people don’t really think twice about reading a book written by a male author regardless of the genre. But unfortunately, there are people out there who won’t read books written by women. Or won’t read books of a certain genre written by women. Which I find infuriating, but that’s another post all on it’s own.

    Oftentimes, writers will abbreviate their names to make them more gender-neutral in order to avoid this. J.K. Rowling, for example, famously chose the pen name J.K. over her name, because some boys might have been put off by reading a book written by Jo Rowling. 

  • Famous name confusion. If your birth name happens to be Barbara Kingsolver or Stephen Koontz or Nicholas Sparks, etc., then you may want to consider choosing a pen name to avoid confusion and awkward conversations that end in “No, I’m not that Nicholas Sparks.” 

  • Difficult to pronounce name. If your name is made up of mostly consonants or is otherwise difficult to pronounce, then that’s another reason to consider a pen name. 

  • Writing in multiple genres. As I understand it, this is usually only a reason if the genres are extraordinarily different, like, say, Middle Grade and Erotica. Or if you’re an Elementary school teacher who writes Erotica, and you don’t want your students (or their parents) stumbling onto your work. Or something of the like. 

  • Privacy and/or other personal reasons. Some people just like their privacy. Or have a variety of other personal reasons that lead them to choose a pen name. And that’s totally fine, too. 

The only downside I can really think of using a pen name is that you obviously won’t see the name you were born with on the cover of your novels. But of course, if you chose a pen name, that was sort of the point. So.

Would you ever consider using a pen name (or do you already use one)? Why or why not?

Twitter-sized bites:
Debating whether or not to use a pen name? Writer @Ava_Jae shares a couple reasons why you may consider it. (Click to tweet)  
Would you ever consider using a pen name (or do you already use one)? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet


Laura Rueckert said...

Although I'd like to think I'm generally not gender-biased, if I was going to read an adult romance novel (like Harlequin) from a female POV, I'd probably be slightly suspicious of one written by someone named Chuck. So here is the same genre-based thinking you mentioned above, but in reverse. (Yes, I realize I'm being completely unfair. BAD me.) So I can imagine where men might take female pseudonyms also.

I know someone who uses a pen name because she's a teacher and doesn't want her students to know what she writes. Or I can imagine using one if you live in a conservative community and write erotica. Or again, the man who doesn't want his football buddies to know he writes racey love scenes.

I personally haven't thought of using a pen name. Guess I'd just love to see my name on a book someday.

How about you? Or is Ava Jae your pen name? ;-)

Ava Jae said...

Hmm, that's an interesting point for that one genre. It had occurred to me that maybe that might affect some people, but I've read other books written from a female POV from a male author and granted, while it wasn't romance, I thought it was well done and didn't really care it was written by a male author. But I suppose that maybe that would be an obstacle for some, though I don't think the scale is quite as big as it is for female authors in many other "non-girly" genres. I could be wrong, though?

Now, I think your example of the football player writing racy romance definitely makes sense—though I wonder if he would take a gender-neutral pseudonym or a female guess would probably be gender-neutral. Interesting example! The other two you mentioned also make total sense—I've heard of many teachers taking pseudonyms for that exact reason, in fact.

I totally get wanting to see your name on a book someday. I'm relatively sure that's the main reason most people don't take pseudonyms. :)

And yes, Ava Jae is my pen name. One that I've grown quite fond of. ^_^

Laura Rueckert said...

I like it too. ;)

Ava Jae said...

Oh goodie. Thank you! :)

Shay De Flory said...

This is my nightmare right now.
My actual name - Sharena De Freitas - has too much misspelling potential, Shay Dee was too common and Shay De Flory? Like what am I? A romance author? Oh boy...

Makes you envy authors with real names like Garth Nix.

I don't mind using a pen name but it has to be one close to mine or have some kind of link to me. I have actual made up pen names sitting there but I don't feel close to them. I feel like I'd be lying if I used them because they are so made up.

Ava Jae said...

...Garth Nix is his real name? Now I'm jealous. Actually, that reminds me of Ransom Riggs—another name I for sure that was an awesome pen name that turned out to be an awesome actual name. Pretty darn cool.

I totally get wanting to choose something with some kind of link to yourself. I chose shortened versions of names I really liked or was close to for one reason or another, and I think it's important if you do use a pen name, to choose something that resonates with you.

Do you have a middle name? I've seen some First and Middle name combinations that have turned out pretty well, and they're still part of your actual name. Initials can also sometimes work well, though I see your last name has the misspelling potential that you're trying to avoid, which can make things a tad bit tricky.

Maybe play around with your letter options? Rena Dee might be less common than Shay Dee? Whatever you choose, definitely make sure it's something that you can connect with. :)

Shay De Flory said...

Ooooh Rena Dee.... Now I might just get somewhere!
And man, my middle name...?

"Sharena Eugena De Freitas,
Isn't sure if she hates us,
We make fun of her name,
It's only a game,
She'll be our friend by Christmas."

School went on like this for some time *sigh*

But thanks anyway, Ava lol :D

Ava Jae said...

Aw, ha ha. That's definitely a tough name to work with, but I'm happy to help give you some new ideas! Let me know if you'd like any more brainstorming help! :)

Shay De Flory said...

Will do! :D

Michelle Irwin said...

It's funny, I'm a definitely on the "I want *my* name on my book" side of the fence. With a day job as an accountant, I do dread the day clients stumble across my stories though. I also have a CP who will insist on a pen name when her books come out and I completely understand her reasons for that too. It comes down to what you're comfortable with I guess.

RoweMatthew said...

Since you are so nice, I'm going to reveal a secret that I will only release here ahead of the plans execution, so, in the words of Michelle of the resistance "Listen very carefully. I shall say this only once!"

I have a secret plan to use a pen name to increase my own exposure. No one is interested in any of my social media talk and advertising because I'm a boring guy. Yet hot women get millions of likes for writing grammatically incorrect garbage about what they have for breakfast. I want to put that power to work for the good. I'll create an online persona of such complete awesomeness that people have to take notice: to blog, tweet and publish under. But it's not just for me, I want to eventually grow the name into an online entity under which many people can publish and eventually reveal our true identities and be worshipped for the awesomeness we always knew we had. I think of it as the literary Gorillaz, with a mascot as popular as Hatsune Miku.

The only thing that has stopped me so far is finding an artist to collaborate with on such a long project, designing the character and art to go on the blog and such. I don't have the money for it either. But apart from that, it's all go.

Ava Jae said...

I think you're totally right that it comes down to what you're comfortable with. There isn't a right or wrong answer—just a write or wrong answer for you.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm...I'm going to ignore the potentially offense insinuation about "hot women" and blogging. I don't think you meant offense, but you may want to be careful about generalizing flippant statements like the one you made above.

As for the rest, I think it's an interesting idea. It sounds like a sort of...collective consciousness? I'm wondering how you would differentiate between one person and the other if you were all using the same name (because it sounds like you'd eventually want to differentiate between them, as you said you'd eventually reveal your identities?). Or maybe I'm misunderstanding the concept. Interesting idea, though.

Ava Jae said...

So I totally get this. 100%. That would firmly (and completely understandably) fit into the last reason, and I think it's awesome that you're trying to separate yourself from that negativity. Good for you.

M Kinnel said...

I've toyed with the idea of a pen name, but there is something about having your own name on your work. I currently use a partial of my first name with my real last name but I like writing in two different genres. I know that might mean (if I ever get published) using another name.

My mom-in-law is really pushing me not to use any part of my real name because she fears for my privacy. This is also a woman who takes all the back roads to get where she's going because she is scared to drive on the interstate so...

Medvekoma said...

I choose my pen name because my original one is extremely hard to pronounce for most, and also for the fact that it is a noble-sounding name, despite my branch of the family not being blue blooded.

The name "Medvekoma" means "bear pal" or "bear friend", a nickname that stuck with me back in elementary school. Only after I had heard both an englisman and a german pronounce it did I realise how little the difference is.

Ava Jae said...

Pen names aren't for everyone. I'd say if you're comfortable having your name on your book and especially if you feel like you'd be disappointed not having your name on your book, then forget a pen name. :)

Ava Jae said...

How interesting! I love languages. "Medvekoma" sounds like a fun one for sure. :)

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