Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Word On Pen Names

     Eric Arthur Blair, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and Mary Ann Evans are the "real" names of some very famous authors.  Confused?  Maybe this will help - they have written novels under the pen names George Orwell, Lewis Carroll (bet you were surprised by that one!) and George Eliot.
     Nom de plume, literary double, alter ego or pseudonym, no matter what you call it, there are many reasons why authors write under a pen name.

A Name That Sells:
     Most authors, who adopt pen names, do so because they want a more distinctive name appearing on the cover of their books.  John Smith isn't going to sell a lot of crime thrillers, but Mason Storm might. 
     Some authors may want to hide their gender in order to become more accepted in a particular genre.  An example of this is romance novelist Nora Roberts who writes erotic thrillers under the pen name J.D. Robb.  While writing her bestselling Vampire Chronicles series, Anne Rice dabbled in erotica with her erotica trilogy Sleeping Beauty under the pen name A.N. Roquelaure.
     Sometimes editors and publishers feel it necessary for their writers, who are especially prolific, to employ pen names to avoid overexposure.  Writers who write for pulp magazines will often publish stories under a couple of different pen names, to make readers believe that they are reading short stories by different writers.
     Perhaps the most famous use of a pen name to avoid overexposure is when novelist Stephen King wrote four novels under the name Richard Bachman, because his publisher felt that his "constant readers" wouldn't buy more than one book from him in a year.  But, as only Stephen King is wont to do, he took it to the next level, going as far as to dedicate his 1984 novel Thinner to Claudia Inez Bachman, who was supposedly Richard Bachman's wife.

If The Name Doesn't Fit. Change It:
     Some authors feel that their real names either don't fit the genre they are working in or are not appropriate.  Take author Pearl Gray, who dropped his first name and changed it to Zane, and changed the spelling of his last name to Grey, because he felt it was better suited for the Western genre.
     You would think that Julie Woodcock would want to keep her real name as opposed to writing under the pen name Angela Knight when penning her romance novels, but she chose to change it, feeling her real name was too-on-the-nose.

For No Other Reason Than Just Because:
     In some instances, writers may utilize a pen name for nothing more than their own amusement, as is in the case of Edward Gorey, who wrote under different pen names just for his own enjoyment - each one an anagram of his real name.
     Daniel Handler wrote under the name of his main character Lemony Snicket in his Series Of Unfortunate Events books, as if they were memoirs based on an acquaintance of the main character.

Gender Restrictions In Selected Genres:
     It's hard for this female freelance writer and author to believe, but discrimination still exists in the literary world today.  Since the 19th century, women have written under both male and gender-neutral pen names so as to be taken seriously by readers.  For example, the widely popular novel Out Of Africa was written by Karen Blixen under the pen name Isak Dineson.
     Though the publishing industry is more welcoming to female writers, in genres such as horror, science fiction and fantasy and even mystery, readers will often choose novels written by male authors.  Studies have also shown that these same readers will tend to assume that any gender-neutral name is male.  Women who write under gender-neutral pen names include J.K. Rowling, K.A. Applegate and S.E. Hinton.

     There are other reasons why authors may choose to use a pen name either at the beginning of their career of in the middle of it.

1. The author's real name may be too closely related to that of another author's name.

2. An author who has gained worldwide popularity early in their career may come to fear fame and thereby choose to remain anonymous by using a pen name.

3. If a female author gets married, she may want to continue using her maiden name as a pen name, while legally adopting her husband's name.

     Before you choose your pen name, first think of the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.

Pros Of Using A Pen Name:
     Using a pen name will help increase the marketability and therefore the sales of your book.  When choosing your pen name, make sure you choose a first and last name from the first half of the alphabet.  Doing this, you will be sure to get your books in a prime spot on the book display and will secure a place for your novel on the top shelves at eye level.  It's also a good idea to plan your pen name close to the letters of some bestselling authors.  So, if you're a mystery writer, you might want to have your pen name begin with the letter "G" so you'll be situated next to John Grisham or Elizabeth George.
     If you are an author who writes politically, socially or sexually charged books, then a pen name will help you remain anonymous or prevent personal injury from occurring.
     Some publishers limit their writers from contributing to outside markets, so a pen name will allow you to publish your books under one name and use either your real name or a pen name to get published in other types of markets such as magazines or blogs.

Cons Of Using A Pen Name:
     Pen names that seem like they are trying too hard or are too flashy will actually turn publishers off and eventually readers.  Using a two-syllable first name and a single-syllable last name seems to be a safe choice.  Also, try to avoid last names that rhyme with your first name.
     Pen names can sometimes have a tendency to come back to haunt you, especially if you've created an elaborate back-story.  In the future, you may have some difficulty publishing other works under your real name, if you use your pen name long past its expiration date.

Issues Of Copyright:
     An author may use a pen name on a copyrighted work if the author's pen name is identified on copies of that work.  The pen name itself is not protected by copyright. 
     Whether or not you choose to be identified by your legal name or your pen name, you should clarify this when registering your work at the Copyright Office.  But remember that, if you choose to give your "real" name, then it will be made public on the online records produced by the Copyright Office and will be accessible to anyone surfing the web.

     Remember, no matter if you are an established author or are just starting out, using a pen name is like starting from scratch and can be particularly difficult to build a reputation.  It can also allow you to flex your writing muscles and freely branch out into different genres without having to worry about possibly distancing your loyal readers.

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