Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What Is In A Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Was Shakespeare right?  I have been having this nagging thought the past few weeks and the more and more I see other people mentioning it, I thought it was time to bring the matter up for discussion myself.

Why do authors use Pen Names and should I consider it?

My hesitation lies in the fact that I am not sure I would like to have gone through all the blood, sweat and tears that I have, to not see MY name on my work.  I think, in the end, good or bad, I would want to see my name written on my accomplishment  To say, yes I did this, I finished it.

I struggle to understand or even comprehend any reason why someone would want to use a pen name.  The concept is just not quite within my grasp.  I know of only a couple indie authors who have revealed that they use pen names.  Recently Aaron Niz explained on his blog that he has been secretly writing under a pen name and has been seeing more success with it than on his name.  Indie Author Megg Jensen also writes under a pen name as revealed in her blog.

I have found countless reasons online, why authors use pen names, however, I have also read that using a pen name causes a big barrier in effectively marketing your book.  Being an indie author is difficult enough, so why make things more complicated on yourself?  Or do authors use pen names to act as a shield from critics; as some authors can save face by using a pen name for certain works.  Or perhaps your name is just not very marketable or difficult to pronounce and you want something that is easier for your readers to remember.

Some very popular and well-loved authors use pen names:
Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Mark Twain, Nora Roberts, Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling

Just to name a few.  But what it looks like it boils down to is personal opinion.  As much as I am flipping back and forth on the subject I most likely will not use a pen name.  Finding it this difficult to just use a pen name, I can't imagine how frustrating it would be for me to have to then choose a name.  Although I will most likely not join in on this trend, I do wish those who have the best of luck.


  1. I thought I would tell you why I decided to write under a pen name. As you know, I started out this journey with my real name. I started a blog and everything. Then I had read on a couple of blogs about people using pen names and being glad that they did. There was one lady that commented on one of these blogs saying she Googled herself and a map with an arrow to her house popped up in the search. Someday, I would like to have children. And for me, I would feel better if I knew that there was distance put between my profession and them. I think that people in general are good, but I didn't want to leave me or my family open to the occasional weirdo. Especially, with how prevalent I aim to make myself on the internet. Plus, there are a lot of documents that are public record and if someone did some digging they could find out where I live. Kinda scary for me to think about.

    That said, it is a completely personal decision to write under a pen name. I don't think that there is anything wrong with using your real name. And yes, it took me a whole freaking day to find a name that I really liked AND that wasn't already someone's REAL name. That was tough. But now I identify with my pen name. When that name goes on my book cover and people reference me on twitter, or where ever, I feel it is me.

    Whoo! Sorry. Didn't mean to hijack your blog post. But you seemed to have a few questions, and I thought I would shed light on my experience. But since you have already started an internet presence it would be rough to start all over. Yes, many of us would follow you to your new home, but not everyone does.

    Angeline Kace

  2. I believe there are different reasons for this. I plan on using a pen name in the future, due to a joint-venture. A fellow writer and I plan a series of books, but the other writer does not want to take credit.

    J.L. Jackson is my real name, and I do plan on releasing some great novels, but I do understand why some use a pen name.

  3. Thanks Angeline, you have some good points. I guess I'm not too worried about people finding me by using my real name, I guess I feel that having had accounts like Facebook, Myspace and etc. for so long, that my real name is already out there in cyberspace for "the man" to see and there isn't much I can do about it. But maybe you have a point, that may be something me and the hubby have to consider. I was just merely curious as to what people thoughts were since I have seen so many talking about it recently.

  4. @Angeline: I followed Scrittore for like 3 weeks after the last post, because it didn't click in my head that it was going away :P

    @Megan: I think the people who use pen names the most are romance authors and established mid-list authors. Pen names for mid-list authors came about because the publishing house would drop a mid-list who sold mediocre. To keep getting printed, they'd have to submit under a pen name, making it the "breakout novel" of that new name. A lot of romance authors choose to shield their identity to avoid the stigma that goes with that genre from infecting their personal life.

    I'm publishing my first book under my real name. Oddly enough for me, I go about my daily life under a nickname. I want to take credit for what I've written. If ever, under the unlikely circumstance I want to write a romance, I may take a pen name. I have an idea for a good romance, but its not my favorite genre and I have the least experience with it. I also have some very religious people in my family and any money I garnered from that enterprise would make holidays even more uncomfortable.

    For me, writing what I want, I want my name out there. I don't know how you write and I can't predict yours or anyone's success. I can wish you the best, but if we face reality, for ALL of us, the probability of generating a rabid fan via e-books seems low. Yes, there are bestsellers, yes there are rabid fans, but consider the number of ebooks and authors out there vs the number of cult-worthy. (The same is true of pbooks.)

    I have a lot of Stephen King books. As well, Kate Elliot, Dave Duncan, Robin Hobb, Steve Erikson and Jennifer Robertson. I couldn't tell you anything about any of those people and aside from MAYBE Stephen King - I couldn't tell you what they look like. I think SK lives in Maine? I only know that because of the gunslinger series, in which he wrote himself into the story. I have no desire to go to Maine. I don't honestly care about the authors, I care about their work and how it entertains me (Steven Erikson's early books - amazing. His new stuff? I put it aside.) I think many readers feel the same.

    I think it's more a matter of personal pride because (forgive me if I'm mistaken) I don't believe you are a romance writer? Do you want your work to be credited directly to you? Likewise, you can always reveal to the world your pen name.

    Good luck making your decision!

    J. E. Medrick

  5. I've written quite a few books and I am at a stage where I want to see how a persona or pen name affects the perception of my writing. I know the blogs where I am anonymous have sometimes taken off for me while some bearing my name have not.

    Further, I like to write books of an academic nature for the public but my books about grappling are my best sellers. So my next few books will be of a more playful nature and I want to write with a little more freedom so I will be using a pen name.

    Using a pen name will provide some wriggle room.

  6. Thanks for all the feedback everyone. I really appreciate getting everyone's advice, you are all my little yoda's in the indie world. :0)