I was asked recently whether a writer should write under his own name, or to take a pseudonym.
A lot of people get hung up on this – and for good reasons. The right name can grab readers, the wrong one turn them off. A pen name can distance you from associations with your real name. So here are my thoughts:
- I write as Sue Moorcroft because THIS IS ME. That’s what it says on my birth certificate. THIS WORK IS MINE. That’s how I feel about it.
- Writing under one’s maiden name can be useful. If you write under your married name, find success, then the marriage ends, you can be stuck with a name you no longer want.
- Length is a disadvantage to ‘Moorcroft’. A shorter name could be larger on book jackets.
- A lot of people believe that having a name at one end of the alphabet or the other makes them easily overlooked on the A-Z bookshop shelves. Others that names containing certain letters such as K or Z look strong.
- I have a friend who regrets taking a pen name and says it often makes easy things laborious, especially when it comes to giving people bank account details for payments. She’s in the process of moving over to her real name. I have also addressed her by the ‘wrong’ name at events, ie her real name.
- I also know someone whose day job is in HR and her first book has an HR dispute in it … Those two parts of her life are better distanced for professional reasons. Also, being a woman writing about relationships, she was already attracting negative fnaar fnaar jokes from men at work. ‘Do you write like that Fifty Shades woman?’ etc. She wasn’t quick enough to come back with ‘I would love to write the world’s bestselling paperback’ and it made her uneasy, so she took the pen name.
- Some people feel they have a ‘funny’ name. If my name were Schitt or Snott or Peepee I would change it, too! Otoh, Dean Koontz is memorable precisely because people can make ribald jokes about his name. And I understand he writes good books, which helps. But look at actors Larry Lamb and Sean Bean (who was born Shaun Bean) – their ‘funny’ names haven’t held them back. They’ve utilised them as memory joggers.
- if you have a mediocre sales record but a big publisher wants you, they will find it easier to market you under another name, ie one that doesn’t have the mediocre sales record attached. This means throwing out the baby with the bathwater as you will lose the readers you already have …
- If you share a surname with someone writing in the same area as you, you may feel that you’ll be accused of trying to capitalise on their success. Of course, you may actually capitalise on their success. Who knows?
- I have recently fallen victim to a writer writing different things under one name. The first was chick lit, which I enjoyed, the second was motor cycle gang romance, which left me cold. Waste of my money. Now I probably won’t buy any more of her stuff because I feel cheated and can’t be bothered to check out whether any particular book she’s written is chick lit or motorcycle gang stuff. Even subtle variations are picked up by readers. I’ve written short stories and serials for women’s mags, and they’re pretty wholesome. The serials made it to large print for the libraries and so became books, in that you could go to a library and borrow it as a book you hold in your hand. So these books appeared on Amazon and readers began asking why they were always out of stock as they had very small print runs. So, as a service to readers, I put them out, along with an out of print novel, as ebooks. They became a useful stream of income. But then the reviews started and a few people are disappointed that the ‘wholesome books’ are not what they’re used to. They’re short. Where’s the sex? Conversely, I’ve had people who followed my mag stuff buying a novel and saying they were disappointed in me for the heat level! In my view, the shift between my mag stuff and my traditionally published novels is small. But it’s enough to disappoint some folk.
So, should you use a pseudonym? It depends upon your particular circumstances and preferences. It may be a choice that an agent or publisher helps you make.