Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Having a "Secret Identity"

To use a pen name or not to use a pen name?

That's a question all authors must grapple with. Keeping a writer's real name off the cover is not a new phenomenon. Mark Twain was really Samuel Langhorne Clemens. 19th century novelist Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin hid not only her name but her gender as well by writing as George Sand.

But why would an author use a pen name in the first place? Several reasons. Here are a few:

1. The author's real name doesn't fit the genre they write. Euphiginia Codsworthy may write fantastic YA, but her name doesn't scream cool. I doubt any young readers would pick up her book.

2. The author has a day job that might be compromised if it were known he/she wrote their books. People don't assume murder mystery writers have a bunch of bodies in their basement, but they do tend to think romance writers know a good deal more about sex than most. Some writers use a pseudonymn to keep their professional and writing lives separate.

3. The author's name is changed to protect the not-so-innocent. If a writer uses family and friends as inspiration for their characters, using a pen name keeps others from recognizing them. So if you know a writer, beware. It's a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of an angry author.

4. The author writes in different genres. Nora Roberts writes her futuristics as JD Robb. Jayne Ann Krentz writes historicals as Amanda Quick and paranormals as Jayne Castle. The name becomes a "brand." If you pick up a Quick novel, you know what type of story you're getting. Similarly, my Diana Groe books are Dark ages romance. Emily Bryan stories are light-hearted and my upcoming Mia Marlowe books will have a sparkle of magic.

5. The publisher requests a name change for marketing reasons. Publishing is a tough business. If an authors numbers don't continue to trend up, or hit a high enough level, the book buyers lose interest. A publisher may believe in the author's talent enough to publish them under another name.

6. The author wants to protect their privacy. I've never had a problem, but some of my writing friends have been stalked. Of course, a pen name isn't bullet-proof. There are ways to find the real person behind it, but it does require some additional work.

So have you considered having a pen name? Some writers choose to use their real name. Here's your chance to share why.

For Readers: If you were a writer, what pen name would you pick for yourself and why?


Ruth Hunter said...

I am not above using a pen name for just the reasons you posted. I also know some people use a pen name because if they used their own name it may embarrass their family. :)

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

I would seriously consider a pen name,
not to hide but to stand out. Common names can be, shall we say , forgettable.

Giggles and Guns

EmilyBryan said...

Ruth--Some people decide not to go with a pen name because they really want to see their real name on the cover.

When I was writing as Diana Groe (my real name) I used to put my books on the shelf in my office (I was a banker). One day, a new customer came in and exclaimed, "Oh, look! There's a writer with the same name as you and she gave you some of her books!"

I had no idea how to respond to that.

EmilyBryan said...

Mary--I agree. A fairly common name can make it hard for you to be found on Google too.

Another consideration is whether or not the name is too similar to an existing author's. I knew of one writer whose real last name was Hart but her publisher wouldn't let her use it because there were already several writing under that name.

Danielle Monsch said...

I found it fascinating that you posted this because it has been on my mind a lot lately... I'm actually in the middle of writing my own blog about it! Great minds and all that, right, Emily? :)

My name is Danielle Monsch, and any book I write will have that name and that name only on it. Anything else a publisher/editor/agent want to discuss, change, negotiate, etc., I am completely fine with. For me, the name is a dealbreaker.

You see, that is the name that everyone who has loved me, nurtured me, supported me, believed in me during times when the last thing I felt was belief in myself, this is the name I share with them. It's been a long haul for me, but even now, there is nothing but unwavering faith and support from them.

So, I made a promise. If I was ever blessed enough to be published, this would be the name I would have on my books. They supported me through the years of trials and tears and fear and uncertainty, so the least I can do is make sure they are able to share in some small part the final joyous triumph.

I do see there are valid reasons for name change, I don't disagree with that at all and find it to be a fine thing for authors to use that should they wish.

As for me, I'll look at the bright side of only having one name - spammers will have it a whole lot easier finding me ;)

Glynis Peters said...

I wanted to use my maiden name,(Honeycombe), but an author who is a relative, is using it.

My married name is short and flows with my christian name, so I decided to stick with that. I would consider use a pen name if needed. Nissi Anastasias is sitting on the sidelines, awaiting her turn. :)

It is funny, I can only think of you as Emily Bryan. :)

EmilyBryan said...

Danielle--I respect your decision to stick with your real legal name. (Though someone pointed out to me once that each time I signed a Diana Groe book, I was giving a stranger my legal signature.)

But there is a place in your book to thank those you have supported you. It's called the acknowledgement page and I have tried to make good use of it. My parents were especially happy with the quasi-dedication I gave them in A CHRISTMAS BALL. They were married on Christmas day and taught me by example what love for a lifetime looks like.

EmilyBryan said...

Glynis--You still might be able to use Honeycombe if the other writer is in a different genre.

A pen name is really odd. After a while you do start answering to it at writing conferences. My editor sometimes writes to me as Emily as well.

I have a friend who adopted not just a pen name, but a writer persona. When she went to conference she wore only black and white with flamboyant hats. It was as if she were a different person.

When I took a pen name, I was determined to still be myself online and in person.

Nynke said...

Hee hee, flamboyant hats... I guess this was her chance to stand out without being afraid of looking silly as herself and she took it :).

I can see the sense in pen names, especially after your discussion, Emily. Diana. Mia... It is strange, how I now think of you as Emily when it was unambiguously Diana a couple of years ago!

And I've always wanted to know how it was that a woman could be called George Sand; it makes so much sense that it was a pen name! Thanks for sharing that :).

Unknown said...

I have a pen name. Obviously, Saranna DeWylde sounds like a pen name. My husband said it sounded like a porn star's name, but I'm okay with that.

I chose my pen name when I was 12, my mother said I needed a name that fit the romance genre. I needed something sweeping and ethereal at the same time. I think I did okay.

I don't care if people as a general rule know who I am, but I was thankful for my pen name when I was working my day job at the prison. I can only imagine how hard work would have been for me if that had gotten out. I cringe to think of it...

Glynis Peters said...

I love the idea of a new persona, big hats etc. Diana would be your own style, obviously.Do you have different clothing styles for Emily and Mia?

I had considered still using my maiden name. I decided no, because I want people to buy my book, not one they think might be his.

What you say about giving away your legal signature is food for thought.