Should you use a pseudonym?
When it’s time to get your cover finalized, put your name on the inside material, and schedule your publication date, many writers will pause and ask whether they should switch out their real name for a pseudonym (or pen name).
One or more of these questions might have flickered through your mind:
- Do I want people to know who I am if I get famous
- Do I want the privacy a pseudonym provides
- Do I want to have to explain to people why my name isn’t on the book
- Will people I know be affected if they know I wrote about them
- Do I write in multiple genres
- Do I want my name on my favorite genre
- Do I want to reduce the possibility of being stereotyped when people read my name
- Do I hate my name
- Do I want it to reflect my “aura” or my writing
- Will people respect me because of my name
There are so many more questions, but you might be able to relate to one or more of these. The thing is, answering all these questions will help you confirm whether you should use a pseudonym, and we’ll cover a few pros and cons of each.
If you get famous
This isn’t a silly thing to think about. What if you get famous? If you get famous, you’re not likely to be able to hide your real name. It’ll be everywhere. But, it’ll help separate your writing name from your personal one a little. But, famous people typically have a face with their name, so if you don’t want to be famous, don’t try to publish with larger publishing houses, and slow down on your marketing if it looks like it’s going to pick up momentum.
There’s a level of privacy you can obtain before that point, though. That leads us to the next one.
If you just want some privacy
If fame isn’t on your mind, privacy is a lot easier to obtain. It’s easy to hide behind a name when your face isn’t everywhere, and it will make living a normal life, working a normal job, and doing normal things easier for you. If you’re just trying to hide behind a name, how come? Why would you want to? I ask because while this might seem like a good idea, you don’t want to do it for the wrong reasons. If you’re writing about a big issue, for example, hiding behind a pseudonym is similar to saying you won’t stand up for the issue you’re writing about. Now, this isn’t a blanket statement, but if you’re fearing feedback, don’t let that be the reason you use a pseudonym. Have faith in your beliefs and stand up for them. But, keep yourself safe, too.
Does your job conflict with your writing
This is where things are easier to explain. If your job conflicts with the topics you write about, a pseudonym will help you retain that sense of anonymity without attaching yourself to what you’re writing.
It’s as if you don’t exist in relation to your book. Some people want that, and a pseudonym detaches you from your book entirely.
Privacy for the real-world characters
Some of you might have harsh or serious content in your book that relates to real-world situations—one you might have experienced. If your book’s characters are based on true events, and you fear what might happen if they knew they were in the book or if others knew these events have happened to you, you’re probably considering a pseudonym.
There are other ways
Part of keeping people safe in their personal lives involves changing names in a story. Another part of it involves changing your own name on the cover. Of course, any social media accounts and such have to operate under the same pseudonym. Think about it, though. If you’re trying to prevent people from knowing they’re in a book, you’re more likely to get in trouble legally no matter the case. Consider realistic fiction or changing everyone’s names in the book, even your own, and detaching yourself from it completely. If it’s a story that has to be shared, though, you need to take legal things more seriously. Simply using a pseudonym will not keep you from getting in trouble.
This does not protect you from libel or defamation
If you don’t have permission from the people you write about or you haven’t done what you can to prevent them from being obvious identifiers, changing your name will not protect you from legal action.
Take measures to keep them from being identified first if they don’t want to be identified. You don’t want anyone to be able to link this back to them. It might also make sense for you to use a pseudonym.
If you are sharing such a story, it’s likely in an effort to get it out to those who are suffering in a similar situation. You can share the book in many communities with people who need help, and using your pseudonym will keep you in the dark while also giving you the flexibility of an author.
Speaking at events might be an issue though.
If you write in different genres
I’d like to think this is the most common reason people use pseudonyms, and it’s a good reason (not that the others aren’t). For example, an author friend of mine writes children’s books under Michelle-Williams King, but her other works are under M.W. King. This is a simple difference, but it’s not meant to make a reader wonder who she could possibly be. It’s to separate one genre from the other. If I want to read a fantasy, I’m not looking for Michelle-Williams King.
You can make the names totally different, but you don’t need to. Now, the pros here are obvious: you aren’t throwing off your audience.
The cons depend on how much you limit yourself. You might have multiple profiles to keep up with on social media, which isn’t necessarily fun. You’ll also have to play the explain game, which is almost never fun unless you actually enjoy that. But, in the end, this is something that’s best for your readers. You don’t mislead them. Your name is your brand, and your genre is part of that brand. If readers expect one thing from you, your name is part of that. A pseudonym helps reduce confusion and give you frustrated readers.
Genre writer stereotypes
This is where things get political. Don’t shoot the messenger. First of all, I’m a woman, so I suffer the stereotype I’m going to discuss. So, no shooting the messenger. I hate politics, but this is a necessary topic to bring up.
There are tons, and I mean many, people who judge a book by its author. Not by their past works but by their name. The most common stereotype I’ve heard of, and known, is a judgment of a writer’s gender. I don’t know why—and no I seriously don’t care to research it—but some groups of readers don’t want to read a book written by women. (Right?) That’s one reason you see a lot of names that aren’t spelled out. This isn’t the reason for all of them, but it’s a good reason some do it.
If you’re a public figure, your name might already be a brand so you don’t want to do this. Stay strong! But, if you’re considering a pseudonym for this reason, think about your genre first. Society has done a lot of growing in recent years, so if you’re tackling a genre that isn’t necessarily overrun by male writers, you might want to just take a chance. Chances are it won’t hurt your sales enough to matter. If you’re a great writer, you’ll get great sales. You just have to market it well.
If you’re asking me directly, I’m going to say take a chance anyway. I won’t be ignorant, however, and I’ll tell you that if you are seriously considering a pseudonym, at least look at how other female authors are doing in the same genre. You’ll likely be surprised, and this fear of rejection will die down a little. If not, something as simple as using your initials might work.
Personal feelings toward your real name
I’m not going to get into a speech about how you should grow to like your name. I could because I grew up hating every little thing about mine, but that’s not why we’re here. Another reason I won’t go into that is because some people truly have cringe-worthy names, and it’s hard to argue it away.
If you don’t like your name, first consider what you’re writing. If you had a name in mind, throw it in and take it as your own. If you’re going to write in multiple genres, it might work better for you to choose a pseudonym to fit each genre. And, that leads us to the final answer from that list of questions.
Reflection of your aura/book genre
If you have a name like Draco Devlin, your name on a romance novel might be a bit odd to you, and you might think it doesn’t fit your genre. Some might enjoy irony (like Harry Valentine on a horror novel), but some authors like having a name that fits the book they’re writing.
If this is the case, you can change your name of course, but keep in mind that you’ll have the same downfalls here. Your name won’t be on the book, you’ll have to explain yourself to people who ask, and your name won’t be your brand. However, if you want to use a pseudonym to fit your style or the genre of your book, go for it.
Quick note though: Don’t think this name will encourage people to pick up your book because your name sounds cool. Leave that up to your writing.
No matter what reason you have for using a pseudonym, don’t be discouraged because of what other people say, if people say anything (because I’m totally sure me saying why and why not helps that one). Just keep in mind that if you use one, you’ll face the same challenges as others, and a lot of that has to do with marketing.
Your name will not be your brand; you will have to explain to others who you are if it comes up in discussion; if you change your mind, that will be a hard re-branding game; you’ll have to create separate social media accounts and give life to this new name, especially if you want to eradicate connections to your own; and you will be stuck with it.
Keep it professional
No matter what you change your name to, a goofy name will be noted as unprofessional and will not be held in high esteem by publishers, agents, editors, critics, etc. Readers might also hesitate to pick up your book. I can’t say I’d want to look at a book written by Butterfly Beaubottom. Most people might not care, but think seriously about this.
You’ll have to explain yourself
When you decide to tell people about your book, you will be obligated to explain that you have a pseudonym. Expect people to ask you why, and try not to let this frustrate you. Many people wouldn’t be able to imagine why you wouldn’t want your name on a book cover, so they’re going to ask. Just remember that. I said it about three times, but remember it.
Keep yourself safe legally
This means look up copyright laws. You want to use a pseudonym? Make sure you can use it legally to bind it with your name. I’m not going to get into that here, especially because copyright rules change. Look it up.
Trust your gut
In the end, it’s your choice. But, it’s wise to avoid hiding behind a name for the sake of hiding behind a name. It’s like a tattoo; it’s hard to get rid of.
Do you have any reasons why people should, would, or shouldn’t use a pseudonym? This is a broad topic, so I would have to spend a lot of time and words covering it all. Do you use a pseudonym?
Write for yourself, but edit for your reader.