Some authors like to use pen names when writing books, especially fiction. Below is a Q&A email I answered for an author who wanted to use a pen name — and had a lot of questions on how to use a pen name successfully.
I have just finished writing a novel and will be publishing it myself under a pen name. I chose to go the pen name route for reasons of privacy and also for marketing reasons (so people don’t get confused if I ever write other genres like theology, children’s books or if my first book bombs and I want to start over).
I will be publishing under the name of Pen Name. I will be myself, Real Name, as the publisher of My Publishing Company. Having a pen name is relatively easy if I just sit at home and don’t go out. But since you advocate that authors interview and speak and sign books, I can’t see using a pen name working. Do I just give up on it and write under my real name?
Here are my questions:
Question: How do introduce myself to my audience, radio talk show hosts, conference attendees? “Hi, I’m Mike.” “Hi, I’m Lee” or “Hi I’m Mike, but that’s not my real name.”
Answer: If you have a pen name, you publicize and speak using that pen name. And only your pen name.
Question: Will I violate a trust with my audience or reviewers if I keep my identity a secret?
Answer: You violate no trust by keeping your true identity a secret. Your cover can state that you are using a pen name, but you don’t have to provide your real name if you don’t want to.
Question: If I tell a interviewer my real name is Lee, will they agree to refer to me as Mike during the interview?
Answer: Don’t tell anyone your real name. Focus on being and promoting your pen name. Don’t confuse them by giving them two names. It only causes confusion.
Question: If I go on TV or speak in public, how should I handle it if someone recognizes me?
Answer: If someone recognizes you, simply tell them you write and promote under your pen name. Keep it simple. Never complicate things. Tell the truth, and keep it simple.
Question: What other reasons have authors employed pen names for?
Answer: Some writers have employed pen names because they write in two genres and want to keep the two separate. For example, Agatha Christie writing romance novels as Mary Westmacott.
Others use pen names because they are so productive that a publisher would never publish all their books under one name. For example, Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb and Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.
Some want to publish without hype or expectation. Thus J.K. Rowling wrote as Robert Galbraith.
Back in the 1950s, several women wrote using a male pen name because their field (science fiction) was dominated by men; for example, Alice Sheldon writing as James Tiptree, Jr. Even more recently, Joanne Rowling was convinced to publish as J.K. Rowling to appeal to the young boys who read fantasy.
Similarly, several men have written romance novels using a female pen name. For example, Tom E. Huff wrote as Jennifer Wilde and Harold Lowry wrote as the gender neutral Leigh Greenwood.
In the early 1800s, women used male names to get more respect. The Brontë sisters all wrote as men with the last name of Bell. Amandine Lucie Aurore Dupin wrote as George Sand. Mary Anne Evans wrote as George Eliot.
You can find more reasons authors use pen names in a previous article I wrote: http://askjohnkremer.com/pen-names-when-to-use-them-when-not-to-use-them.
The above link takes you to a really extensive article that you should also read if you are deciding on whether or not to use a pen name.
Question: Do you have any anecdotes from other authors who had these problems?
Answer: They are not problems, so I have no anecdotes. Using a pen name really is not a problem.
Question: Can you give me the names of any other authors who might have some advice for me?
Answer: Don’t worry about a pen name. You are way over concerned. Simply write and promote under the pen name and don’t make a big deal about it. You don’t need to talk to any other authors about this. Remember: Mark Twain did incredibly well using a pen name.
You are in good company. Here are just a few famous authors who used pen names:
Stephen King – Richard Bachman
Charles Dickens – Boz
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – Lewis Carroll
Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski – Joseph Conrad
Karen Blixen – Isak Dinesen
Benjamin Franklin – Silence Dogood
Mary Anne Evans – George Eliot
Cecil Smith – C.S. Forester
Isaac Asimov – Paul French
J.K. Rowling – Robert Galbraith
Harold Lowry – Leigh Greenwood
C.S. Lewis – Clive Hamilton
William Sydney Porter – O. Henry
James Alfred Wight – James Herriot
James Oliver Rigney, Jr. – Robert Jordan
Washington Irving – Diedrich Knickerbocker
Michael Crichton – John Lange, Jeffrey Hudson, Michael Douglas
Stanley Martin Lieber – Stan Lee
Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto – Pablo Neruda
Eric Blair – George Orwell
Alisa Rosenbaum – Ayn Rand
Howard Allen O’Brien – Anne Rice, Anne Rampling, A.N. Roquelaure
Amandine Lucie Aurore Dupin – George Sand
Theodore Seuss Geisel – Dr. Seuss
Daniel Handler – Lemony Snicket
Alice Sheldon – James Tiptree, Jr.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens – Mark Twain
François-Marie Arouet – Voltaire
Charles Farrar Browne – Artemus Ward
Agatha Christie – Mary Westmacott
Tom E. Huff – Jennifer Wilde
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