Musicians painters, sculptors do not opt for a different name. Why, then, do writers? That was the question I posted to some writer’s groups recently. I was curious about the pros and cons for adopting a pen name. With J.K. Rowling choosing to write her crime mystery series under a pen name (Robert Galbraith), I thought it time to pursue this question.
The responses I got to the question from writers of many genre surprised me. Here are the top ten reasons. Do any surprise you?
This was the top reason given for using a pen name. Many female writers feel as if their sex might discourage some people from reading their books (male buyers). Others think it best to have an androgynous name, opting to use initials rather than first names that suggest male or female. On the flip side some said initials are harder to do a Google search on and discouraged writers from writing under initials (like J.K. Rowling). Even though this was the top reason given for using a pen name, one respondent noted that the rationale is faulty. She said, “In 2013, women read books written by women 57.9% or the time and men read books written by men 61.9% of the time. The other 7 years listed on the site show similar rates. Read the files called SUMMARY: http://www.reviewsbytdev.com/Summary-Memorable-Best-Books-2013-DorothyL“
Some suggested that naming the writer is like naming a business. You want a brand that fits what you write. For example, one writer told me her name was Joy but she wrote dark fiction. Her name did not fit the image she wanted portrayed. “It is as important to create the right image for the market place as it is to create the right atmosphere for your novel,” one writer suggested.
They said this in different ways. For example, writers who write erotica do not want to be associated with the graphic sex scenes they may create for their fiction. Others indicated they relish the privacy or anonymity the pen name allows. Still others indicated that they wrote controversial stories that might hurt them in the workplace or elsewhere in their every day lives. Several writers basically said this in different ways, “I use a pen name. because he and I are different people.” They see their writing persona as a totally different person.
- Practical reasons: 1) Their own name is too hard, some said. Others said their own name was too common. 2) They write under their maiden name because their married name may be “temporary.” 3) Their pen name is less forgettable. 4) They write as a husband and wife team and they combine the two names 5) The pen name results in a better Google search ranking than their own name. 6) Their own name is in use by someone else
Again, J.K. Rowling is the perfect example of this. She wrote young adult fantasy and made a fortune doing so. Choosing to move into the crime fiction genre, she decided on a pen name. The authors who chose to change their names due to a genre switch often want to attract new readers. People who never read science fiction, for example, might not purchase your historical romance if you’ve made a name writing sci-fi.
These are the top five reasons I learned why authors choose to use a pen name. If you chose to use a pen name, tell us more about why you did. If you chose not to use a pen name, why not?
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