Let’s Talk Pen Names


I recently got an email from a lovely Genuine Writer subscriber who had a question about pen names, making me realize something.

I don’t think Innovative Editing has ever touched on the subject before. At least not at length.

I know it’s something many writers wonder about, if not stress about. So let’s try to alleviate that to some degree.

If you’re thinking about using a pen name, it’s probably for either marketability or privacy issues.

Perhaps you want to keep your real name out of the picture because the non-fiction subject matter you write about involves people your social circles know, which could cause interpersonal issues you’d rather not deal with.

Considering the personal stories out there, that’s a completely legitimate problem to ponder.

Flip it around to the fiction side of things then, and you might have the opposite problem, where you’re putting yourself at professional risk.

For instance, what if you’re a surgeon who’s writing thrillers? Is that going to make your patients even more edgy before their operations? Are they going to trust you less to treat them like people when you hack characters up for fun in your spare time?

Even an actively practicing lawyer might not look good if it comes out that he’s writing legal dramas. After all, legal dramas are fiction. They’re made-up. So what does the fact that he’s so good at making up stories say about his fact-based career?

Really, it doesn’t have to say anything, of course. But people can, have and will read into such creative proclivities nonetheless.

As for marketability, there’s a whole entire psychology surrounding what names sell well in what genres. Thriller and mystery readers tend to lean toward male authors rather than female, for instance. As such, many female authors pick out masculine-sounding pen names.

Oftentimes, this is simply by using their initials.

Some people also consider their names to be too boring, too awkward or too common to sound attractive. For example, I’m sure there are more James Pattersons out there than just the famous author. And chances are that some fraction of those other James Pattersons dream about being published authors.

In which case, a pen name might be the best solution for them.

Regardless of your exact rational for seeking a pen name, you’ll want to consider two factors before you brand yourself with one:

  • Marketability

  • Comfortability.

Yup, marketability comes into play no matter which way you look at it. It’s not that you have to choose something that’s going to sound appealing to readers. I certainly didn’t in choosing to publish political thrillers under my real name. "Jeannette" is about as feminine as they come.

But I still did consider the fact that I might lose readers that way. It’s just that I decided my personal preference was more important in the end. I went with comfortability.

To me, it’s less of a hassle to go the real-name route. Plus, I love my real name and have no reason – or at least very little reason – to worry about the material I publish from a professional or personal perspective.

But that’s me and my rationale. When it comes to your own authorial journey, you’re going to have your own personal and professional factors to consider.

So consider them carefully. Then own whatever real name or pen name you choose.

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