Pen Names: When Real Names and Genres Clash
Updated: Sep 18, 2020
As we said on Tuesday, there are a variety of reasons why someone might want a pen name.
For example, you might like the idea of going all secretive. It’s fun to have an alter ego that you can let run wild.
There’s also the possibility that you need to be all secretive. You have a reputation to maintain, after all. A job to keep! And if people knew you were writing what you were writing?
Well, let’s just say you’d rather them not know.
Another very good pen name possibility is that you don’t like your actual name. Your parents, you see, were sadists and named you something like Shelly C. Shore. Or Ahmiracle.
Those ellipses, for the record, are part of some poor actual person’s name.
I’munique is pretty bad too. And Love-Child Ermengarde?
Again, one word comes to mind: sadists.
Completely apart from the topic of writing, if your parents named you any of those, I would consider 1) legally changing your name and 2) legally changing your parents.
Chances are very high that your parents aren’t sadists and therefore your name isn’t completely insane. Even so, they probably didn’t consult you about what genre you’d be writing in when they signed your birth certificate.
Which, let’s face it, was pretty rude of them.
There is, of course, the chance they gave you something perfect on accident: a happy twist of fate. But if not, you can always tell fate where to go and take matters into your own hands instead.
Consider whether you should have a pen name.
A cool pen name (or pseudonym or nom de plume) can’t guarantee you absolute authorial success. It can’t even guarantee you an extra dozen sales. There are so many other factors to consider in that regard. However, there is enough of a chance that it can be a boon that it’s worth taking into consideration.
Will a writer by any other name sound as sweet? It often comes down to three factors: 1) what said writer’s actual name is, 2) what genre he’s writing in, and 3) what pen name he’s considering. Like this...
We can’t go over every single combination, of course, but let’s touch on a few down below nonetheless.
If your real name is something like Tucker Blade, you’re probably fine in the thriller-writing category. That name’s going to look decent enough in big bold letters on your book’s front cover.
But let’s say it’s Milton Small. No offense to Milton, but he might want to go with Tucker Blade instead.
Another thought is to look up the biggest thriller authors out there. You shouldn’t copy their names of course. And actually, you might even want to go looking up whatever pen names you are considering before you go with one of them. Just to make sure they’re not already taken…
But you can take the first two or three letters of that author's last name and see if you can create something fitting. That way, if people go looking for him in a bookstore, your works are going to be sitting right next to his.
You can do the same thing if you’re writing a romance novel and your given name is Gertrude Praneet. Or if your genre of choice is literary fiction, but your name is Sally Eddlebopper.
For the record, Milton Smalls and Gertrude Praneets and Sally Eddleboppers can still sell books. They might have to work a bit harder to do so, but if they want to keep their given names… accept no substitutes.
With one possible exception, which we’ll discuss on Friday.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on pen names here.