Pseudonyms: 10 questions to ask before choosing a pseudonym

Pseudonyms abound in writing circles. What is in short supply is clear and insightful advice on how to choose the best pen name for a long-term career in novel writing.

Let’s have some fun. Take a look at the names of these genre fiction authors: Robin Hobb, Stephen King, Jack Higgins, Rebecca Brandewyne, Issac Asimov, Barbara Michaels, Alistair MacLean, Eboni Snoe…

Do they write novels under pseudonyms or not?

(Read on for the exciting answers to his pop quiz.)

One of the biggest decisions you will face as a newly hired author is whether or not to write under a pen name. Choosing a pseudonym, which is sometimes referred to as a pen name or pseudonym, will also be one of your biggest creative challenges. In fact, it’s much harder to name yourself than it is to name a character when you’re writing novels.

Whenever fiction writers ask me for advice on pen names, they usually ask:

a) Why do published authors choose to write under a pen name, and

b) How do genre fiction writers choose a “good” pseudonym?

The answers are not cut and dry. There are many reasons to write under a nickname. Some considerations are emotional (honoring a family member or mentor); some involve self-protection (preventing aggressive fans from following you); and some considerations are strictly professional (your real name is too complex for the average person to pronounce, spell, or remember).

Later in their novel writing careers, some authors choose to change the name they write under. There are a variety of reasons for this decision, including:

The author wants to write in multiple genres or subgenres of fiction, but doesn’t want to confuse their primary readers.

For example, bestselling novelist Nora Roberts (her real name) decided to try her hand at futuristic suspense. She chose to write the new genre under the pseudonym JD Robb.

The author wants to start over.

If an author’s return rate is 50% or more (after their third published novel), publishers will avoid buying that author’s future books. To overcome this “sales stigma”, an author might bury his name (or pen name) and give birth to a new pen name, hoping for a second chance with publishers and readers.

Choosing to write novels under a pen name is a very personal and often emotional matter. It is important to remember that the decision is, in essence, commercial. Before finalizing your choice, check with your agent and publisher, as well as your spouse.

Your advisors can help you make the best decision to write your novel only if you are clear about your long-term career goals. He must carefully consider how publicity (both positive and negative) will affect his life, his family’s life, and any other business he may have now or in the future.

Most importantly, you need to understand the far-reaching impact of advertising on your privacy, as well as your right to privacy under the law after you become a public figure.

Here are 10 questions to consider when deciding whether or not to write under a nickname:

1. How comfortable are you with your real name appearing on the internet, especially if your writing is being criticized in a blog post or book review?

2. Are you likely to attract more readers in your fiction genre if you write novels as a man or a woman?

3. Would your name be easier to remember, pronounce, or spell if it were more generic?

4. Is your real name so common that it could easily be confused with someone else’s name (for example, a highly publicized white-collar criminal or another author in your genre of fiction?)

5. Would you rather err on the side of caution, protecting your loved ones from your followers or any future career downfall you may suffer?

6. How comfortable are you with the idea that fans and detractors can find you in the phone book and show up at your home or workplace?

7. Is your favorite nickname easy to spell and remember?

8. Does your real name invoke a positive association with the genre of fiction you are writing? (For example, if her birth name is Cherry Clapp, she may face obstacles in the Romance genre.)

9. Are you planning to write multiple genres of fiction?

10. Where is your favorite nickname likely to be stored? (At the end of a bookstore’s shelves? Near the name of a best-selling author in his genre of fiction?)

Ok, I promised you some answers to the pseudonym mystery, “Do they or don’t they write under pseudonyms?” So here it goes:

robin hobb (his pen name) writes Epic Fantasy. She also writes as Megan Lindholm.

Stephen King (his real name) writes Horror. He also writes as Richard Bachman, Eleanor Druse, Steve King, and John Swithen.

jack higgins (his pseudonym) writes Mystery. He also writes as Martin Fallon, James Graham, and Hugh Marlowe.

rebecca brandewyne (her real name) writes Historical Romance.

Isaac Asimov (his real name) wrote Science Fiction. He also wrote as Paul French and George E. Dale.

Barbara Michaels (his pen name) writes gothic and supernatural thrillers. She also writes as Elizabeth Peters.

Alistair MacLean (his real name) writes Mystery. He also writes as Ian Stuart.

ebony snoe (his pen name) writes African American Romance.

For better or worse, his pen name will follow him throughout his career as a novel writer. He will become his trademark, characterizing his public image and the types of books he writes.

Like any decision, choosing a pseudonym has its pros and cons. It can offer you a layer of protection from the public and help you maintain a degree of privacy.

As you decide whether or not to write under a pseudonym, I encourage you to research the privacy rights that public figures are entitled to under the law.

That way, you’ll start your novel-writing career with your eyes wide open.

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