Monday, February 6, 2012

To Pseudonym Or Not To Pseudonym

New writers often spend countless hours questioning whether or not to use a pseudonym. The real answer? It depends.

When I first started writing in nineteen-mumble, mumble, I followed the advice of the legendary Marion Zimmer Bradley. Ms. Bradley espoused that a writer should be proud enough of his/her writing to put their own name on the piece.

For the most part, her words ring with a certain truth. But sometimes a pseudonym is necessary. Here are some reasons you might use a pseudonym:

1) If you trad-publish and your first book tanks, your agent or editor will strongly suggest a pseudonym because of the association of your name with poor sales. (No examples on this one because I think it's rude to embarrass someone publicly.)

2) You have a career that you don't want to give up. Some folks use a pseudonym to differentiate between the public personas. Paranormal erotica author Sunny happens to be a pediatrician.

3) You write a genre or in a style that would be frowned upon at best by those in your other career, your family or your ex-spouse. Writing erotica when you're a teacher can land you in an ocean of hot water. Ellora's Cave author Judy Mays is a prime example. (Though to be fair, one woman outed Judy out of spite after Judy had disciplined the woman's son for failing to turn in his homework. Turns out, pretty much the entire town knew about Judy's second job and supported her as one of the best teachers in the district.)

4) You may want to use different names for the different genres you write just so fans know to expect a different type of story. Christie Craig writes hot, humorous romantic suspense under her own name, but writes paranormal YA under the nome de plume of C.C. Hunter.

5) If you have a really unusual name that would detract from your writing, you might want to use a pseudonym. How seriously would you take a book written by Ima Hogg? (Yes, she was a real person. In fact, she was a very prominent citizen in Houston's history.)

6) On the other hand, if your legal name is Stephen King, you might want to use a pseudonym to separate yourself from that other Stephen guy who writes those weird horror books.

7) Then there's Dean Wesley Smith's suggestion that if you're uncomfortable about whether a book will sell, put it out under a pseudonym and see what happens.

One question I hear a lot is whether you need to register a pseudonym. NO, YOU DON'T!. Your publisher or retailer may need your real name and information in order to process 1099's at the end of the year. Other than that, no one has to know your pseudonym unless you tell them.

Would I write under a pseudonym? I already do in another genre for a couple of the reasons I listed above. People can find out my pseudonym if they really search, so it's not like it's a national security breach.

But which ever way you go, your real name or a fake name, make sure you wrote a good story first.


  1. I have a pen name, but only because I felt Grillo didn't bring to the table the same thing St. John is my husband's name...and he's my saint! But all my friends and family know about my writing and my pen name. It's not a secret.

    I did not know you had a pen name!!!

  2. @Tess-when your first or last name doesn't have quite the ring you want, then yes, it's a good idea to come up with something different.

    And nothing personal, but only three people know my pseudonym.

  3. I didn't take it personal, dear...I was just trying to prove that they work! LOL.