On Pen Names

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 12.15.43 PMWriters often ponder over the decision of writing under their real name or adopt a pseudonym or pen name. Personally, I went through this process when I published my second book, Antonio’s Will, a historical novel. My first book was non-fiction, Does Your Compass Work? Practical Legal Guide for Florida Businesses.

I considered various factors to make my personal decision. The first one was the transition from non-fiction to fiction. The second one was that my name was not only long, but also multicultural, and this could affect my readership.

There are many other factors writers may consider. Novice authors may be worried that if the book flops, this would taint their reputation and potentially jeopardize the success for future books. Some authors would adopt an open pseudonym when trying a different genre, such as J.K. Rawling did when writing as Robert Galbraith. Some authors have gone the pen-name route after successfully publishing under their real name, to test whether “they still got it” in the challenging publishing industry. Stephen King did this when anonymously publishing under the Richard Bachman pseudonym. Other authors have no choice but to write under a pen name, because their real name “is already taken” by someone who has published before them, and they do not wish to cause confusion. And others just want to free their creative juices and feel they can only do this under a pen name.

There are countless reasons to justify using a pen name. But at the end of the day, the decision is highly personal. I chose to keep my real name, at least for the time being. Here are my top three personal reasons why.

  • My books contain a common element and highlight my capabilities in my field. I performed a great amount of legal research in order to write my first novel. As an attorney, it just made sense for me to keep my name, as the novel showcases my capabilities in my field. My future works for the next couple of years will also include legal content. From this perspective, it only makes sense to keep my name.
  • I don’t want the hassle of added legal/operational logistics. The author using a pen name will need to be careful to ensure that the copyright of the work can be traced back to their legal name. When registering a copyright, the U.S. Copyright Office provides for linking a pen name with the real author’s name. In addition, some authors do not mind that the world knows their pen name, while others simply want to keep this fact guarded. There are options upon copyright registration to allow an author to link his or her name to the pen name and also to keep this anonymous, if desired. This just takes some extra steps. Additionally, when selling or collecting royalties for a work under a pen name, the author must make sure to establish continuity between their identity and  pen name with the bank account receiving the royalties, the distributor of their book, as well as others (e.g., agents, editors, proofreaders, etc.) Retaining total anonymity can become cumbersome, and the author may need to sign confidentiality agreements with business partners, beta readers, and consultants, for example.
  • I am OK with my Brand. My name is my brand. Long, multicultural or not. I decided that “if my work is good,” my real name should not affect sales. I am not naive to the power of branding, though, and I do understand that if I wish to target certain markets or other genres later on, this may have to change.

I remain open-minded regarding my use of a pen name in the future. If I want to start fresh or let my creativity soar in other genres, I may do it. And if and when I do, then the challenge will be: How to select the right pen name?

Helpful reading:

Should you use a pseudonym? Writing-World.com

Writing yourself a pen name, The Guardian

What’s in a Name? 5 Authors and Their Pseudonyms, Writer’s Circle

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Copyright © 2015 Yasmin Tirado-Chiodini. All Rights Reserved. This content is provided under a Creative Commons License.

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About tiradochiodini

I am a attorney, entrepreneur and author blogging about business, law, entrepreneurship, writing, books and other subjects.
This entry was posted in Business and Entrepreneurship, Writing and Publishing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On Pen Names

  1. lynettedavis says:

    When I think of pen names, I ultimately think of Maya Angelou (who was born Marguerite Johnson) the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I can’t be certain, but I believe at some point, she probably legally changed her name. I read some place that Cheryl Strayed did legally change her name as part of her transformation before she wrote Wild. What is the difference between using a pen name or a different name? In both instances, the reader does not know the writer is using a name other than what the author was born with.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, lynttedavis. I agree with you that a pen name can be quite useful. This is why I remain open to the idea. A brand can be powerful, and this is evidenced by the fact that you cannot imagine Maya Angelou by any other name. The same has happened to me with writers who after reading since childhood, I later found out were using a pen name. I could not fathom their names to be anything else but their pen name. The Chilean Nobel laureate, Pablo Neruda, for example. His given name was “Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto.” He also eventually changed his given name legally to his pen name. His inspiration for his pen name was a Czech writer by the name of Jan Neruda, who he greatly admired. You can, however, openly adopt a pen name, as I mention in my post, and not remain anonymous. In this case, your readers will know it’s you who is writing, but they will understand you are trying to write something different, perhaps. This is a practice by many authors who cross genres today.

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