Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Friday, April 1, 2011

The Benefits and Perils of Using a Penname



Ever thought about using a penname? Say you’re writing early chapter books and you also wrote a racy adult potboiler. You don’t want those third grade nippers googling you and reading about your loose ladies who work the graveyard shift at a sleazy nightclub. Say your cursed with the last name Meany (Real name!) or Pugh. Or suppose your name already has an infamous double, say Michael Jackson or R. Nixon.

Maybe you just love the mystique—the idea that you could be known as Alexandra Sahara for your erotica and also as Xander Smart for your boys' middle-grade fantasy series. Consider Benjamin Franklin. He was so into pseudonyms that he made up entire personas to go along with them. Many were comical, such as Silence Dogood, Harry Meanwell, Alice Addertongue and Timothy Turnstone.

He also used a pseudonym for more serious business. While in England, Franklin penned letters under the name of Benevolus. These letters to various newspapers attempted to answer the nefarious assertions made by the British press about the American colonists.

The popular author of the Animorphs series for kids, K. A. Applegate writes many books under pen names. For her Harlequin romances, she used the name Katherine Kendall. For her Disney Aladdin series she’s known as A. R. Plumb. Sometimes publishers themselves use pen names in their work for hire projects. For instance, Carolyn Keene, so-called author of the original Nancy Drew series, didn't even exist!

If you’re worrying about whether you need to use your penname to sign your contract, stop fretting. You would sign it using your real name, and then state that you are (real name) writing as (penname). Your public appearances could be a little sticky though. In that case, best to stick to phone interviews and blog tours or wear dark glasses and a wig in your Skype author chats.

But let’s get real. There are drawbacks to publishing under a penname. If your fans are looking eagerly for your next novel, or other back titles they won’t see your whole output, because you’ll need separate websites to support all of your personalities. You can’t really show off your true range because everything is so compartmentalized. And in ten years you may outgrow your penname, but you’re stuck with it. Your readers have come to know you only by that name. Think of it as being stuck with a raunchy tattoo that you’d love to raze off your flesh, but it’s in a sensitive area. Ouch.
Still not convinced? Perhaps you should read Kristen Lamb’s great blog post about why pen names suck.

Have you ever considered using a penname? If so, why? Have you already used one? More than one? If so, tell us about your experience with that! What would your fantasy pseudonym be, and for what genre of fiction?

21 comments:

  1. Since I write for children of all ages, I wondered if the two horror stories I wrote for adult anthologies would be an issue. In the end, I used my real name instead of going with a pen name. I figured since they were more scary than gory, and since they definitely weren't x-rated or anything like that, I'd stick to using my real name.

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  2. I have a half written romance, and if I get anywhere with it I'll probably use a pen name. Probably because I don't want to have to defend my sex scenes over sandwiches at family events.

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  3. Hey Catherine. I had read Kristen's blog the other day and it made me think twice. But I plan on releasing an eBook in a pen name as part of an anti-bullying campaign. I know I'm taking a chance, but it feels like the right thing to do. The story is not about me receiving credit for telling the story, but about others getting a message.
    So, in that sense, I'm not hesitant. Otherwise, it's all about the PK Hrezo name!
    ANy luck with ABNA? I didn't make the second cut, but got some great feedback.

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  4. Yes, Kelly, kids love horror stories anyway, just look at RL Stine.
    And Christine, that's a funny picnic table image. PK, makes sense to use a penname for your purpose.

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  5. I use one and I love it. It allows me to keep my writing life a bit separate from personal life. Also, gives me freedom to be represented in various genres.

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  6. LM, who knew?! Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I've thought about this before. Stephen King was so nervous when he wrote a romance novel, he chose a pen name. Yeah...eventually some nut fan hunted him down about it. Literally.

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  8. Literally hunted him, huh? With a bow and arrow or what? Yeah, I've heard that people love to try and figure out who the real writer is behind the penname. Nothing's totally private on the Net, but it does provide somewhat of a filter.

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  9. I think there are pros and cons to both, for sure. It's something I considered for a long time, but decided against. I just make it clear on my site that I write a wide range of fiction, and those who like certain genres can pick which things of mine that interest them most, I suppose. Then again, they might like it all, who knows!

    I think the biggest drawback to a pen name is that it would be hard for me to constantly keep it a secret. I have enough things to worry about as it is. :)

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  10. I have not used one but have seen where many people have talked about it. I don't really want one so I haven't even really thought about it much.

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  11. I am actually in this category! Yep, I wrote a fairly racy romance that's getting published. It's not a genre I ever envisioned getting published in, and I don't want it to haunt me later on when I'm still trying to get "serious" work published.

    And my family doesn't even know what my pen name is. And I will never tell them. I don't want my mother reading that! Because when I say racy, you know I mean trashy, right? And when I say trashy, you know I mean smutty?

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  12. Jen, that is really interesting! I wonder if you've built a platform--like a website--based on that avatar. It's so funny that you haven't even told your family what your pseudonym is.

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  13. Yes, I'm thinking of using a pen name, because two other writers are using mine. I wonder if they use a pen name. I'm cool with it, since I like my pen name better.

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  14. Hi Catherine! I have started to build a platform. I have a blog under my pen name, and I sort of get into character whenever I have to post... because my writing style is quite different for my pen name persona.

    I know there's no such thing as real privacy on the internet, and it will probably come out sooner or later. I just want it to be later, when I'm a bit more established as a writer. Also, I work in a very conservative field, and don't really want to have that discussion with my employer!

    My family and friends have been very cool about it, and, who knows, in a few years I might feel comfortable enough to let them in on the secret!

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  15. Jen, how fun it would be to blog in character. Keep us posted about how it's going for you!

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  16. I thought about using a pen name b/c I'm a shrink and it's important to separate my day job and writerly life. However, I've been using my real name on the interwebz, so the whole incognito thing is a bust anyway, LOL!

    Nice post!

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  17. LB, you made me laugh. Incognito, schmito, right? People love to play guessing games, and they'll suss you out one way or another.

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  18. I don't think I would use a pen name for many reasons. I do have a pen name for my fanfiction account, but that's a little different. I don't necessarily want people to know that I wrote some terrible Twilight fanfiction (ew). Glad I'm past that point. I actually used that book to kill a wasp earlier this week. Anyway, I would want to use my name, even if I got married. I would probably keep it as my maiden name. It would be simpler. :)

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  19. Hi Catherine, I have been asked this question before and have to agree with Jen. I am quite happy not telling my family about my writing for various reasons. I'd rather keep my writing, and the personas connected to my craft, to myself until I am established and thus confident enough to tell my family and friends.
    Also, I write YA, and fantasy, and historicals too. Been told its better to keep the genres separate but again thats not the real reason I use my pseudonym.
    Great post by the way...
    regards Tee

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  20. I started out with a pen name and now it's more my name than my real one. Took some getting used to, but I did and I think it works.

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  21. What cool information. I had no idea! I guess I've never considered pennames. They definitely made sense back when women writers didn't receive any respect. I think the only reason I could see using them today would be for erotic fiction.

    Great post!

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