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Talking about pen names

According to Wikipedia, “A pen namenom de plume, or literary double, is a pseudonym adopted by an author. The author’s real name may be known to only the publisher, or may come to be common knowledge.”

I have several questions for any authors reading this blog post about the subject.

  • Why do authors use pen names? I am talking about completely different names – not just using your maiden name versus your married name.
  • How do you come up with your pen name?
  • When you have a completely different name for privacy reasons, do you tell any of your writer friends?
  • Do your writer friends that know your real name call you by your real name or pen name at conferences and in emails, etc?
  • Do you suffer from a personality complex when you have more than one pen name depending on the genres you write?
  • Is it hard to keep up the persona of a different name when you introduce yourself to people?
  • If you do it for privacy reasons, how do you let your friends, acquaintances and neighbors that know your real name know about a book being published?

I will admit that one of the reasons I like to read the acknowledgements in a book is to see if the authors refers to other authors with their real names versus their pen names. I also look at the copyright on a book to see if an author is using a pen name or real name. Why do I care? Because it is like putting a puzzle together. I am curious and I like to work on my detective skills in case any of those government agencies with three letter acronyms need my help uncovering a mystery or conspiracy. My husband says I am just nosy.  Maybe I am, but isn’t that what makes a good detective or spy? 🙂

I don’t really mind if authors use pen names, so once I find out that an author is using a pen name there aren’t any fireworks or “Aha” moments. Usually finding out an author uses a pen name leads me to wonder if I should address them with their real name or pen name. But then, my gut tells me to keep using their pen name. If they wanted me to address them with their real name, they would tell me, right?

So, any authors out there willing to chime in and answer any or all of my questions?

8 comments

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  1. Edie Ramer

    If I wrote erotica, I would use a pen name. Otherwise, I don’t see a need for it. But I’m proud of what I write, and I can’t see the reason I would hide it. There was a discussion on a large online writers group by authors who’ve used different names for different genres (which is another reason some authors use pen names). A few authors said they were sorry they didn’t use one name. It’s become much more common now for authors to write different genres under the same name.

    1. Amy

      Hi Edie – what reason would you want to use a pen name for erotic romance? Is it for family reasons? I know some do it to protect their kids that are still in school. The one I am thinking about didn’t want her writing to have any effect on her kids, so she was going to use a pen name for erotic romance for that reason. Are you thinking for a similar thing? Or do you just want to separate out the writing genres?

  2. Carmen DeSousa

    I use a pen name, in honor of my grandmother, as I wanted my Portuguese heritage to show.

    However, it’s not the only reason. Most of my family doesn’t know I write. Even my husband didn’t know until I received my first contract. I simply didn’t want him to worry that I would get my hopes up. I felt like Kathryn Stockett “The Help”. I’d sneak away to write, to check my email, to tweet… Yes…I had everything set up, even a website for a year before I was published, and the only one who knew was my youngest son, who cheered me on.

    I don’t write erotica, as you know, but I do deal with some very deep issues in my writing, and quite honestly, there are too many people in my family who would never be happy for my success, as sad as that sounds. I also don’t tell my friends and neighbors. I love my online friends, and I’m very close with many of them–and many do know my real identity because they are able to rejoice with me when I rejoice and weep with me when I weep. They understand me. In the end, I’m quite content that the ‘real’ people who are in my life don’t know. It’s just easier that way.

    1. Amy

      Wow, Carmen. I can’t believe your husband didn’t know that whole time. What did he think when you finally told him? Was he surprised? Shocked? I am sure he was extremely happy for you, in just the little bit I know about you, but still it would be a surprise to me! It is good you had your son there to help cheer you on. If your immediate family doesn’t support you that would be hard. Congrats on your success and a pen name seems to work for you. Now, I just have to figure out your real name….just kidding. 🙂

  3. Jeffe Kennedy (@jeffekennedy)

    I write erotica and I’m still proud! I write under my own name. I tried a pen name once and hated it. I kind of hate when my friends have them, too, because I have to keep their names straight. With my friends, I usually call them by their real names, except at conferences, where I have to remember to say their pen name. That’s usually what they ask me to do. Yes, it hurts my brains!

    1. Amy

      Jeffe, I can’t imagine you writing under a pen name. Maybe before I met you online but after talking to you I can’t imagine it. You just seem to be a no-nonsense type person. Not that pen names are nonsense, but there is more to deal with under a pen name, I guess. I would have a difficult time remembering to call my friends by their pen names if I knew them as their real names. 🙂

  4. Lisa

    My name is incredibly common. I entertained the idea of a pen name, couldn’t come up with anything I liked, and stuck with my name. There are times when I wished I had tried harder. It’s complicated finding a unique domain name. My twitter handle, lisah888, has three eights because multiple other combinations remotely close to my name were already been taken.

    I write in multiple genres. I’m still considering the possibility of needing a pen name. I think whether you change your name across those genres depends on what kind of barriers you’re crossing and potentially how you feel about that. I write scifi/fantasy. I have a couple drafts that feature late teen MC’s but one is decidedly not YA and not science fiction. It’s a rather deep departure for me. Separating this story, sure to have a few detractors, from the rest might be a good business decision. Readers develop a certain expectation from an author.

    Then again, it might make it harder to market. I’d be starting all over again. Maybe I shouldn’t market it all. Sell it through a traditional publishing house under a pen name if I can.

    Family was a concern I did give some thought to as well. I too have a family my dreams are out of step with. Keeping your worlds separate is a perfectly acceptable reason for a pen name.

    1. Amy

      Thanks for stopping by, Lisa! I hadn’t even though about your web page and twitter handle, etc. That makes a difference. I also wondered about marketing under different names. I watch an author recently start writing erotic romance under a pen name and marketing is hard. She can’t have a picture of herself anywhere because she wants to be more anonymous. However, she has been cross marketing so if you are a fan of her romantic suspense writing you know about her erotic romance. I don’t mind one way or the other – just find it interesting and would think it would be challenging.

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