Let’s kick off this post with a fun game! I’ve listed 5 well known authors below and you have to name a book that they’re famous for. Easy right? PSYCH. There’s a twist. The authors are listed using their birth names, not the names that you’d find on the cover of their books. These authors have chosen to use Pen Names. A pen name is an assumed name that a writer uses in place of their real name, and there are a variety of reasons a writer may decide to publish using an alias. I will get into all that fun stuff shortly, for now take a look at the names below and guess the pen name/book they’ve written. I promise these aren’t obscure authors, in fact, they are among the best. Here you go:
1) François-Marie Arouet
2) Eric Arthur Blair
3) Theodore Seuss Geisel
4) Mary Anne Evans
5) Samuel Langhorne Clemens
How do you think you did?! I’ve listed the answers at the end of the post so you can check to see how smart you are.
That is the question.
The choice of using a pseudonym is entirely in the hands of an author. There are a slew of different reasons why an author might choose to use a pen name. Here are 8 reasons why a writer might take on an author alter ego.
1) To avoid being pigeonholed. A pen name can give an author the freedom to write across different genres without readers judging the book by the name on its cover.
2) To avoid confusion among readers. Similar to above, a writer doesn’t want to confuse their fans by switching genres or reader demographics. Imagine if Nicholas Sparks decided he wanted to write a horror novel, and a sweet 13 year old girl expecting a YA romance picked up the book. She could be scarred for life! PSA: “Don’t traumatize kids! Use a pen name.”
3) Your name is unisex but your writing is not. Author JM Bartholomew decided to use her initials (JM) instead of her first name (Joe) for her first novel Three Fat Singletons. The novel attracts a female audience, and with a name like Joe her readers might take a look at the cover and think “what the heck does a man know about the life of three single women” and decide not to purchase a copy.
4) To be taken more seriously. In the 1800s, when oppression was a big issue, Mary Ann Evans wrote under a male pen name because women weren’t allowed to be openly expressive (#feminism). While gender equality has come a long way since then, there are still certain topics or genres that are taken more seriously when written by a specific sex or age demographic and a pen name is a good way to keep your anonymity.
5) Looking for a fresh slate. A writer may have published a novel that tanked. By using a pen name they can disassociate from their previous works and start fresh. Works in reverse, too (think J.K. Rowling).
6) Privacy. If you don’t want your personal life on display, a pen name is a good way to separate your professional life as an author from your life behind closed doors.
7) You have a job outside of writing. ‘Nuff said.
8) Your real name is hard to pronounce or too commonplace. You want readers to talk about you easily and often, and having a name they can use in casual conversation is definitely helpful. On the flip side, you don’t want a name that is so popular someone will have to sift through multiple authors to find your works.
If you fall into one of these categories, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your name, curse your parents for giving it to you, and start anew. The choice of using a pen name lies 100% in your hands as a writer.
Since we started on such an exciting note, let’s end on one as well. Here are some fun facts you might find interesting.
Did you know…
J.K. Rowling published an ex-military mystery novel entitled The Cuckoo’s Calling.
She published under the name Robert Galbraith and said that the process was liberating. “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name.”
Did you know…
Benjamin Franklin tried and failed on several occasions to have his letters published in The New-England Courant. At the age of 16 he decided to take a different approach and wrote to the newspaper as a middle-aged widow named Mrs. Silence Dogood. It worked! As Mrs. Dogood, Benjamin Franklin got 14 of his letters printed in the Courant.
1) François-Marie Arouet….Voltaire (Candide)
2) Eric Arthur Blair….George Orwell (1984)
3) Theodore Seuss Geisel….Dr. Seuss (Green Eggs & Ham)
4) Mary Anne Evans….George Eliot (The Mill on the Floss)
5) Samuel Langhorne Clemens….Mark Twain (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
So why are you considering a Pen Name?
1) To avoid being pigeonholed
2) To avoid confusion among readers
3) Your name is unisex but your writing is not
4) To be taken more seriously
5)Looking for a fresh slate
7) You have a job outside of writing
8) Your real name is hard to pronounce or too commonplace