Daniel Handler wrote a book series called ‘A Series Of Unfortunate Events’ the last of which is set to publish October of this year. He…What’s that you say Daniel Handler didn’t write those books but a guy named Lemony Snicket did? Of course Daniel Handler published that book. You see Lemony Snicket is Daniel Handler’s pen name.
Pen names have been used by authors for as long as the art of storytelling has been around. The list of reasons to do so go on for miles. Women writers such as JK Rowling and Mary Ann Cross used masculine pseudonyms to neutralize the sexism associated with their genre of writing. Political writers wrote their diatribes under witty monikers to avoid persecution and sometimes assassination. Although erotica is moving up from the slums of poorly lit adult toy stores to the posh book shelves of Borders and Waldenbooks, the general public is still slow to accept those who ‘peddle flesh stories’. For the erotica writer, the pen name is the author’s shield against public censure and discrimination.
Avoiding sexism and ostracism aren’t the only reason to use a pen name. Some authors write in multiple genres and do not want to confused their readers especially if the genres are polar opposites. They don’t want a reader to pick up that gruesome murder mystery thinking it’s one of those cute cuddly children’s books they’re known for. On the same vein, some publishing houses do not allow their authors to publish more than one to two books per year. The fear is that the books will compete against each other for the consumer dollar in the marketplace. With a pen name, prolific writers can get all of their works out there.
Issues with the author’s given name is another common reason to use a pseudonym. Let’s face it, C. S. Forester sounds a lot cooler than Cecil Louis Troughton Smith. Then of course there are the Szylewskis of the world that challenge the reader’s linguistic skills whenever they recommend the author’s work. And who would want to go into posterity being known as ‘that other Dean Koontz’? Believe it or not many people have the misfortune of having the same name as a celebrity. Despite the neato factor, this can work against a new writer in the industry.
Some use a pen name as a political move to avoid the various –isms still prevalent today. Writers whose ethnic origins differ from the mainstream will sometimes use a name like that of the prevalent culture to get away from that society’s prejudices towards them.
As with all things in life there are a few drawbacks to using a pen name with the number one issue being discovery. For years, Stephen King denied writing under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman , going so far as to produce a bio and picture for the imaginary author. In the end he was outed by a determined fan who, recognizing his style of writing, found a copyright record with his name as the real author of the works. Because a good portion of the general public equates erotica with triple x *** , for authors of this genre being unmasked could be devastating particularly if one has gone on to publish works in other genres.
Some writers let their imagination run wild and, like King, create an actual life for their pseudonym that is completely different from their own. The danger in this is not only loss of reader trust if it were ever discovered but also the potential of the “character" to eclipse the writer’s real life or, even worse, trap the writer behind the fame of a pen name they have come to hate. It’s like what happened to Sir Canon Doyle with Sherlock Holmes. Doyle, tired of writing the series, killed off Sherlock Holmes but his readers raised such an uproar that he was forced to resurrect the detective.
Finally, convincing others that you wrote the book in question could be an immense pain. It’s not your name and in a society where trust is dwindling faster than loose change in a hole infested pocket, your claims may be met with suspicious and disbelieving looks.
So after weighing the pros and cons of having a pen name, you still want one eh? Well, don’t just pull one out of your bottom and start using it. There are steps, ya know, rules to choosing a pen name.
1. Pick a human name. First of all, life is not a Marvel comic book and a pen name like Dreama Wyrds is only cool if you wear a cape and fight crime with block letters. You want to be unique not grandiose. Choose a name that sounds “normal" and fits your personality. 2. Choose a marketable name. Make sure it is easy to spell, pronounce and sounds good. Kimberly Lee sounds awkward because the two “-ly" sounds are too close together. However, Kimberly Mason has a nice cadence to it and it rolls easily off the tongue.
**I’ve seen recommendations that one choose a name in the A-M range of the alphabet. The idea is that when your books are stocked in bookstores, it will be placed on the upper shelves of the bookcases, at the browser’s eye level. It works for groceries in the supermarket so I’m sure there is some truth to the advice. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to choose a unique pen name in the latter half. If you have a good product to sell, buyers will come looking for you.
3. Avoid choosing a common last name such as Jones, Smith and Lee. With bookstores going in the direction of being one stop megastores, you would get lost amongst the sea of all other works by artists with the same last name. A good way to check this is to do a search on Amazon and see how many authors are displayed.
4. If you wish to avoid unpleasant sexism or racism, choose a name that is gender neutral and reflects the dominant culture. Sad as it is, some people still choose books based solely on their covers and not the story inside.
5. Google the name, all versions and spellings, to see if it is being used and by whom. While names cannot be copyrighted, they can be trademarked. Doing a search will help make sure you are not treading on someone else’s turf and that you are not unwittingly associating yourself with a serial killer.
At best, a pseudonym can provide only superficial protection as you still have to give your real name to your publisher. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and there are stories of writers being outed accidentally by their publisher. If you desire further protection you can register your pen name as a business and even incorporate it which will provide a thicker shield. Consult an attorney and an accountant for appropriate legal and tax advice concerning this. Whatever you do be sure you love the name you ultimately choose because, like your given name, you will have to live with it for a very long time.
Indigo Black is the founder of The Towne of Blogilepsy , the community for bloggers where they learn the fine art of caring for a blog and connect with like minded adults. She also the administrator of SmutWriter , the place for erotica authors to go to share, and find markets for, their work.
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