I ran across this post over on the Smashwords blog this week and it was quite disturbing. It also made me thank the friggin’ stars I don't use a pseudonym. No one can sue me for using my legal identity, even if it is my maiden name.
There are a lot of different reasons for writing under a pen name:
- Your real name sucks ass and has no poetry to it.
- You're like Batman: you work a day job, and due to circumstances beyond your control, you must keep the superhero writer side of your life separate.
- You just feel like keeping your writing life separate from your work-a-day life because it's just easier to organize a life when you compartmentalize things.
- You publish in several different genres and you don't want to confuse your fan bases. (See cover pic)
- You publish in several different genres and you don't want to piss off your fan bases. (Again, see cover pic)
- You write controversial stuff like erotica and such and you don't want crazy sex stalkers or homicidal nut jobs lining the sidewalk across the street from your residence.
- You are addicted to snark and can't help yourself online, but you don't want to become the victim of some personal vendetta simply because you bashed someone venomously on some blog or in an Amazon review.
- You are deep in the middle of a very real identity crisis and your therapist has advised you that you must choose a primary personality to act on your behalf in the “real” world.
- You just don't think your name is hip enough to write that urban paranormal fantasy novella.
- You are a self-published author and you are trying to hide that from the world.
Now I am sure there are many more reasons than just the 10 I listed here, and many writers have multiple reasons for using a pen name, and some writers have multiple pen names, which is fine, as long as you are not trying to hide something; because you know what, you can't hide. Having worked in banking for a decade, I can safely say that a skip trace is not all that hard or expensive to do. Something somewhere ties you to your pen name, and if somebody really wants to find out who you are, they will. Not to mention that lying about self-publishing or the genre you write in, especially in today's publishing climate, is just ridiculous anyway. Eventually you might have to sign some sort of legal contract and your real name will come out. Pen names can also present legal problems such as the one Mark Coker mentioned on the Smashwords blog, so my advice to new authors thinking about using a pen name for whatever reason is this: Make sure your reason is valid and make sure you have researched that pen name to be sure it won't come back and bite you in the ass later like it did for that Smashwords author.
As for me, my reasons for choosing a pen name were 1, 3, and 8. However, mine is not a pen name by the actual definition of the word, according to my birth certificate, anyway. As for pen name cardinal sins, there are only a few, but the biggie is: If you know an author's real name, do not ever divulge it to the world. Respect the pen name and respect the privacy of the author.
I hope things turn out ok for that erotica author, but a little research would have gone a long way in preventing that scenario in the first place.
On a side note: I wonder if women use pen names more than men. Anyone want to weigh in on that?
Cheryl Anne Gardner