Thursday, August 05, 2010

Thoughts on Pen Names -- c.anne.gardner

To pseudonym or not to pseudonym, or rather, which of my multiple personalities should I be today? That is the question.

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:
  1. Your real name sucks ass and has no poetry to it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. You publish in several different genres and you don't want to confuse your fan bases. (See cover pic)
  5. You publish in several different genres and you don't want to piss off your fan bases. (Again, see cover pic)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. You just don't think your name is hip enough to write that urban paranormal fantasy novella.
  10. 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


Darcia Helle said...

I briefly considered a pen name, simply because my real name often gets mangled. That consideration was fleeting. I want everyone to know who I am and that I write books!

As for the legal issue with that erotica author and her pen name, I'm sure there are multiple people out there with the same names - legally. It seems to me that we can't go around suing each other simply because someone else has the same name, particularly when the other person is doing nothing to specifically attack our own reputation and credibility. We've become a sue-happy nation.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I agree. I was shocked when I saw Mark's post about it.

I also don't write in any one set genre, other than they are all novellas, but they are all literary as well, so I didn't think it really mattered much. I don't like to box myself in that way.

My only concern was that my husband wouldn't be pissed that I didn't use his name, but frankly, besides it not being the least bit poetic, no one can pronounce it anyway. He didn't mind at all.

Kristine said...

I'm currently using a pen name for the first time on my novel in progress. My sole reasoning is that it's straight literary, not genre, and even with it being 2010, I knew my chances of a wider readership would be if I use a man's name. All my genre work is in my name, proudly and with no concerns.

I love my name. Sure, Williams is not unusual, but it's MY name, yanno? So I didn't want to go too far off with a pen name, which is why I picked my Grandfather's. We share the same last name, I just switched out my first name for his first and middle. Percy Andrew instead of Kristine. It makes me nostalgic, and it's perfect for this particular novel.

Although it's presenting some interesting issues in my head. I've started to say things like "Well, Percy's a better writer than I am." or "Percy wrote a particularly interesting chapter last night."

It's strange. It's also kinda fun :)

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

It can be confusing sometimes to keep straight. I mean, mine is my maiden name, but I find myself answering the phone at work like that sometimes.

You have to consider online interaction too and what about interviews or podcasts and stuff like that, particularly when you are switching gender?

For me, it would be a nightmare. I would be bat-shit crazy in no time. Not that I am not already, but ... it would be worse.