Friday, June 26, 2009

Should you use a pen name?

It’s not unusual for a writer to use a pen name (nom de plume in French). “Mark Twain” is probably the most famous fake. Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but he also used the alias "Sieur Louis de Conte."

There are many reasons for using a pen name:

• To make the author’s name more distinctive, more glamorous or more interesting
• To disguise the author’s gender
• To protect the author from retribution, especially if the book is an expose.
• To avoid confusion with other authors or famous people
• To hide ethnicity or alter apparent ethnicity
• To develop different personas for different literary genres such as fiction and nonfiction, or romance and sci-fi
• To have a name more appropriate to a genre (western writer Zane Grey was born Pearl Zane Gray)
• To avoid overexposure by having too many books on sale at one time
• To avoid embarrassment, such as when a professor writes porn, or to shield family from revelations of an unconventional or illegal past
• If your name is hard to spell, remember or pronounce or seems too “foreign” or “ethnic.”
• If you’re afraid that the book could somehow jeopardize your success in another field

Scott Lorenz, who does marketing and PR, suggests some reasons for using your own name on your books:

• If you are not trying to hide from anyone
• To brand your name for speaking gigs or consulting
• So people you know can find your books
• To build trust and confidence with readers
• To use your real-life expertise to validate the contents of your books

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