Wednesday 17 November 2010

Pen Name or No

Another guest joins the blog today, author John Betcher.  He stops by on his virtual book tour to give tips on using a pen name:

Pen Name or No

Today's post has to do with an issue I have recently confronted in my writing -- whether to use a pen name instead of my real one.

A pen name . . . or nom de plume . . . as some say, is simply a made up name used in place of your real name as author of your work. There are reasons why one might want to do this. And reasons why one might not want to.

Why you may want to use a pen name:

Here are several popular reasons to use a pen name instead of your real one.

-- You want to change your gender. In certain genres, romance for instance, it seems that female authors are better received. This is particularly true if your main character is a female. And in other genres, thrillers perhaps, there is a preponderance of male characters. So you may want your author gender to be male. (These are just examples. I'm not trying to pick a fight.) If you're writing in a genre where readers prefer authors of a certain gender, maybe you want to switch yours if your God-given version isn't right for the task.

-- If this is your first book, you may wish to preserve your privacy by using a pen name. We all know that once our personal information is spread across the internet, it is widely available to anyone with nefarious intent. So privacy might be another consideration.

-- If you are already known for writing in a different genre, or appearing in a different medium, you may consider a nom de plume either: 1) to avoid confusing your readers as to the type of book they are buying; or 2) to preserve an alternate image for your previous work. St. Paul newspaper columnist, John Camp, writes as John Sandford, presumably for this reason.

-- If your real name is very common (eg. John Smith), or you share a name with another author, you might consider a pen name so your fans can more easily find your work on a search engine, or to avoid confusion with the other author.

-- If you want your author name to have a certain pizazz, you could spice it up a bit. "Rocky Savage" may sound more masculine to some than "Tracy Ween."

-- Or you may have one of those given names that might be male or female (like Stacy, or Sean, or Jamie). And perhaps you want to make your gender clear for the readers.

Why you may not want to use a pen name:

-- For many self-published writers, their personal name recognition (at least by friends, relatives and community) may be their best initial marketing tool. You might not want to lose that advantage by using a pen name. Community is a great place to start building your following.

-- If you have already established some name recognition with your other writing pursuits (columns, short stories, etc.), you may want to extend your "brand" to your new works. Using your real name as author of your new book(s) is a great way to do this. Hopefully, any goodwill you have established in your previous writings will transfer to your new audience. This is called "leveraging goodwill" in the marketing world. And lots of big companies use it. At one point the Gerber Company was known only for its quality baby food. But they have leveraged the the goodwill of their brand into baby clothing lines, and other areas as well. Why should we think a food packager can make clothing? Who knows . . . but leveraging works.

-- If your name is recognizable in some non-writing circle -- eg. you're a sports or entertainment figure -- using your real name can be a huge advantage. How many people would have bought "Chelsea, Chelsea, Bang, Bang" if the author weren't a famous comedian?

Well . . . those are a few reasons I have come up with.
I'm currently trying to balance name recognition, with the potential to confuse (or even alienate) my audience, as I approach publication of a new novel in a completely different genre from my "Beck" suspense/thriller series. I'll be happy to let you know later what I decided to do.

If you have other reasons for using a pen name or not, maybe you'd like to leave a comment.

Thanks, Anita, for allowing me to share your blog . . . and your readers. All the best to everyone!

About the Author:

John L. Betcher is a University of Minnesota Law School graduate and has practiced law for more than twenty-five years in the Mississippi River community of Red Wing, Minnesota. He possesses substantial first-hand knowledge of the Prairie River Nuclear Plant’s real world counterpart, as well as Red Wing’s airport and the flight rules around the nuke plant.

In addition to The 19th Element, he has published a second book in the “Beck” series entitled, The Missing Element, A James Becker Mystery. The second book is available everywhere.

The author has also been a long-time supporter and coach of youth volleyball in and around Red Wing and has authored three feature articles for Coaching Volleyball, the journal of the American Volleyball Coaches Association. His most recent article was the cover story for the April/May, 2009 Issue.

His book on volleyball coaching philosophies entitled The Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching is available at and at


Unknown said...

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, A.F., and for sharing your followers with me. Cheers!
John Betcher

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

If your name is too similar to someone famous, I'd change it. Or not. LOL. Great post, John. You've got me thinking. I write suspense, but lately I've been seriously considering children books. Should I or shouldn't I? Hmm.

Karin said...

There are authors who have different pen names for the various types of books they write. I agree that it avoids confusion (what you thought was YA might be FF if you're not careful). AND, just think of the shelves at Borders and B&N if every author only used one name - 5 shelves of Roberts instead of splitting them between Roberts and Robb!
On the other hand, I have found that if I enjoy an author'w work, I usually enjoy all the various types of books from that author. It would make the books easier to find.

C. N. Nevets said...

I use a pen name because....

1) My legal last name is oddly hard for folks to spell and pronounce.

2) I want to isolate my scholarly and academic publications (meager though they may be) from my fiction, at least at a glance.

3) I want to obscure the legal record for those forensic case reports with my name on them more as little as possible.

4) My writing can be controversial in some circles and I want to give my family the option of not having to be linked to it, if they wish.

5) While I'm proud of my writing, and I don't believe there's anything wrong with it, the moral behavior of many of my characters and some of my darker philosophical meanderings might cause my current employer concern. They are less likely to be concerned if my association with them and my writing do not pop up in the same Google search results.

Jennifer Lane said...

Great post, John! I chose to use a pen name to keep my professional life separate from my writing life (psychologists tend to be private people), and I'm having a lot of fun signing a big loopy "L" for Lane. :D

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