I asked myself this question a few times when I started my writing crusade, and I’ve only began to learn what it’s like to have a pen name since having one. Here’s what I found.
First, why do I have one?
When I wanted to be a writer, I had this terrible fear my writing would give away much of my identity. I wasn’t necessarily a shy kid when I began dabbling with words and such, though I was, shall we say, opinionated, frustrated and a little in the closet. And frankly, I was terrified that if I were to become a writer, my thoughts and feelings would portray in my work and it would all be traced back to me. Me! A little chubby camp English kid living in Wales!
As you can tell I was pretty worried about a few silly things, and instead of stopping writing, I would hide behind a ‘nom de plume.’ I thought by doing this I would be safe from ridicule, especially if my writing sucked!
Why did I choose Orion Nebbs? So my real name is Chris Sergi. To be honest, given what I know now, I would have kept this name, but alas the pseudonym stuck and I rolled with it. Orion was in fact a character from my first Novel Everscape: The Follymoths of Embra, who I inevitably never needed in the end in the final draft. Believe me though, I started writing Everscape at least fifteen years ago. Yep, that’s how much things changed.
Why you should NOT have a pen name.
It can be confusing: I will admit now, having a pen name can make introducing yourself kind of complicated. Am I Chris, or am I Orion? If I introduce myself as Chris, will that sabotage my chance of introducing my pen name? Will I have to explain I work under a different name? But If I introduce myself as Orion, will that be lying?
It can Confuse readers: Your readers are already expected to remember everything that happens in your writing. Getting them to remember too many versions of your name can complicate their perception of who you are as a writer. Are you that person, or that person? Sometimes it’s easier if you’re just one person.
You think it sounds cool: I like to pride myself on my pen name. I spent a lot of time creating the character from my novel, and to just cut them from the story felt like a betrayal, so instead I adopted the name for myself. However, there will always be some part of me that says ‘that name sounds pretty made up, right?’ If you want to use a pen name, it’s best to make it sound as professional as possible.
Once you register it, that’s it: There are ways around changing this, but it takes commitment, time, reputation and sometimes even money. I tried this at one point, but it turns out it can be a little troublesome to change your writer’s name once you’ve registered it to a book, especially if you’ve registered a novel under an ISBN number. If you want to change your name, you’ll have to register a brand new version of your book with a brand new ISBN number, and they’re not cheap!
With that you’ll have to erase the old book from existence, and that’s hard if it’s been on Amazon for example, who won’t remove a sales page from their site, which will forever have your old name associated with the old book, which can confuse both your future and present writers. Not to mention if you’ve also made a name for yourself with your old Pen name, then you run the risk of confusing too many of your old readers and losing them.
Why you SHOULD have a pen name.
Another writer has your name: You don’t want to run the risk of stealing someone ells’s identity, even if you do have the same name. Did you know Emeli Sande’s first name is Adele? Of course she could never use that name because of the singer Adele. So if you happen to be called Stephen King, it’s probably best to adopt a pen name.
Your real name just doesn’t fit: Some of us are lucky to have versatile names, however for some writers, their names can be out of sync with the genre their specialising in. You might be a man writing chick lit and may benefit from having a pen name. Or you may have a hard to pronounce name that would sound better changed slightly.
You want to Hide your identity: So if you read the above note you’ll know this was one of the ones I fell into. Ideally this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. At the end of the day you’re trying to gain a reputation and build a brand. A relatable easy to digest name is important for that. Having said that, it may be a good idea to have a pen name if you want to disassociate yourself from your professional life. For example you may be an MP working for a conservative right wing party, only to secretly write gay erotica! lol!
You want to change Genre: This can be a good idea if you write a certain genre and have gained a reputation for that genre. If you write children’s books and have gained a following from that but you now want to write crime, it may be a good idea to adopt a pen name. This is exactly what JK Rowling did with her pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
At the end of the day it’s all about your quality of writing. Most readers will hopefully associate their love for a book by the the book, and not necessarily the writer who wrote it. But in all honesty, just know that if there’s nothing stopping you from using your real name, it’s probably a good idea to stick with it. You have a fabulous name. Make it work for you!
Happy writing! xxx