4 Reasons for Using a Pen Name: Why I’m Using a Pseudonym

Pieter Claesz Painting

“Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill” by Pieter Claesz. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Collection Online.”

When my novella, “In His Corner,” is published by Lyrical Press, the book won’t carry my name but my pseudonym—Vina Arno. It’s going to be my first book-length work of fiction, so some people are asking: Why use a pen name? I’ll explain below. I also looked up other writers who used pseudonyms—from Agatha Christie to Stephen King—and came up with four good reasons for using a pen name.

(1) To Write in a Different Genre

Last July, I started writing “In His Corner,” a romance novella about an Olympic gold-medalist boxer known as the Juggernaut, who goes to the ER for stitches, only to fall head over heels with the beautiful doctor who treats him.

I started working on the novella two months after I finished writing another manuscript, a historical novel about Douglas MacArthur. Yes, it’s the iconic American general of the “I shall return” fame, who liberated the Philippines and rebuilt Japan after World War II. Admittedly the difference between writing about MacArthur and the Juggernaut was enormous. My target audiences for the two stories are entirely different as well. It made sense to use a pen name. So I became Vina Arno.

I could not have guessed that “In His Corner” would be acquired by Lyrical Press, which is owned by Kensington Publishing Corp., six months after I finished writing it. I never thought Vina Arno would get published first. I haven’t given up on MacArthur, or on writing literary fiction, but I also plan to continue writing romance.

I’m not alone in using a pen name for this reason. The beloved mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Mega-bestseller J.K. Rowling published a thriller as Robert Gailbreath, causing hullabaloo when Galbraith’s identity was revealed. Anne Rice wrote erotic novels under the pen names Anne Rampling and A.N. Roquelaure when she wasn’t writing about vampires.

(2) To Hide One’s Identity

This is the primary reason for using a pseudonym. Back when novels were written mostly by men, Mary Ann Evans took up the pen name George Eliot.

The short-story writer O. Henry’s real name was William Sydney Porter. He used O. Henry as his pseudonym to hide the fact that he served time for bank fraud.

Similarly, the mystery writer Anne Perry tried to hide her criminal past by using a pen name. Born Juliet Hulme, she was a teen-ager when she was convicted of participating in the murder of her close friend’s mother. Hulme served time and later became Anne Perry. Her story was the subject of a Peter Jackson movie, “Heavenly Creatures” (1994). In recent years, Perry has finally talked about her past.

(3) To Publish More Books

One of my favorite Stephen King books didn’t carry his name, but his pseudonym Richard Bachman. The book is called “Thinner.” In his Web site, King explained that he used a pen name because at that time, publishers felt one book a year per author was all the public would accept. Considering how prolific King is, that was certainly a problem. So, he wrote under a different name to publish more books.

(4) To Get a Clean Slate in Sales

An author is only as good as the sales of her or his last book. Melanie Benjamin, the author of the historical novel, “The Aviator’s Wife,” can attest to that. Her real name is Melanie Hauser. She openly acknowledges that she became Melanie Benjamin because her first novels (chick lit), published under her real name, were unsuccessful.

Last month, Benjamin talked about this when she graced an online forum sponsored by Backspace, which I attended. She said that an author’s book sales are unfortunately attached to the author’s name. When she wrote her first historical novel “Alice I Have Been,” she used a pen name as suggested by her agent since it was a different genre. It gave her a clean slate as far as sales are concerned.

A Pen Name Offers Opportunities

As for me, I look forward to getting published as Vina Arno. I relish the chance to write in different genres and explore diverse topics. My writings are all connected ultimately.

On the surface, Douglas MacArthur and the Juggernaut don’t have anything in common. But here’s a historical fact: In 1928, MacArthur was the head of the U.S. delegation at the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. The American boxing team wanted to protest an unfair decision by withdrawing from the competition. MacArthur didn’t allow it, declaring that “Americans never quit.” The press had a field day, accusing MacArthur of treating the Olympics as a war without weapons.

This little nugget of information was at the back of my mind when I made the Juggernaut an Olympic boxer.

Read a related story: “3 Tips for Avoiding a Pseudonym Identity Crisis”

“Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill,” (oil on wood painting) by Pieter Claesz of Haarlem, the Netherlands, 1628. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Collection Online;” Rogers Fund, 1949.

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23 Comments

  1. I write in various genres and have one book being published under my name through an indie publisher. But I also have two books I am working on to self publish this year as well and wasn’t sure whether to keep them all under my real name. I knew about the pros of using a pen name yet the uncertainty lingered. Your blog post has helped me realize what I should do. Thanks! I will be looking into getting a pen name for my other two works that are directed at a completely different audience.

    Reply
    • If you write in multiple genres, then it makes sense to use a pen name (or two) for a practical reason. It will help separate your sales track record. Good luck on your books!

      Reply
  2. Hi Cindy! I look forward to reading your book about the Juggernaut. It’s not the sort of book I usually read, but you have intrigued me. Do you know when your book will be released? Also, thank you for the thoughts on pseudonyms. I am now looking up some of the pseudonyms and books of famous authors you mentioned…huzzah for new reading material!

    Thank you for the visit and like of my WordPress blog, Itchy Fingers. I really appreciate it!

    Reply
  3. Hi there! My publisher asked me to change the title of my book, which is now called “In His Corner.” It’s scheduled for release on April 6, 2015. One of these days I will blog about my experience choosing a book title. There are considerations that we, writers, never think of, but are important to publishers. I hope you find a suitable pseudonym, and I hope to read about it on your blog. Lots of luck!

    Reply
  4. Interesting post. I am publishing a middlebrow novel, but also have a full non-fiction WWII manuscript. As the second relates to my family, I’ll need to stick to my own name, but I have thought about a pseudonym in the past.

    Reply
  5. Interesting… I’ve never considered the idea that pseudonym’s could be useful in those ways…

    Great post Cindy, I appreciate the information!

    Reply
  6. Hi liamkilby01 and hilarycustancegreen. Thanks for your comments. I recently signed up with a literary agent who will be representing my literary novel. She was glad to hear I used a pen name for my romance novella. So yes, I would definitely recommend it if you’re writing in different genres. Good luck!

    Reply
  7. Hi Cindy,

    I can only agree: I’ve written under three different names, for three different genres and media, and it’s always helped me to separate the actions of one ‘author’ from the others. It’s complicated at times, but it certainly helps! Oh, and thanks for checking out my blog…

    Reply
  8. Hi sjholloway. Thanks for stopping by. Is it hard to juggle various pen names in social media? I’d be interested in reading your insights on your blog!

    Reply
  9. I read and absorbed your post like a sponge! I am a new writer, well I’ve been writing most of my life but never thought about trying to publish until 6 months ago, so I am a new writer. I didn’t want to use my real name and read about pen names, but never really looked into why. You’ve answers my questions and made my day. My pen name is D.M. George and I can relate to a couple or more of the 4 reasons why authors use pen names. Thank you!

    Reply
  10. Hi donnasfineart. I’m glad the article helped and that you have a pen name. Lots of luck on your writing and thanks for visiting!

    Reply
  11. Hi! A pen name is a great idea! I enjoyed the post. And thanks so much for visiting my site. I look forward to reading more of your blog. 🙂

    Reply
  12. I know a couple of writers who used pen names to have separate contracts with two different publishers for two different genre works — until outed. But financially, it meant that if one series or book was unsuccessful, it didn’t affect the other series.

    Reply
  13. Hi Marilyn,
    So the writers you referred to tried to hide their identities in their contracts? I think that’s a tough thing to do. My contract specified both my legal name and my pen name. Thanks for visiting!

    Reply
  14. I’d like to add one reason to the list: your real name is far too common to gain recognition as a brand. My real name is Sarah Thomas – I might as well be John Smith. Don’t get me wrong – I like my name. I just don’t think it’s a sensible author name.

    Reply
  15. Hi Marigold. You have a good point! Are you going to use a pen name? I hope you write about it and add to this interesting conversation. Speaking of “plain” names, have you heard of a book titled “A Simple Plan”? The author’s name is Scott Smith — it’s been years since I read his book, but I’ll always remember his name.

    Reply
  16. Interesting topic. I had never really thought about a pseudonym but can certainly understand your reasoning. Makes perfect sense.
    Jim

    Reply
  17. I get a lot of flack for using a pen name, because my friends and family have trouble finding my book. I told them it’s way more common than they expect. Thanks for giving me some ammunition in my next round of arguments.

    Reply
  18. Hi Alleigh! People outside of publishing do have a hard time understanding the purpose of a pen name. A little explanation to them can go a long way. So nice to hear from you!

    Reply
  1. Using a Pen Name: 3 Tips for Avoiding a Pseudonym Identity Crisis | Cindy Fazzi
  2. Top 5 Blog Posts: Pen Names, Literary Snobs, and New York Pitch Conference | Cindy Fazzi

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