Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Writer Wednesday

Welcome to the first edition of writer Wednesday. For my first post I thought I'd tackle a topic near and dear to me, pen names. Before I get started I want to make things clear. I use a pen name. No, I am not a hypocrite, I chose my name for good reason, which I will discuss. But in general I don't think they are the best option. 

I've heard three reason for people to use a pen name:
  1. Privacy
  2. Seperating the writer from the everyday life
  3. Marketing
Now there might be other reasons people choose pan names, but these three are the main ones, so let's discuss them.

I can't begin to tell you how many writer's I've heard say they use a pen name becuse they are a private person. While I apologize to these people, I'm about to burst that bubble. In these modern times, there is no such thing as privacy. Anyone who knows how to use Google can take the facts from your author's bio and figure out the "real" you. Every post you make has the potential to point people to you. Even something as simple as an author photo can now be used to find you. Don't beleive me? Do a Google image search with your author's photo and see what comes up. 

The thing is, using a pen name gives you a false sense of security. People are going to figure out who you are. you need to be ready for the thin facade to come crumbling down. You don't want to look like the "Great and Powerful Oz, manipulating your fake persona while everyone stares at you uncovered.

Separating the writer from your everyday life
I get people, honest. You don't want strangers looking at photos of your kids. You don't want Great-Grandma to read the smut you write. You're terrified of the person at the next desk eyeing you askance wondering if you get up to the same crazy exploits of your characters. Sadly, a pen name doesn't portect you from these things. As listed above, anyone who know how to use Google can find you. And while I don't see Great-Grandma tracking you down herself, it has been proven in the media that someone is always willing to look and they will not keep quiet. In fact, they will see your attempts to hide as a reason to dig. This was made all to clear when the local media outed Julie Buranich as erotic novelist Judy Mays. As a result parents rose up in outrage, but Judy kept a level head and came through the fire storm, but it definitely proves the point that the truth has a way of coming out. 

Now here we find the reason for my pen name. I am very open about the fact that i use one and in fact, my real name appears on my Library of Congress application. Why did I feel the reason to change my name if I don't believe in pen names for the most part. Because some names just work against you. I'm not talking about an unpronounceable name like Dostoevsky or bland names like Dan Brown (see what I just did there, made my point fairly effectively, I think.). But some names just don't work. I'm not going to buy a used vehicle from Tom Raper (and anyone who's driven I-70 through Indiana knows I'm not making this name up) and I don't know if I would buy a book from a girl named Dull. So I decided it would be easier to market myself as Sharp, which for those not following along at home is the opposite of dull. As for Elizabeth it was my grandmother's name and sounded better.  AS long as I was changing my name, why not? 

Honestly, if I could go back I don't think i would do it again. It's been a pain maintaining two separate online personas. People in my personal life want to keep hearing from me, but I also have to spend time networking and building a platform. And sometimes I feel like I don't know how to turn Elizabeth off and just be in my life. And maybe these are just my weird issues and you can call the nice young men in the clean white coats now. ;)

So hopefully you aren't furious with me. I understand that I'm not going to put an end to pen names and that isn't what I'm trying to do. I'm just trying to make people think before they embrace an alter ego, simply because they're afraid of their personal life being changed. Trust me, it's going to change with or without a pen name. And if you do decide to use a pen name, I'm not judging, i just want to make sure you have all the facts first.


  1. Very interesting post Elizabeth. I always wondered about pen names with authors. Like Carolyn Keene who wrote the Nancy Drew books was actually Mildred Benson (who started it, but all the random people who are doing a not so good job with her legacy).

  2. I've been tossing around the idea. It's nice to hear both sides from someone using a pen name.

  3. Not offended, here. Though, I don't use a pen name to hide my real identity I do use it to keep real life seperated. I'm not worried about someone finding out about my writing smut. (Which I haven't if you are curious. Though, you never know, I just might one day!Especially now that some recent posts are burned into my retinas.)The fact is that to be an author in todays world, you need to network-- which means making friends with people you do not know. While I am friends with some of the authors I have met through networking on my private accounts (Donna ;-]) It's only because I feel comfortable opening up to them. I don't have to risk letting someone on that can see private pictures or posts. This way I can pick and choose who gets to see the more private side of my life.

    I agree though, that it's not necessarily the best case scenario for everyone.

    And in a twist of irony, I can't post under my name. LOL!

    Nichole Chase

  4. As you mentioned, it is a pain in the rear to keep up both personas. I wholeheartedly agree that no matter what you do, you will be outed. Even Lemony Snickett got outed and he had pictures of the back of his head. You'd have to be pretty tight-lipped not to get exposed, and just like a recording getting leaked - once it's leaked, it's out.

    I have a pen name to keep genres separated. I don't want little kids reading stuff by Spencer Collins because she's more for an adult audience, and she's a horror writer. J.A. writes more coming-of-age stuff, both young and adult readers could gain from the experience.

    I don't do it for privacy because I have a realistic view of how the world is today. If it was 30 years ago, a time before the internet and loose-lipped people, then sure, but not in today's celebrity, gossipy, net based world.

  5. I am not sure when pen names started, but I know women used to use them to write under a man's name as early as the 17th century but it was more common in the 19th century because it was a way to have their work taken more seriously.
    Obviously, it is a personal decision for every author to make. While I do not write under a pen name I did consider it since I do write in two genres, but I decided to stay with just one name. I think it is a natural movement for an author to choose a pen name, after all we all have so many characters living in our heads it s tempting to play one in your internet life.