Mar 28, 2013

Using a Pen Name

Pen names are a very hot topic among debut writers.  Join any critique group and you are sure to see the questions:  "Should I use a pen name?" or "Why do people use pen names?"  Both of which offer a lot of opinions.

I always thought that a pen name was to be used because the writer felt they would be ridiculed for writing their book.  Maybe they wanted to write about a topic that was taboo, so they hid behind a pen name to avoid that ridicule.  Though, let's face it, most of those who use pen names rarely remain anonymous.

On the other hand, some people use pen names because they like to write in various genres and they don't want readers to have preconceived thoughts about their writings.  Can you imagine seeing Dr. Seuss' name on a thriller novel?  Probably not.  Why?  The reason is because when we see the name Dr. Seuss, we (probably) have preconceived thoughts about him.  We (probably) ask, "What did Dr. Seuss know about writing thriller novels?  He wrote about cute Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch that grew to love Christmas."  That's one reason why someone like Dr. Seuss might want to use a pen name.

Another consideration is the placement of your published novel on the shelf at the bookstore.  For example, let's say your name is Edith Meyerman, and your debut novel I'm in Love with a Werewolf has just hit the shelves.  It's stacked neatly on the shelf, and along comes a young woman, browsing the books.  Her eyes land upon your book for about, oh, .5 seconds, but then her eyes see another book.  Why, yes, she sees Twilight written by Stephenie Meyer, so she grabs it instead.  After all, that's what all of her friends have read.  In this case, it looks like having a last name similar to another very famous author might not be so great.

There are probably other reasons for using pen names.  What is your opinion?

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