Actors and musicians often don’t use their given names. Some authors also decide to publish under a pseudonym or pen name.
Reasons for using a pen name
1.) Your real name may also belong to someone already famous or to another author.
2.) Your name may be hard to pronounce, remember, or spell.
3.) You may be known for writing one genre and want to write another. Or perhaps you write non-fiction books and now want to write romance novels.
4.) You pick a pen name to mask your gender. If you are a man writing romance novels, you might want to choose a feminine pen name. Some genres are more dominated by men so using a masciline name or initials might improve your chances of succeeding. (Examples: J.K. Rowlings)
5.) You want to hide your moonlighting. Perhaps you don’t want your boss to know you are an author, so he won’t think you have been writing on the job.
6.) You want to remain anonymous. Some people want a private life. They don’t want fans tracking them down, or perhaps they don’t want people they know to find out they write erotica or romance novels.
Authors with Pen Names
Many famous authors write under a pen name. Probably the most well known is Mark Twain (real name Samuel Clemens). Here are a few more…
- George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair)
- George Eliot (real name Mary Ann Evans)
- Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
- Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel)
- Anne Rice (real name Howard Allen Frances O’Brien)
- Nora Roberts (real name Eleanor Marie Robertson) – has also written under J.D. Robb, Jill March, and Sarah Hardesty (in the UK).
Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, a fantasy author, writes under two pen names: Megan Lindholm for her earlier work, and Robin Hobb for her epic, traditional fantasy books.
Dean Koontz has written under several pen names in the beginning of his career, including David Axton, Leigh Nichols, and Brain Coffey.
Picking a pen name
There are tons of ways to pick a name. You can look through a baby naming book. You can shorten your name. (Amelia to Mia) Maybe you like your middle name or a friend’s first name. Try looking at family names for last names.
Whichever way you decide on a name, make sure it is easy to remember and something you can answer to just a readily as your own name.
After you come up with a list of possible names, check to make sure there isn’t already an author by that name by using Amazon. Use Google to search the name and see what links come up. Another place to look up the name is on Facebook. Between these searches, you should be able to determine if your pen name is unique or not.
I was in college when I began writing Summoned (then called The Elemental). I was engaged at the time and told my husband-to-be that when I published it, I would do so under my maiden name. Several years went by, and I received my share of rejection letters. I sent my book to family and friends to read and made some changes. After some more rejections from traditional publishers, I put away Summoned and began working on its sequel, Quietus.
By the time I decided to forgo the tradition publishing route and self-publish, I was on Facebook and using both my maiden and married name. All of a sudden, I was nervous about letting my friends (many who didn’t know I was a writer) know about my book. I recalled the feedback I had received from friends in the past. It was always good, but that was the problem. I didn’t feel it was honest feedback. I wanted what was bad as well as what worked. So even though I believed what I wrote was good, I worried about friends who would only read it and “like” it because I wrote it. I also didn’t want people constantly asking me how sales were or about my current work in progress. So I decided to go with a pen name.
To come up with my pen name, I decided to use my middle name as my first name and my first name as my middle name. I had my mom give me a list of last names from her genealogy program. I paired them up with Susan and picked out a few I liked. I looked them up on the Internet and then let family members vote on which one they liked best. And that is how I came up with Susan Leigh Noble.
So now I am two people. I write, blog, interact and am Susan Leigh Noble. Only family members know that I am an author. None of my friends know when I am rushing off to my house after dropping off the kids it is to write. They don’t know that as I walk to and from school that my mind is whirling with details of my latest WIP. And I like it that way.