Write of Way #10 – Why Pen Names Rock
Though many writers may not realize it, pen names are an important facet of every writing career. After all, how else would we tell our favorite pens apart? I’ve named my go-to writing utensil “Steven.”
No, but for real. Pen names are a rather interesting idea. I’d recommend just about every writer consider taking one.
Now, I know I’m not the best authority to write on pen names considering I don’t use one. (What, you thought A.Z. wasn’t my legal name? Psshhh.)
Early in my career I thought I’d always write under my legal name, but as I grew older and wiser suspicious of the world, I realized a pen name might be in my best interest.
There are actually several benefits to using a pen name. I’d like to talk about a few of them here.
You get to pick your own name!
Come on, now. Don’t try to tell me that’s not freakin’ awesome! As writers we name characters all day every day. That ain’t nothing special anymore. But naming yourself? Heck, it’s the perfect way to tell your parents they picked a crap name.
Show them you can do better! Make sure to pick something grand, like C’thorll’wic-sen. (as a rule, the more consonants, dashes, and apostrophes, the better).
Awesome names aside, this can have some benefits to your writing career. For one, you can choose a name that rolls off the tongue. I think we all can agree that “Mark Twain” is a bit easier to say and remember than “Samuel Langhorne Clemens.”
Or maybe pick something simple and unique that readers will remember.
When it comes down to it, we’re all trying to build our audience. We want them to notice and remember us. While Theophilius Calvin Jowers might be a memorable name, I’d argue it could do better when presented as Theo Jowers, or T.C. Jowers.
Separate the author from the person
Now, I don’t know about you but I’m proud of my writing. I don’t just slap the name “A.Z. Anthony” on anything. I have to be damned proud of it to declare to the world “hey everyone, I wrote this!”
On the other hand, there’s a lot of junk I wrote for school, or my old job, etc., etc., that I’m…less proud of.
It might not appear to be the most important distinction, but to me, “A.Z. Anthony” is akin to a quality assurance guarantee. If you see that on a piece of writing, you can know I believe it’s worth publishing.
Your pen name can operate in the same fashion. And furthermore, you can use it to highlight the divide between your public and private lives.
I know you all, like me, are all too familiar with battling the paparazzi and struggling to go to dinner without being swarmed by adoring fans. But guess what, your pen name can help with that too!
When I set a dinner reservation for my girlfriend and I, it’s always under “Alex Anthony.” When I submit to contests it’s as “A.Z. Anthony.” When I write a post for Facebook, it’s under my legal name. When writing a blog, I use my pen name.
This, again, may not seem that large of a distinction, but for me it builds credibility in the eyes of others, and myself. They say when you work from home it’s important to have a room just for work, not for play. I think of my pen name like this. It’s for my writing career, not whatever else I do in my personal life.
My legal name represents Alex the person. My pen name represents Alex the author.
You know that kid everyone hated in elementary school because their first or last name (or both) started with “A” so they always got to be line leader? Not that I would know anything about that, but a pen name can make your book the line leader!
No, a pen name won’t give your book the ability to walk, but it can make it stand out in search queries and filtered searches. I mean, if your parents named you Zalex Zanthony, or something ridiculous like that, you’d know all about how bad it feels to always be at the back of the line. Don’t make your book experience that pain!
And finally, a point I never would have thought of were it not for David Farland. I’ve been a long-time reader of David’s #WritingTips newsletter. There’s a lot to learn in there and I’m grateful he provides such a helpful resource for free.
A year or so ago (I’ve been unable to find the original post) David wrote a #WritingTip about pen names. His main point was why he’d chosen the pen name “David Farland” over his legal name, “David Wolverton.” His reasoning was all about book placement on bookstore shelves.
An author with the last name “Wolverton” could expect their book to be placed lower on shelves, and further back at pretty much every bookstore that categorized their books in that obscure method known as alphabetical order.
To combat this, David chose a pen name that would allow his book more central placement at bookstores. Now that’s a solid reason to pick a pen name if ever I heard one. I imagine it’s significantly easier to sell books when shoppers can, oh I don’t know, actually find them.
Pen names have a plethora of benefits. I’d recommend just about every writer consider taking one. Maybe it’s right for you, maybe it’s not. Either way, I’m off to the Department of Social Security to request a name change – C’thorll’wic-sen has really been growing on me.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Do you write under a pen name? Have you considered doing so? Do you know of any benefits (or downsides) to using a pen name that I missed?