Many writers use a pseudonym, or pen name. Many others don’t. Still others use different names for different genres.
You want to give it some thought, but not so much thought that it holds up getting started. If you change your mind, at this point the worst that will happen is you’re stuck with your first choice on whatever has already been published.
Let’s start here, at the heart of it: Imagine you’re at a bookstore. You pick up a book of short stories, and your story is included in it. You look at the table of contents; there’s your story title.
Next to your story title is your real name. How do you feel?
Proud or cringey? Good, or bad?
Now picture your story title with a pseudonym next to it instead. How do you feel?
Secure, or disappointed? Good, or bad?
If one of these scenarios stands out to you, you may have your answer.
I have heard some strange discussions about pen names. Once in a while, a writer who uses her real name will do the nana-boo-boo thing to those who use pen names. The usual taunt is that those who use pseudonyms are “dishonest,” or “afraid” to stand behind their work.
Yeah, uh, no. That is as silly as a writer who uses a pseudonym calling the “real name” writer a glory hog. We are neither forging checks nor having our own name written in the sky, so the whole debate is just weird. People sometimes like to toot their horns over things that are merely their personal preference. Don’t let someone else’s big mouth set you up for unhappiness. You decide.
I use a couple of pen names. It makes me happy to write absolutely anything I want without feeling like someone is looking over my shoulder. If I want to write a sex scene, drug scene or murder scene, I don’t need to worry about my kid or a future employer seeing it. Sometimes people who don’t write don’t understand that your main character is not a stand in for “you,” that it
really is what it’s called, fiction. And then, there are some people I just don’t trust or like. I don’t want their noses into any of my business, including my stories, articles, or poems.
I’m the type who doesn’t like my real name coming up on internet searches. It’s not because I am ashamed of myself in any way, I’m not. It’s because I like my privacy. I feel over-exposed when any of my personal information is out there floating around in public. When I picture being in the bookstore with that book of stories and my real name in the table of contents, I cringe. Other people feel proud. C’est la vie.
Beyond that, consider what you want to write, if you know, and how it fits with your comfort space on the privacy-publicity spectrum. Also consider how it meshes with your personal life and your job, now and into the future. Someone who writes erotica and also works with children is one possible problem scenario that comes to mind. Again, some people really don’t get it that
fiction is fiction. They may cause trouble for you. Or your kids may someday google your name and find “Whorehouse Hannah” with your photo next to it. Careful, there.
Some authors use different names for different types of writing. Sometimes the different types of writing don’t go together well (again, using the obvious example of erotica, with children’s stories).
Other times, it can just be confusing. A reader searches your name to find more of your great science fiction stories, and instead finds articles on anti-aging. Some authors think that’s fine. Others don’t. For now, and maybe forever, what you think is good enough.
A final note, please remember that a pseudonym is not a guarantee of anonymity. It is a screen, one layer between you and public exposure. That’s all. If you become well known, chances are, so will your true identity.
If you confide your pen name to someone else, as most of us do, you lose control of it if they tell someone else. And, if anyone is just hellbent on uncovering this big, bad secret of yours (haha), chances are fair to middlin’ they’ll succeed.
I think of it along the same lines as my telephone voicemail. It goes a long way in keeping people from bothering me. However, it doesn’t prevent anyone from sending me an email, letter, summons, or knocking on my door. But 99% of the time, it’s good enough. Oh yeah, and mostly, nobody else cares anyway.
So, real name or pen name, what’s your pleasure?
Narrowing it down this far is great. Now, for those who are going with the pseudonym, oh yay, another confusing decision to make! What should it be?
Again, let’s start with the personal. Here’s your big chance to pick out your own name! If you could have done so the first time around, what name would you have picked? What names do you like?
This is fun. Google (mercy, how did we ever get through the day before Google?) baby names.
Think of people you admire. Is there someone you want to honor? What sounds snappy and spiffy? Make a list, or go through the same process you’d use when naming a pet or a baby.
Write it down, say it out loud, live with it for a day. If it sticks, it’s yours.
Or, think more broadly of everything that has had significance to you, not just people and obvious human names. This could be things that are a positive part of your life or past, or that just make you happy. See how you can combine them into a first and last name. Think favorite foods, the street you grew up on, favorite bands, favorite adults from your childhood, certain clothes, vacation spots, anything that stands out to you. Brainstorm, without stopping to think of it would be a good “name” or not, just write it all down.
Opal, Bostwick, parrot, Lancome, Hudson, Whitey, Cracker Jack, Winston, guitar, diamond, Florida, Levi’s, gardenia, blue…
Just from those few, do see a great name in there anywhere? How about on your list?
Or, try variations of your real name. Glam it up.
Other things to keep in mind when narrowing down your choices: Is it easy to pronounce?
Does an internet search bring up others with the same name (and if so, is that a problem)?
If you have a genre in mind, does it go with it or more importantly, definitely not go with it? Let’s face it, there are things I’d want to read from a Candi Pink and other things I might not. Does a fun and flashy moniker sound more your style, or something more serious?
And remember, more time in itself doesn’t solve, it just stalls, and ultimately, stops progress cold. That’s just what you don’t want to do, especially when it’s all new and a bit overwhelming anyway. I’d give it a day or two if needed. Think on it a bit.
But then, do choose one and move on to the next thing. Good luck!