There are a lot of choices an author faces over the course of his or her career. What to write about, which agents to approach, whether to publish through a traditional company, indie, or do it themselves.
Perhaps the first choice an author has to make is what name to publish under. Most figure they have nothing to hide, so they simply use their legal name. No sweat. But sometimes, an author chooses to use a nom de plume, a pen name.
Maybe an author has an existing body of work and wants to explore another genre . Or to test the waters in an existing genre. Stephen King wrote several books under the pen name Richard Bachman to see if it was still his talent that was selling books, or if people just bought them because his real name was on them. He was found out pretty quickly, but in the meantime, he did prove that he’s just that good.
Or maybe an author just doesn’t think his own name will sell books so s/he chooses a name they like better.
In my case, there are already a dozen people using my real name, as authors and artists, professors and just about any other profession you can think of. Including a few that use the exact same spelling. So I decided to use the initials JT. (Please note that I do not use periods after my initials. If folks are going to quote or slander me, they need to at least get the name right.) My middle initial is not T; I chose it for personal reasons. Or, rather, it was chosen for me. Bonus points to anybody that knows what it stands for, and why.
And it’s certainly not just me.
Ben Franklin wrote as Alex Afterwit, Alice Addertongue and a host of other names, for various reasons.
Sam Clemens was Mark Twain.
Dean Koontz wrote as Aaron Wolfe and Anthony North, Brian Coffey, Deanna Dwyer, David Axton, John Hill, K. R. Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, Owen West and Richard Paige.
Anne Rice was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien. Who knew?
Point is, there’s nothing new about using a pen name. They’re as old as literature itself. In older times, a noble person couldn’t be associated with something as common as writing books. so those works were published under some other name. And, back then, nobody would have taken anything written by a mere woman seriously, so a male name on a book cover was necessary for it to be properly received by the reading public. Anne Bronte wrote as Acton Bell.
There are as many reasons to use a pen name as there are possibilities from which to choose. And most of them are valid. The only time they’re not legit is when it’s one person making up not only a ton of fake names to write under, but whole fake people with entire fake lives with fake/stolen pictures to present to the world as them , to defraud the public into thinking a publishing company has more authors than it really does. In short, it’s not okay when it’s done in order to be fraudulent rather than literary. And, no. it can’t be both.
Here are some points to consider when choosing a pen name:
That last point is especially important.
For example, there is more than one author using the name Ivy Sinclair. There’s this author named Ivy Sinclair that has a formidable body of work, writes well and presents herself well online with a tight, concise, professional webpage, fb, Goodreads, Amazon profile and Twitter.
And then there’s this other Ivy Sinclair, who writes barely literate spank through dodgy indie publishers like Phoenix Fire, Dark Storm, and whatever they’re calling it next. Quite possibly not a real person at all, but rather an alt used by a scam publisher trying to make her roster appear more prolific and impressive than it really is.
Same name, very different authors. The first one, the real Ivy Sinclair, writes well and if contemporary romance is your taste, I suggest that you look her up.
The second one, the fake, not so much.
And before some smart acre comes along and says “Why is it okay for Dean Koontz to use so many names but not me?” …just don’t. He’s Dean Koontz. You’re not.
Getting back to the point, choose your name wisely, young Jedi. Whatever name you decide to use for your writing, your real name or some other, is going to be with you for a very long time. That could be a very good thing or it could be a decision you regret forever. So give it lots of thought.