When it comes to writing pen names are often a hot topic. Some people see them as dishonest, others as a necessity. I did spend quite a bit of time thinking about the issue and whether to use a pen name myself or not.
There are plenty of good arguments made for both side out there already, so I’m not going to go through all the details here.
- A Rose by Any Other Name: Pros and Cons of Pseudonyms
- The New World of Publishing: Pen Names
- Me, My Work & I: Why Use a Pen Name?
What I did want to address is what influenced my decision at the end of the day, and what I felt was right in my case when I opted to start writing fiction.
First of all let’s look at my legal surname – Chlasta. People have enough problems pronouncing that in real life situations and I stopped counting the misspelt bills and other documents I’ve received since I moved to the UK. Maybe if I was writing some science related non-fiction piece or a philosophical debate it would have been perfect.
Unfortunately I felt that for an author of Sci-Fi & Fantasy it lacked a punch, and the last thing you want to do is confuse your readers. If they can’t pronounce your name counting on word of mouth promotion seems a bit futile… Just like character names matter, the author name in my opinion can make a difference.
Another reason was a bit more practical. As a web developer my name’s already plastered all over the Internet. If someone’s looking to read fiction, they won’t necessarily be looking for my musings about programming or the photos of my cats. And the other way round, if someone is looking for info about me as a developer & designer, my writing work outside of that niche would be secondary.
Also readers do complain about genre mixing from a single author (even mixing sub-genres can cause an uproar). If that’s the case for similar topics – mixing fiction with non fiction wouldn’t be doing me any favours. There is also the nice side benefit that if I get married, I won’t have to change my fiction author branding…
Some people use pen names for privacy, and I believe in some cases it can be justified. I’m pretty open about my pen names (check out the sidebar to see some of them!), they’re not really a secret and the world won’t end if someone figures that out. But I believe it makes it easier for readers to follow things they are interested in. Just because I’ve got “interest ADD” doesn’t mean everybody has to…
It also makes branding and marketing a lot easier. Rather than try to reach all the various audiences I can focus on a specific target group for each brand / pen name. Worst case scenario if I used the same name for everything I’d get the intersection of these audiences. In business you want to maximise, not minimise your chances of success.
What I did try to do (partly for fun) when choosing a pen name was to either keep my first name the same – Joanna, or the initials – J.C. Especially with the first name I was a bit worried that sooner or later I’d respond with the wrong name to someone. And although it isn’t a secret, it would be a bit embarrassing.