Just about every author considers adopting a pen name at some point in his or her career. Some do it as a matter of course–especially when they wish to remain anonymous. Others cannot imagine why they would want to detach themselves from something they worked so hard on. As I have sometimes wondered whether or not adopting one would be a good idea, I figured it would be nice to devote a short passage this week to explaining what exactly pen names are, why you would want to use them, and how you go about selecting a nom de plume for yourself.
To answer the first question, a pen name is a pseudonym used by authors in order to keep their real names hidden from public sight (i. e. to avoid being mobbed on the street in the case of great fame). Whether you want to use one or not is entirely up to you, but those that do have reasons as varied as the authors themselves. In some cases, it is simply a desire to remain anonymous in day-to-day life. It may seem odd to those of us who are eager for attention, but there are actually quite a few out there who do not want all the attention that fame can bring. Yet, they have lots of wonderful ideas they feel a need to share with the world, so they do so under a different name (and sometimes a different personality as well).
Another legitimate reason has to do with content. There are some folks who write about subjects that they consider embarrassing or otherwise want to keep their distance from for some reason. (Some may well ask why they wrote it in the first place, in such a case, but that is beside the point.) Related to content, it is not uncommon for authors–or any artists, really–who become well known in one genre or field to want to branch out into something new. Rather than carry a stigma to the new genre that may lead to unfavorable comparison with their previous work, many of these authors adopt pen names as well.
Other reasons include the fact that an author’s real name is dull or incredibly common. (Imagine, for instance, trying to become famous with a name like Adam Smith without being an 18th century Scottish economist!) Women wanting to write in genres typically dominated by men (such as sci-fi and fantasy) will sometimes take up masculine sounding pseudonyms to better compete. And then, of course, some really eye-catching pen names are invented simply as a marketing ploy–that is, they just look and sound way cooler.
As for how one selects a pen name, that is again totally up to the author. Some will take a name that really grabs attention, as stated before. Other names are related to the subject of the writing or the entire genre in general (an especially common tactic in furry literature). But the majority are probably just modifications on one’s own name (such as deriving J. R. R. Tolkien from John Ronald Reuel). Whatever sounds decent and won’t repulse people right away should work.
As I said, pen names aren’t for everyone, so if you don’t want one, don’t use one. But for those who do want to give it a try, hopefully this has been helpful in some way.
Next Friday marks the release of my debut novel, Sauragia, as well as an anniversary of special significance to me, so until then…