I recently got into several conversations with people about why authors use pen names. Pen names have been around for a really long time and I was surprised to find that even though people were aware authors used them they didn’t understand why.
Firstly, there are several marketing reasons.
1. It helps a reader know what to expect (and it allows a writer to branch out without confusing their fan base). A really great example of this is J. D. Robb which is another name for Nora Roberts
Think about it. Would you really want to read a romance novel written by Steven King? How about a thriller by Danielle Steele? Many writers become well known for a certain genre but that doesn’t mean that is all they want to write.
2. It helps protect against failure leading to the end of a writing career. Imagine you wrote a book and it got really awful reviews. Now imagine that almost everywhere your name appeared on the internet it was backed with rude remarks and people swearing they would never read your novels again. For some people that would be it. Their credibility would be shot. But maybe they either can improve their writing or can find their true calling in another genre. If so they can put out a new name with no preconceived ideas from the readers.
3. Some people are given hard to pronounce or spell names at birth. It is much easier for a reader to look up a writer online if they have a simple yet memorable name. 4 months after reading a book will you have better luck looking up Mersayde Quingleham or Alexa Summer on google (assuming the book is not in front of you)?
4. Content. I write romances. My romances have sex in them. It is explicit and about what you would expect in a romance. In the future I plan to write children’s books (I have them written but am currently working with an illustrator to complete them before I publish them). It might be hard for some people to separate the Jane who writes about men sheathing themselves to the brim in a woman’s flower with the Jane who writes about a lamb who is teased and must learn her self worth. Similarly, I have some rough plans for an inspirational romance or two down the line and I wouldn’t want a person to be put off from reading my inspirational romance because in another romance I have steamy scenes.
5. Continuity. Legal names change. People get married. They get divorced. They get adopted. The legal name I have today may not be the same one I have in 5 years. A pen name allows an author to keep a consistent name so that his or her fans can find her even if she goes through major life changes.
There are also many personal reasons some authors choose to use pen names.
1. It gives us anonymity. When I go to my kids school conferences and introduce myself I don’t want the teachers first thought to be Oh my God! You are the lady who writes the steamy scenes. I want to be just another parent in jeans and a t-shirt finding out about my kids grades.
2. Safety. Overall, I believe people are good. But, there are some crazies in the world. As a mom it is my job to protect myself and my kids at all cost. Using a pen name makes it harder to be found. In the technological age of the internet it is pretty easy to find someone’s address if you have their legal name. I am sure if someone wanted to find me, even without having my legal name, there would be nothing foolproof I could do to prevent it. But, I have to make it as hard as possible for the safety of myself and my kids.
3. To prevent embarrassment of family. I was raised in a very conservative home. My parents are super religious. Believe me when I say they do not want to be known as the parents of the girl who writes smut.
4. Employers. Like many writers I can not pay my bills by my writing alone. I have to work. I have read in many places that potential employers are more and more frequently googling job candidates. When I approach a potential new boss I don’t want their first impression of me to be the girl who writes smut.
5. Truthfulness. I want to be able to write what I feel and think freely. In Educating Autumn I have a gay couple. In one of my upcoming novels I have a character who is a pro choice advocate.In a story that is in it’s early stages I have a secondary character who is Wiccan. I am sure there will be many other things I will write about over the course of my life that are now or will be controversial. That doesn’t mean that I want to go head to head with people I am related to or who I work with over ideas.
There is no malice or deception going on when a writer chooses to use a pen name. That is why writer’s have been doing it for so long.