Ask Daphne! About a Pseudonym

January 11th, 2012 • Kate

pen-nameI got pinged on Twitter this morning by @ErraticArtist who asked:

Is there any time you would recommend an author using a pseudonym? I ask because my own name is quite clunky.

And I thought — what a great subject for a blog post! (Mostly because I was in the middle of an early lunch and reading a partial, but also because it was worthy of a more than 140-character answer.)

To my mind, having a weird, unusual, or “clunky” name are the wrong reasons to use a pseudonym. In fact, having an unusual or weird name can totally work in your favor! The more your name stands out, the more unique it is, the less likely a reader or fan is going to confuse you with another author. If it’s clunky, you may have to spend some time teaching readers and fans how to pronounce your name, but you may have to do that with a pen name, too!

In seeking out an image for this post, I came across this article from USA Today, with some authors’ reasons for going with pen names over their own names. For the Brontes, it was about hiding the fact that they were women. For Mark Twain, it was just another joke.

Nowadays, most female authors don’t feel the need to hide their sex behind a masculine mask, but maybe, like Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), you don’t want your fiction impinging on your real life, or your career.

And maybe you’ve already developed a following in one career, or one genre, and don’t wish to confuse matters by using the same name in a vastly different one. E. Lockhart, who writes amazing, award-winning YA novels such as The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, is also the author of a number of picture books, books for young readers, and adult books as Emily Jenkins. I know other authors who use pen names to protect their private life or family, or because they didn’t want their young readers to seek out their bodice rippers. For instance.

If you are going to use a pseudonym, it’s something I recommend you develop early, and be prepared to use far and widely to help build name recognition. If you’ve been blogging for years under one name — or tweeting, or tumblring, or whatever — you already know the amount of work you have to put into building another persona. And trust me, I know what I’m talking about — did you come here to read the blog of Kate Testerman, or Daphne Unfeasible? I’ve actually been Daphne LONGER than I’ve been Kate Testerman, and I regularly get queries addressed to Daphne, not Kate.

When you’re ready to build a second audience, or are just developing your first online persona, make sure you research your possible pen name before you settle on it. Google it, and make sure you’re not already the author of Amazon’s top five erotic romances, or an expert on dog grooming, or a war criminal. (Do you want to spend the rest of your writing career explaining how you’ve never been indicted by the Hague?)

Either way, good luck!

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7 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About a Pseudonym”

  1. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    I've had Nom de Plume on my Amazon wish list for a while! Very interesting.

  2. @ErraticArtist Says:

    Thank you for the answer!

  3. Hallie Says:

    I feel like I read an article a while back about a writer who really wished she'd used a pseudonym because when she was looking for a new job, employers would search for her online, see that she was an author, and assume she already had a full time job (and that she wasn't committed to finding a new one). It's not something I would have thought of–at all!

  4. DaphneUn Says:

    It's true — with the rise of the internet and the ability of others to find ANYTHING that's been posted online, ever, your activity always leaves a trail. Which is why I say you should never post anything online you wouldn't want to say in person to your boss, your grandmother, or your best friend.

    That being said, you can't do anything about other people's assumptions. I think most people recognize that writing, until you get to a certain level, isn't a full time job.

  5. Jen Says:

    My problem is that I have a completely generic name, and someone with the same name has definitely already been published in the same genre I want to write.

  6. DaphneUn Says:

    That's a good reason, as well.

  7. Carrie-Anne Says:

    I picked my pseudonym in May of '93, when I was 13, and two years later gave the surname part a bit of a twist after I became an Armenophile. I never liked my forename, since it's the next-most overused female name in history after only Mary (though I have grown to like how it's a universal name and doesn't date me to a particular generation). And people are always misspelling or mispronouncing my Slovakian surname as McCormack, MacCormick, McCormick, MacCormack, and even more off the mark things. I love the Irish, but my surname is not Irish!