Pseudonyms, Pen Names, and Nome de Plumes
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Mary Shelley first published her novel, Frankenstein, anonymously, presumably because nobody would accept such a book from a woman. Many women writers of the time choose men’s names as their pseudonyms so as to circumvent this issue.
Samuel Clemens picked up his pen name, Mark Twain, when he was working on a river boat. The Mississippi River had to be measured for depth since the flat bottomed riverboats traveled in water with shifting sandbars. ‘Mark twain’ meant the river was at the twelve foot depth or two fathoms.
Stephen King has produced many books under various Nome de Plumes such as Richard Bachman. Back in the 70’s, King was quite prolific and his publishers thought he should slow down since the norm was to publish one book a year. King took on a pen name so he could write as much as he wanted.
J.K Rowling/Richard Galbraith, Isaac Asimov/Paul French, Anne Rice/ A.N. Roquelaure, and many more have utilized the anonymity of pen names. Why? A number of reasons. I’ll name a few.
1. Genre: You are a man wanting to write romance novels. Although men have been somewhat accepted in the genre, women’s names still grace most of the major sellers. It’s a matter of marketing.
2. Trying something new: You are well known for Sci/Fi and want to write a dark comedy crime novel. You are afraid your fans might not appreciate the departure. Again, marketing. Writer’s have to keep every aspect of book selling in mind.
3. For whatever reason, you feel family/friends/co-workers might not appreciate your work and cause you grief over it. I know many people with which this hits home. The one time you let them read your story, people freaked out thinking you were writing about them. Yesh!
4. Your name is long or hard to pronounce/spell and you want a simpler version that fits well on book covers. The shorter the name, the bigger the letters can be on the page. It also helps for name recognition.
5. You want the best possible position on the shelves so you make your name similar to a more popular novelist. Sam Kiley next to Stephen King. I’ve never really thought of this before and I think the ethical aspects of it are dubious but to each his own.
6. Branding: If as Lisa Law you are selling very well in romance novels, a switch to hard mystery might not bring in as much in sales. Or perhaps you write hard crime novels and want to write erotica in your spare time.
6. Death: An author creates a series of books that sell very well and have a cult following. If that author should die, the publisher may continue the series with a number of different authors writing under her name. Much of the time these days, the secondary author is often acknowledged as writing with the former author as if she had dozens of unfinished novels at the ready when she died.
Whatever your reason, there are certain things to take into consideration. Your pen name is not the name you sign your contracts with, get your checks under, or put on your taxes. There is no copyright on a name but it can be trademarked.
If you absolutely need to have all items under the pen name then you can create a business entity. So on your checks it might say Ken Kirk DBA (doing business as) Mike Moon. For all intents and purposes, you are Mike Moon. Your bank, your agent, and your accountant are the only ones who need to know.
Most people want to see their own names on their books. It takes a great deal of energy to produce a book and it is only right to want the credit. But for those who have extenuating circumstances, a pen name may just be the right course even if just a few people know the real author’s name. In the end, it is completely up to you.
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