Should You Use a Pseudonym?

Having a pseudonym can be useful for today’s writers. However, the advantages and disadvantages should be carefully considered before a decision is made.

Using a Pseudonym: The Pros and Cons

Many of literature’s most famous writers have used pseudonyms, or 'pen-names'. They might be used for a variety of reasons. For example, in the past some women adopted male names in hope of achieving success in what was a male-dominated field, famous examples being the Brontë sisters. Having a pseudonym can be useful for today’s writers. However, the advantages and disadvantages should be considered carefully before a decision is made.

The main purpose of a pseudonym is to give authors anonymity, yet the result of this can be both positive and negative.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Although writing is a field equally occupied by both men and women, some genres of writing are often seen as dominated by certain genders. Romance is still seen as predominantly female. Genres are not restricted to gender, but adopting a more suitably gendered pseudonym for a genre may increase the appeal of the novel, especially among more traditional audiences. (However this may become interesting should you do live promotions where an audience may expect to meet the author Joanna, while your real name is John.)
  • Writing under a pseudonym can allow you to streamline your name further to fit your book, perhaps adding authority or appearing more appealing to your market, even fitting with their age range or interest.
  • If your name is the same as another author’s, or needs to be more exotic to fit with your genre, it may be of benefit to spice up your pseudonym to appeal to your potential readership. In the other extreme, if your name is complicated or overly long, you could choose a shorter and more punchy pseudonym; perhaps even something more memorable.
  • When adopting a pseudonym, remember that you are essentially adopting another identity. This may have consequences. It becomes harder for you to use your real life network of contacts to promote your book. Also, you will have to get used to adopting your new persona for promotion purposes, which could be a challenge because promotion is often quite a personal process.
  • With each pseudonym a new identity has to be maintained, not just administratively with different email accounts or websites, but also personas and reputations. For example, any reputation you may have had previously under your name as a writer is of no consequence to your new pen-name, so you must build from scratch. In some cases this can be desirable, for instance if a first novel does not sell as well as originally thought you might want a fresh start under a new name.  Moreover, a pseudonym for a more established writer may offer freedom when changing direction as a writer, or choosing a change of genre, without risking the reputation of an already established author name.
  • If your subject matter is controversial, adopting a pseudonym would offer a layer of protection. Even if the work isn't controversial, almost all writers keep their main jobs as they write, so a pseudonym allows for protection in the workplace should your boss not approve of your writing. However, this protection is not all-inclusive; in not knowing the real identity of your pseudonym, you may find yourself amidst free criticism of your work, simply because people are unaware of your other identity.
  • On a more practical note, the payment of advances and royalties could become complicated unless you have bank accounts in different names, or your publisher is fully aware of your situation and makes payments to your real name bank account.

Hopefully this guide has helped you in considering the implications behind using a pseudonym: they have their uses, but also their less desirable consequences.

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