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 now a field equally occupied by both men and women, some genres of writing are often seen as dominated by certain genders, such as Romance is 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. However this may become interesting should you do live promotions when your pseudonym is Nancy, whereas your real name is John.
  • Furthermore, writing under a pseudonym can allow you to streamline your name further to fit your book, such as adding authority, or appearing more appealing to your market, such as their age range or interest.
  • Also, if your name is the same as another author’s, or a rather common name, 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 rather long, with pseudonyms, you may shorten it to a punchier and more memorable version.
  • However, when adopting a pseudonym, one must remember that you are essentially adopting another identity, and this has its 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 can be quite difficult as 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 addresses, but also, any reputation you may have had previously under your name as a writer is of no consequence to your new pen-name, and so you must begin from scratch. In some cases this can be desirable, should a first novel not sell as well as originally thought, giving a writer a fresh start. Also some prolific writers can benefit from pseudonyms in allowing them to publish more works without their work being devalued. Moreover, a pseudonym for a more established writer may allow an author the freedom on embarking on a different direction, such as a change of genre, without risking the reputation of their already established name.
  • If your subject matter is rather controversial, adopting a pseudonym would be beneficial in offering you a layer of protection. In addition, many 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 gets complicated when a pseudonym is used. In addition, other legal implications must be maintained carefully, such as copyright and freelance work to prevent causing trouble.

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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