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The Pros and Cons of Using a Pen Name

April 6, 2018

In the writing community, using pen names instead of real names has been a long-standing tradition. Hard it may be to believe, but, world renowned authors such as George Orwell, Lewis Carroll, and Mark Twain are actually pen names of authors Eric Arthur Blair, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, respectively. And then there are well-known authors who have written novels under their real name, as well as, pen names; Agatha Christie as Mary Westmacott, J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith, and Stephen King as Richard Bachman to name a few.

Given the popularity and success of several authors who have written under pen names, it comes to question- ‘Is using a pen name better than using the real name?’ I believe the answer is both, a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ as there are pros, as well as, cons of using a pen name.

Using a Pen Name: The Pros

1. Controversial Genres- Go for Pen Names!

The world of literature consists of a wide range of genres, not all of which are, let’s say, family-friendly. Genres like erotica and steamy romance are not everyone’s cup of tea. When writing a book that would be accessed by millions around the globe, it is essential to think of one’s own family as well. Controversial genres that involve a lot of sex, erotic content, or even controversial political or religious outlook may upset your family. If you have a day job, discussing the genre you write about with your colleagues may be an awkward topic. Pen names are a good way to keep your privacy intact and identity anonymous in such cases.

2. Gender

George Eliot was a prolific Victorian Era writer. But, guess what? Mr. Eliot was in fact a Ms. Mary Anne Evans who wrote under the pen name George Eliot. Considering the sexism that existed in the 19th century, it is no surprise that Ms. Evans chose a masculine pen name. However, sadly, even in the 21st century, many people have sexist views. Romance is usually associated to females, while, Action & Adventure to males. World-renowned author J.K. Rowling used her initials and not her full name when first publishing Harry Potter as her publisher thought that boys would be less inclined to read HP if they thought that the author is a woman.

3. Your Real Name is a Very Common Name

Okay, so, if you are one of those many individuals who have an awfully common name, then pen names would be a better option than using your real name. For very common real names, pen names may be the only option to make your name stand out and be memorable in the hearts and minds of readers.

Using a Pen Name: The Cons

1. The world will remember you as a great author, but, never by your real name!

Publishing novels that will stir the emotions of readers and stay with them for a lifetime is every author’s dream. Great authors are remembered forever and impact the lives of millions of readers- old and young alike. When an author uses a pen name, it becomes the real name for the readers. The pen name becomes the name that would be remembered forever. Even if, readers come to know the real name of an author, it would be seldom remembered. One of the cons of using a pen name is that you may gain worldwide popularity, but, still may remain anonymous.

2. Your name can become a Brand!

Most times, authors are known by their genres. However, there are genres that are known by authors. These authors are like brand ambassadors of certain genres. They are authors who revolutionized or made an immense impact on a literary genre. For these authors, their names are a Brand.

• High Epic Fantasy- J.R.R.Tolkien
• Regency Period- Jane Austen
• Children’s Fantasy- C.S.Lewis
• Crime/Cozy Mystery- Agatha Christie
• Horror- Stephen King

This post was inspired by The Giant’s Bread written by Agatha Christie under the pen name Mary Westmacott.

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