What’s in a name? Choosing a pen name

I’ve been dithering for years about what name to publish under.  The looming publication of the Elements anthology, in which I have a story, has forced the issue. The author release demanded I supply the author name.

 O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

There are a few reasons why a writer might use a pen name, or pseudonym.

J.K. Rowling used her initials instead of her name to hide her gender. Despite there being more female writers than male, publishers tend to favour men.

Stephen King published four novels under the name Richard Bachman, because publishers thought audiences wouldn’t accept more than one novel from an author in a year.

If your real name is Michael Jackson or Joanne Rowling, you might choose a pen name to avoid confusion. Or if its a very common name, and there are already multiple authors out there. If you’ve already published in one genre, you may wish to publish under a different name for a different genre. I attended a workshop once where publishers advised people who want to write erotica and children’s books to use separate names, which seems sensible until you realise children don’t buy books, adults do, and they are unlikely to be confused. Still, it may make some publishers wary.

I’ve decided to use a pen name for publishing fiction, for the same reasons I’ve published this blog semi-anonymously: to keep a separation between my professional life, and my writing. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I have some strong, some would say radical views. I work in the public sector, and we tend to err on the side of conservatism. While theoretically public servants & public sector workers are free to express opinions, in reality some people have suffered very real consequences.

Next week I’ll introduce you to my alter ego, and explain the reasons I chose that name.

For more info on why to choose a pen name, here is a useful summary.


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