Though the writing community has moved on somewhat on the subject of pen names, it’s hard not to feel that the community itself has elements that are a bit behind the times.
What is a pen name?
A pen name is, quite simply, when you use aliases to write under. For example, my real name is Donna. Everyone online knows me as ‘Kai’. Technically, I write everything under a pen name. While this can sometimes be acceptable (like using your middle name instead of your first name) some people still frown on it. But why?
The main bulk of pen names are made up of people who want, for various reasons, to disassociate their writing from one or another area of their lives. Sometimes it could be because they write a genre that is family friendly and another that isn’t. In some cases it’s because they don’t want their ‘old’ name to impact on their ‘new’ name – either because they had very poor or runaway success with the first name.
Or, like me, they write over distinct genres, and want their fans to know what they’re getting into when they pick up a book. While it’s normally wise to develop one voice and ignore the others, some of us just can’t do that. Like me.
The problem with pen names
‘Problem’ is a loaded word, but in this case, the ‘problem’ with pen names is that people sometimes see it as ‘dishonest’. after all if you’re hiding your real name, what else are you hiding? This kind of attitude seems to be most prevalent in people who would criticise anyway, so it’s easy to ignore, but if it’s something that happens on a mailing list, it can degenerate very quickly. Especially if people start using emotive comments such as ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ to justify what they’re saying. It’s vital in these cases to stand your ground, politely and then take a step back.
One of the main problems that comes from Pen names, funnily enough, is paperwork. I run my writing as a business (and I’ll post on that later this week at my other blog at Work At Home Writers). Especially if you’re making sales in different places under different names – so pen names aren’t as straight forward as ‘today I’m going to be Marty Mcspuspu’. (not my pen name!). Actually, scratch that, it’s more work in general.
What’s good about them?
I’m not sure how other writers see them (but would love to know!), but for me, it’s a clear ‘job description’. If I’m writing as Sabrann Curach, I know I’m doing horror. If I’m writing under D Kai Wilson-Viola, I know it’s thrillers for me. Kai Viola, chick lit. Brittany Harkness is romance, and D Kai Wilson is non fiction. It’s straight forward for me.
I initially started out with one pen name – – Fayth C Reeves. She was necessity of a different kind. I joined some mailing lists where being a parent (which, by the time I was 21, I was), and writing erotica was somehow the worst thing *ever*. So I wrote under a persona. And in doing so, I opened up a whole new world and new understanding of pen names. Fayth wasn’t just a pen name – she was a whole new character – one that I quite enjoyed ‘playing’ with gusto on my sites for a while. She still resides on some of my older hard drives, but time moves on and erotica isn’t the ‘bad thing’ it used to be.
Pen names are cowardice
One of the few things I really object to, when discussing pen names, is the idea that they are in fact cowardice – that somehow they’re underhand. I’d like to vehemently refute that – sure if someone is writing something libelous under a pen name, that’s a different matter entirely, but one of the big problems with the writing community is that there are certain people who can’t see others happy. These ‘policers’ as a whole, are a massive minority compared to those that *do* give back to the writing community, but they have two major issue – one, they’re not writing themselves (so really have no reason to judge another person’s choice. It’s not even a case of ‘a mile in their shoes’ – it’s more that some people just seem to enjoy ‘teh dramas’) and two, and probably more importantly, they are tearing people down instead of building them up.
If someone is writing under one – or more pen names, I say ‘good on them’. I don’t even think in terms of ‘how dare they, they haven’t even ‘paid their dues’ on one, why should I support a second. We should be supporting each other, period.
Kai is a writer, author and avid reader. A mental health advocate, Ludosport athlete and coder. She’s the mother of two young adults, owned by two cats, and lives with her beloved in the Cotswolds.
I completely agree, I use a number of pen names because some of the things I write don’t match with other things that I write.
I write politics, programming and fiction, and there’s just no advantage of having the three connected.
I don’t see anything wrong with writing under a pen name.
Some people are really weird and if they don’t like what you have to say they will hunt you down when you use your given name. Is it hiding? Well you can look at it that way but for personal security reasons I see no problem with it.
I am not a writer, but I have a few “pen names” too. Like you, they came about without my having planned out their intended use. Its almost like a nickname that certain people know me by.
Some had a college nickname, a nickname within their family, etc. I see it the same way.
Some of us who have very unusual names (my surname is ranked approx 4,350. My mothers first name is very distinct and uncommon) just want the same anonymity that people named “Sue Miller” or “Robert Anderson” have automatically. So, we use a “pen name” to book appointments and reservations. Not to hide, not to deceive, and certainly not out of cowardice. Just out of desire for what most have without need for pen name.
🙂 In my case, my name change actually came about (to Kai anyway) because there were so many of us on a huge writing list I take part in. Five Donna’s, all active, it got very confusing. So I changed my name to Kaiberie (the fuss offlist was incredible about that, cause it’s not even – really – my middle name), but people soon grew to live with it. By the time I met my fiancee, everyone knew me as Kai.
I think my pen names give me more promnience though. Britta’s about the least ‘unsuaul’ of them – Kai Viola (soon to be married name, I jumped the gun a smidge!) is probably the most unsual but fits the romance writing I do under that name.
I guess I like anonymity – on my own terms 😉
How can you lecture us about pennames when you can’t spell “there”? You’ve spelled it THEERE and THIER. I must insist you rectify these mistakes immediately OR I’M TELLIN ON YOU.
😛 This conclusively proves editing on my phone is a bad idea m’kay?
And thanks hon (for those worried, this is a freind of mine – she’s very witty :P)