With the growth in fiction writing as an opportunity for professional writers, I get lots of questions about pen names. Should you have a pen name? More than one? How do you create a pen name, etc.
Before we go on, this is important: I’m NOT a lawyer. I’ve no idea what your local laws are. If you have doubts about anything to do with pen names, get legal advice.
New authors tend to obsess about names.
Generally speaking, you can use any pen name you choose, but do try to eliminate confusion. Steer clear of a name associated with:
- A real person whether alive or dead, famous or not, or a fictional character;
- Another author — check Google. Google is your friend :-);
- A place, an event, a song, a business, a product;
- Anything trademarked, or which might sound as if it’s related to someone’s mark, or intellectual property;
- A name in words of a language you don’t know, unless you are 100 per cent certain of the words’ meanings.
The most important question for pen names: WHY do you need one?
Authors create pen names for 1001 reasons. Know why you’re doing it. Commonly, authors create pen names when they:
- Want to avoid reader confusion. If you’re known as a writer of serial killer novels, you might want a different name for your inspirational romances;
- Write erotica;
- Don’t want relatives, or an employer, to know that they write fiction.
Let’s look at pen names for fiction genres, and for naughty writing, in a little more detail.
Pen names when you test a new fiction genre
I like to create pen names when I test a genre. I also create names for ghostwriting clients.
There’s a school of thought which believes that you should keep everything you write under one name, because it’s hard to build a readership for one name, let alone several, if you’re a new writer.
I can’t argue with that, because it’s true.
Follow your instincts. And be aware that if you’re writing under the pen name Susanna Maybelle Jones, you can link the two names. For example: Robert Vayne-Smythe, writing as Susanna Maybelle Jones.
You don’t need to keep your pen names secret unless you want to do that.
Pen names for your naughty writing
Let’s say you’re writing erotica, and you don’t want your kids, or other relatives, or your work colleagues to know about it. In cases like this, it makes perfect sense to use a pen name.
You needn’t feel guilty about this — you’re not trying to cheat anyone. Your business is yours, no one else’s.
Getting paid under another name
Speaking of cheating, another topic which comes up in regard to pen names is the challenge of getting paid. It’s not a challenge — it’s straightforward.
As we’ve said, you can call yourself anything you like, as long as you’re not out to defraud anyone. Just because someone is listed as an “author” on a book, it doesn’t follow that he or she is a real person with that name. You’re not taking an oath; it’s common knowledge that authors use pen names.
Re getting paid. Your Amazon account is listed under a name, and you’ll be paid via that Amazon account no matter how many books you write under dozens of names. From memory, I think Amazon restricts you to three Author Pages under one account, so just create Author Pages for your three most popular pen names.
Similarly, when publishing elsewhere, you’ll have a publisher account. You can use any name you like on any book you publish. Your payments go to the details you set up in your publisher account.
Pen names are a choice, and you can always change later
A pen name isn’t forever. Let’s say you chose a pen name for your mystery novels. You decide that you’d rather have them under your own name, which is Susanna Maybelle Jones.
Use this format while you make the transition: Susanna Maybelle Jones, writing as Robert Vayne-Smythe.
Publish new mysteries as: Susanna Maybelle Jones, formerly writing as Robert Vayne-Smythe.
Over time, you can drop the Robert Vayne-Smythe name, because everyone knows that you’re he.
Rich and famous? Turn yourself into a company, and trademark your pen names
This happy event is beyond the scope of this article, but let’s say that one of your pen names becomes FAMOUS. Hooray! Get legal advice, and register your own company. Then you can trademark all your pen names. 🙂
Whichever pen names you choose to write under, they’re all still you, so have fun with pen names — no need to obsess.
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