To pseudonym, or not to pseudonym: that is the question.
Personally, I’m not “me” and choosing to go with a pen name was actually a must. Why? Well, read on for that answer. But for most writers, whether to use a pen name or write under their real names could be a complicated decision.
Like everything in life, there are pros and cons for either option. Some that make me happy I went with my gut, and others that have made me second-guess myself. Mainly because I chose my name based on emotions and went for it without looking into legal implications or learning now to protect my rights.
My biggest regret, however, is not picking a name that would bring out my inner diva. You know, because I assume an alter ego would have been the key in me publishing ten AH-MAZING books a year. Okay, maybe it doesn’t work that way, but here are some real factors to consider:
Pro: Many writers feel it’s important to have names that elicit the right feel for a specific audience. Having a “sweetheart name” is kind of the law for the romance genre; one that is mysterious or dark is ideal for suspense, dystopian, or horror; and of course having an arousing type of name is perfect for erotica. But there’s no better reason to have a pen name than having flunked under a different name and needing to start over. Surprisingly, this happens more often than you’d think.
Con: My personal mistake in branding? Well, nothing says “chick-lit” voice for sci-fi-romantic-action-urban-fantasy books than a name like S.K. Anthony . So my advice is to really think it through and make sure it adds something to your brand. I will say, however, I don’t regret it because the names are based on my children, and that works perfectly fine for me.
Pro: Nothing causes interest more than an air of mystery. You can create a whole public persona that exudes and complement your brand. But most importantly, you keep your real identity as hidden as you need it. Whatever your reasons, a pen name is perfect to have a regular 9-5 job by day, and a wild writerly-life by night.
If like me, you don’t want any extra attention or don’t want people to know that you write, then a pen name is an excellent way to remain anonymous. I’m an insanely private person, which is why it was always a must to have a pen name. Having family and friends bombard me with questions about my books was not something I wanted to deal with. I get to live my life, and if I ever blow up and become a famous bestselling author, I’ll just look back and appreciate all these years of anonymity (hey, a girl can dream!). And if you really want to be secretive, you can also avoid sharing your picture publicly.
Con: Going to the extremes of creating an identity by lying. You never want to reach a point where your readers might feel betrayed by who you said you were. And even worse: please be careful with your bio. Claiming false credentials and/or experience could mean the death of your career. In case you wondered, the only thing different about who I am and who I say I am is the name. Otherwise, S.K. Anthony is . . . Well, me.
Pro: One concern of using a pseudonym is whether or not you could be accused of identity theft or fraud. Well, the answer is no, because it is perfectly legal to have a pen name. I would, however, advise authors to register their works under both their pen names and real names to create a permanent record. That being said, the number of copyright infringement lawsuits have gone up in the past years, so I’d also advise you take an extra step and treat your pen name and writing as a separate business structure. How? Set up a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) to protect your personal assets and savings. (A separate post on this is coming soon).
Con: If you write under a pen name but want to be identified by your legal name in the Copyright Office’s records, readers can look it up and out you. You do have the option to leave your real name out of the record, but it does become harder to prove ownership of your work if you ever need to.
Pro: Let’s face it; many names are not only difficult to pronounce but even harder to spell. Having a simplified pen name makes it easier for readers to remember you and in turn find your work faster.
Con: If you don’t choose wisely, and go for a common name, you could find yourself fighting for a top Google or Amazon search rank. But even that doesn’t mean anything, I recently found another person who is also using my pen name. Can I sue her? No. Am I upset? No. Well, not unless her writing causes me to lose readers 😉 To the other SK Anthony, we have a brand to uphold, girl, so do it!
In the end, going for a pen name is an individual decision. I suggest writers do their research and think the name through before jumping in blind!
What about you?
Do you write with a pen name?
Why or why not?
S. Katherine Anthony