Monday, August 9, 2010

Zee Nom De Plume

What are some of the pros & cons of using a Pen Name?
Would you recommend the use of a Pen Name?

1. Say you write more than one type of book for more than one type of reader, maybe a children's mystery series and adult sci-fi. Using a pen name for one series will keep your readers from getting confused and buying the wrong books. And it will help distributor sales reps, bookstore owners, and librarians put the books on correct shelves.

2. Use a pen name if you have any reason not to have your writer's life overlap your real one. A kindergarten teacher who writes steamy romances? A minister who writes vampire stories? A prominent scientist who writes poetry?

3. Lots of women writers use a masculine pen name or, at least, initials instead of a first name. If the genre has a good percentage of male readers (thrillers, westerns, sci-fi, action/adventure), it can be more difficult to sell books by an obviously female author. Usually, the reverse isn't true--romance by a man can sell as well, or better, than women authors.

4. If you have a real name so much like another recognizable name--say, Michael Jackson--that using it might give you negative publicity or, at least, attract the wrong readers, consider changing it.

5. If you have a really hard to pronounce or remember name, you might consider a pen name. My brother, Bob Santangelo, who pens non-fiction articles and books, writes under the name Bob Brooke. Why didn't I change mine if "Santangelo" is a potential problem? I kept telling myself Lisa Scottoline is doing okay with a long Italian name. At least my books are shelved near hers. And frankly, I'm proud of my family name.

1. If you change your first name, realize people will actually call you by that name. You have to sign books with your pen name. That's not an easy thing to adjust to, especially when friends and family still call you Bessie or whatever. You have to learn how to be two or more people without batting an eye and without therapy.

2. I was at a mystery convention once in a city where President Clinton was speaking at a dinner. He stopped at the hotel for a few hours to freshen up and put on his tux. The rooms of his floor were searched by the Secret Service and a friend of mine had to explain why she was registered under one name, yet her major forms of ID were another name, and a credit card under still another. Can be a big hassle, especially when flying.

3. Taxes, bank accounts, and other business matters are a bit more confusing. Filling in an IRS Schedule C is bad enough with just one name. You need to add your pen names to your bank account because someone is bound to write a check to your fake name no matter how careful you are telling them not to. Plus there are copyright and trademark issues. I don't know all the legal ramifications since I don't use a pen name (yet), but try Googling "pen name legality" to find out more.

Elena (yes, really)

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