Thursday, August 23, 2012

Choosing to Write Under a Pen Name

Last names are complicated. They tie us to lots of things: our families. Our pasts. Or, if you're me, The Lion King and an Ottoman grand vizier from the 17th century.

I know what you're thinking: that sounds cool. If my last name made people think of Mufasa, I'd OWN it. So why exactly did I choose to publish under a different last name? Why would anyone want a made-up name on the cover of their debut novel?

Reason #1: The Google Problem
Lots of us share names with other people. But some of us share names with prominent historical figures or celebrities. Imagine your name is Michael Phelps. You will never, ever, be the first hit on a search engine, which means all of your adoring fans will have to work a little harder to find your website. Also, imagine how many people will show up to your book signing and be disappointed because you're not THAT Michael Phelps.

Reason #2: Writing Doesn't Pay the Bills (for the majority of us, at least)
Let's face it: most writers can't quit their day jobs after landing that first book deal. Still, writing is a career, which for most of us, means juggling two jobs. When I found out that I was going to be published, I was planning on becoming a high school teacher. For now, I'm fortunate enough to live at home and focus on my writing career, but someday I may want to teach again. If you want to keep your writing career and your day job separate, or even if you're uncomfortable with your co-workers/students reading your books, a pen name might be an option for you.

Reason #3: Privacy/Anonymity
If you're like me, you imagine holding your book for the first time and shouting, "HELLYEAH! I WROTE THIS!" to anyone who'll listen. But not all writers seek that personal fulfillment. Some really do want the anonymity that a pseudonym affords.

For me, reasons #1 and #2 lead me and my agent to the decision that publishing under a different last name would be better for my career. I'm 100% happy with that decision, even though I get funny looks from friends and family. Some of them have even said: "If it's not your real name, it's kind of like you didn't really write the book." Derp.

What I'd like to say to them is this: I'm fulfilling my lifelong dream of being an author. Big Bird's name could be on the cover of PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and I'd still be the happiest person in the world seeing it on a shelf for the first time.

Can you match these famous authors to their pen names?

A. Richard Bachmann
B. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
C. Eric Arthur Blair
D. Lemony Snicket
E. Esther Pauline Friedman

1. George Orwell
2. Ann Landers
3. Lewis Carroll
4. Stephen King
5. Daniel Handler

(A. 4, B. 3, C. 1, D. 5, E. 2)

Kara Taylor is the author of PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, coming Spring 2013 from St. Martin's Press. Someday, she hopes to own her own bakery. She is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary and Media. Taylor is not her real last name.


  1. Reason #4: You also write really steamy romance, and you don't want a fifteen-year-old picking up any of your smut.

    ::whistles innocently::


  2. Very interesting! I am not writing under a pen name, but I am doing it with my initials instead of my actual name. There were definitely reasons I chose to do this, and complications that came along with it. Excellent post!

  3. Great post on this topic, Kara. I've wondered about it myself, though I don't use a pseudonym. One of the reasons I don't is that my name is very uncommon, at least in the U.S. There's only one of me on Amazon. (Though on Google, occasionally a catering company will turn up in a search--LOL.)

  4. My last name is incredibly rare, which is both a good and bad thing--it gives me very little privacy. People are never going to wonder if I'm THAT April Genevieve Tucholke. I did think about going with an anagram of my name, but the best I came up with was Altho Pluckier. Which I guess I kind of love.

  5. My name double (according to Google) is a champion UK basketball player… but I'm writing under my own name regardless, so if anyone turns up to my book signings expecting me to do a slam-dunk, they're going to be disappointed, I'm afraid! :oP

  6. Hmm...good points. Right now I'm using my own name, since it's not really much of an issue at this point, but with the fact that there are like a million people out there with my name, along with the fact that I'm hoping to be teaching middle school somewhere in the nearish future...this is probably going to come up. Someday.