Thursday, February 21, 2019

Pseudonyms, Noms de Plume, Pen Names, or Not?

By Charity Bradford, @charitybradford

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: One choice writers have to make when they choose to publish is whether or not to use a pen name. There's no right or wrong answer, it's just what suits that writer best. Charity Bradford visits the lecture hall today to share some advice on deciding if you need a pen name or not.

Charity Bradford has been a voracious reader ever since her 5th-grade teacher introduced her to the world of books with Where the Red Fern Grows. She soon became kindred spirits with Anne Shirley and got lost in the worlds of Card, McCaffrey, Bradbury, and Nagata. By college, she was sewing her own Starfleet uniform and developing her alter-ego as a comic book sidekick.

She lives in Northwest Arkansas with her hubby and four kids. Some of her guilty pleasures include binge watching Doctor Who and Ancient Aliens. Charity also loves Hallmark movies which led to her writing clean romance under the name River Ford.

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Take it away Charity...

Why are there so many ways to say, “use a name not your own?” Possibly because there are many reasons why a writer might choose to publish under more than one name. Whether you call it a pseudonym, nom de plume, or pen name is up to you.

Today we'll look at some famous authors who chose to write under a name not their own or multiple names and why. This may give you an idea of the various motivations for choosing a pseudonym. We'll also take a quick look at how you might go about choosing a pen name.

Famous Authors Who Used a Nom de Plume

Mary Anne Evans is the given name of the well-known author George Eliot. She used a man's name so people would take her writing seriously.

Stephen King wrote under the name Richard Bachman to see if his success was due to the movie Carrie or his writing skills.

writing under another name,
It's you, but not you.
J. K. Rowling wrote her adult fiction under the name Robert Galbraith. Rowling liked having a different persona for keeping a distinction between her writing.

C. S. Lewis used at least two pen names. Before he wrote the Narnia Chronicles, he wrote poetry under the name Clive Hamilton. Later in life, he wrote a piece about the death of his wife under the name N. W. Clerk. It's been suggested he used Lewis for the Narnia Chronicles because his poetry flopped and the last pen name was to ensure some privacy during his grieving period.

Isaac Asimov started a YA space series for a planned TV show with the pen name Paul French. I've read that when he stopped being “embarrassed by them” he admitted that Paul French and Isaac Asimov were one and the same.

Agatha Christie is synonymous with murder and mystery. However, she wrote romance using the name Mary Westmacott and kept it secret for nearly twenty years. She said it was her way of allowing herself to play with a new genre.

(Here's more on using pen names as an author)

So, what can we gather from these few examples?

We can use a pen name:
  • to ensure we're taken seriously if the genre tends to be dominated by one gender or the other (example: a man might choose to use a woman's name to write romance)
  • to find validation and see if you can find success with a new name not connect to an established fan base
  • to cross genres and avoid irritating your readers
  • earlier works bombed and you need a fresh start
  • to protect privacy
  • to avoid being connected with a work you think might be controversial or embarrassing
  • to play around at being someone else

Another reason not mentioned in any of the above examples is to change publishers. If an author is under contract, the publisher may own rights to upcoming works. By writing under a pseudonym they can shop out that next novel for a better deal.

(Here's more on relaunching your career with a pen name)

How Do You Choose A New Name?

Let's say you decide to use a pen name, for whatever reason. How do you go about choosing one? 

Here's how I did it.

writing under a pen name, self publishing
Choose your "other" self wisely.
First off, when I became serious about writing in 2008, I had no intention of ever using a pen name. I mean, I worked hard on that story! Everyone needed to know it was mine. I was writing a mix of science fiction and fantasy and happily learning about writing and publishing. I put out a couple of books and then fell in love with the idea of trying to write a Hallmark-style romance.

Just like Agatha Christie, I found it freeing to play with a new genre. I could be someone else while writing. Experience different emotions and adventures than with the sci-fi. When I finished the first romance I decided I needed a pen name. Why? My husband thought it was because I was embarrassed to have written a romance. That wasn't it at all. It was so readers could find exactly what they wanted without getting frustrated or disappointed. Reading is subjective just like all other art. Having made the decision to use a separate name for romance, it was time to pick one.
  • I made a list of names I thought would be a good fit for me, and I googled each one of them.
  • Based on Google searches, I eliminated any names that were already taken by other authors, famous people, too common of a name, and various other things (ex. since I was writing clean romance I didn't want to have any “non-clean” stuff popping up when my name was searched)
  • I continually revised my list until I was happy with the name and it was a fairly clean slate search wise.
My romance name is sort of a personal Easter egg as well. I started writing sci-fi because I love to read and watch that genre. River happens to be the first name of two of my favorite characters of all time—River Song from Doctor Who and River Tam from Firefly. Ford is the last half of my real last name. Easy peasy.

If you decide to use a pen name, have fun with it. Make it personal. If you choose to let your readers know the real you, the reason why you chose a particular name can be another way they can connect with you.

There are many reasons why you might choose to use a nom de plume for your writing. The choice is as individual as your writing style. Make it work for you. Make it personal. Come back in April to learn about some of the pros and cons of using a pen name.

What other reasons do you think someone might choose a pen name?

About Chocolate Kisses (Eureka In Love Series)
Kerri Manning returns home with only one semester of college left. She's in pain and trying to figure out what to do with a diagnosis that will change her future. It's hard to dream of happiness, but the new guy in town manages to make her laugh. Can she take a chance he'll stick around?

Eric Hunt is an up and coming sculptor who has grown tired of his fake friends in New York City. He finds himself in the small town of Eureka Springs looking for the passion he used to have for his art. Could Kerri be the inspiration he needs?


  1. I've always wondered, do you submit the work to an agent under the pen name or reveal your true name?

    1. That would be up to you, but if things progress to a contract you would be signing that with your legal name. You have to ask yourself what the goal would be for querying with or without the pen name. Are you seeking validation for your writing separate from a well-known platform, or are you trying to avoid the embarrassment of an earlier flop? If neither of these are the case, I don't think it will matter how you query. Just stick to it until you need to discuss pen names with the agent.

      Anyone have other thoughts on this?

    2. I think I read somewhere once--not sure if it was from an agent or an author--that you should sign queries you plan to put out under a pen name "Real Name, writing as Pseudonym" (only, filled in with your names. Obviously).
      I'm sure that's not the only way to do it, but it seems like a fairly simple and transparent solution. You could also send the book out under your real name and bring up a pseudonym with an agent after they take you on as a client.