OK, you are just starting your book, or maybe you have just finished it, and you come to the place where you ID the author. Obviously, the author is – you. So you simply and proudly write your name, say John P. or Joann M. Taylor, whichever gender you choose to be. But wait, do you really want to use your name? Maybe, you think, you ought to consider using a time-honored tradition among writers, the pen name, or pseudonym.
Oh, you say, in this day of keeping things real, someone would consider using a pseudonym? A pen name? A fake name? Yes, even in these modern times when actors, entertainers and many writers are holding onto their birth names – consider, Bruce Springsteen, pen names are still finding a place on book covers or on other works. Various reasons can be given for their continued use, one of those, although it probably would not be the most often given, is market advantage.
A catchy pen name can help sell your book or poem, etc. For example, the title of this blog is Writer dude and I use the pen name of Writer dude as the writer of this blog you readers are helping to make popular. Writer dude, however, is not my real name. My family name is not dude and my parents did not come up with the brainstorm of adding Writer as my first name. No, my parents were serious, sober middle-class Americans and named me after my father. But Writer dude, I think, is more appealing than my real name.
As I have mentioned, reasons for using pen names vary. Some writers use them for perhaps the most common reason: they want to keep a low profile. Either they don’t want a lot of publicity – and all those paparazzi hounding them all day (they wish) — or they may have other reasons. For instance, they may be writing about people who are still living or about incidents that could be embarrassing or detrimental to people who are involved, if they are still living, or to the family of those being written about, whether the person is still alive or not.
The author of the popular series about a British vet, which began with “All Creatures Great and Small,” was James Herriot, but that wasn’t his real name. His name was Alf Wight. James Herriot was his pseudonym. In his writing, he explained that he took his writing name from that of a British, I believe he was, soccer star. In Wight’s case, he wrote about people and events that were still very much alive, or in most cases, actually happened. So, use a pen name and people don’t tie the name to the vet who has an actual practice in the next town over.
Another common reason for using a pen name is linked to the above reason. People have a fondness for avoiding any possible legal entanglements when they write. If you are writing about living people and actual events, such as in a memoir, one way to avoid civil suits is to use a made-up name. The pseudonym may not be a lock-down antidote for law suits, but it can go a long way to skirting them. (A future Writer dude blog will explore pen names and their legal status in the digital world). However, in this case or for whatever reason you chose to use a pen name, check as to whether the one you select is already in use. A unique pen name is an advantage should you ever happen to be sued for, oh, say, libel.
Other reasons for a pseudonym – and this is an example of wishful thinking – may be to keep the fame down to a minimum, which would be the last of my worries. Another: for the digital savvy, may be to claim a surname which starts with a letter toward the front of the alphabet. If the name began with, say, an A, more people would notice and buy, one hopes, the book. Or it may be that your last name may stink, although not really Stink, and you want to use one you like.
Although I did not use a pseudonym for my book, “Jackson Flats,” which should be published soon, I have been attracted to the idea of using a pen name. That’s especially true when I consider some of the great pen names out there. For example, a local writer here in Carroll County uses the pen name Timberline Davis. I love that name!