Part 2 in the series “Do You Need a Pen Name?”
- You may need career confidentiality. If your primary occupation involves aspects of dealing with people in confidential matters, such as being a psychiatrist or pastor or judge or accountant, and you fear that your clientele would no longer be open to telling you personal information if folks knew you were a writer, you might opt to use a pseudonym. For example, Manfred B. Lee and Frederick Dannay, two cousins who both were attorneys for high profile clients, co-authored mystery novels under the pen name of Ellery Queen. This was kept secret for decades, until one of the cousins died.
- You wish to separate two or more genres. When Holly G. Miller and I coauthored our mainstream novels, we used our real names, but when we switched genres and wrote mystery-romances, we used the pen name of Leslie Holden so that people would not confuse our two separate areas of genre writing. Similarly, that is why Evan Hunter used his real name for mainstream novels but Ed McBain for murder mysteries.
- Your name doesn’t sound right. No one is going to buy a combat novel called Storming Berlin if it is written by Lucinda Springwater. A novel like that needs to be written by someone called Sarge Murphy or Jack Gunn. It has to ring true to readers in order to be marketable. Because Western writer Zane Grey’s real name was the very feminine sounding Pearl Grey, a nom de plume was called for.
- You are the “wrong” gender. It’s a known fact that men buy the majority of combat and Western novels, and they want a man’s name on the cover as author. As such, when Sally E. Stuart (yes, the lady who prepares the annual Christian Writer’s Market Guide) wrote the Western Spirit’s Gold (Harper & Row, 1990), she wrote it under the pen name of Stuart Dillon. Conversely, women buy the vast majority of romance novels, so men who write romances use a female pen name. The situation used to be far worse. For many years all female writers were frowned on, so Mary Ann Evans had to write as George Eliot (Silas Marner, 1861). Believe it or not, Kirk Polking, who was editor of Writer’s Digest for more than twenty years beginning in the late 1950s, was a woman. She took a man’s name professionally, she told me, because when magazines were in their heyday in the post-WW II era, almost all of the freelance work went to men. (Yes, I know what her real name is, but she swore me to secrecy.)
Next week, “More Reasons to Use a Pseudonym”
Dennis E. Hensley, PhD, is director of the professional writing department at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and an annual judge for the Evangelical Press Association Awards and the Christy Fiction Awards. His five dozen books include:
- Jesus in the 9 to 5: Facing the Challenges of Today’s Business World
- How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It
- Man to Man: Becoming the Believer God Called You to Be
- More Than Meets the Eye: Finding an Extraordinary God in Ordinary Life
- Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours
- Surprises and Miracles of the Season: Devotions for Christmas and New Year’s
- The Power of Positive Productivity
© 2015 by Dennis E. Hensley. All rights reserved.