Friday, January 20, 2017

Writing: Pen Name

One of the questions that comes up occasionally when writers get together (or correspond via a writers' loop) is the subject of using a pen name. You might think this is a rarity, but I discovered that a number of writers, at one time or another, use or have used a pen name. Think it's people you wouldn't recognize? Try J. K. Rowling, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, C. S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov, and Ed McBain.

Why would someone write under a name other than their own? There are a number of reasons. Perhaps what they're penning is different from what readers have come to expect from them. It's possible that the want to self-publish a book while maintaining their contract with their publishers to put out a different type of novel. Maybe they don't like their own name, so they choose one that's more easily remembered. (Remember, many actors do the same thing. For example, Robert Taylor was born Spangler Arlington Brugh).

Of course, sometimes this is a two-edged sword. There are a couple of authors of Christian fiction who have been writing under a nom de plume for so long that I have trouble recalling their real names. That leads to some embarrassing moments when I encounter them at a conference and don't know what to call them.

Do you look at authors' names when you browse the shelves of a bookstore? What if you found that Author A, whose work you look forward to, was the same as Author B, who produces novels for which you don't care? Do you think having a pen name is a good or bad thing? I'd like to hear.

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Susan Johnson said...

I think using a pen name can be a good thing. I know of several Christian authors who write in a couple of different genres and use a different name for each one. As a reader, I think it is good because sometime you know what to expect from a certain author. You, for example. I know you write medical suspense. I would not expect to pick up a book with the name Richard L. Mabry, M.D. on the cover and start reading a regency romance. I know there are other considerations, too. One being that the author just didn't want to use their real name and I can understand that, too. Overall, whether it is their real name or a pen name, readers learn what to expect when they see a certain name on the cover.

Richard Mabry said...

Susan, you've very accurately listed many of the reasons an author might choose to use a pen name. Of course, as I pointed out, there are downsides to the practice as well.
Thanks so much for your comment.

Patricia Bradley said...

As someone who uses a pen name, I can tell you've pretty well captured the reasons for doing so. But my main reason for writing under Patricia Bradley was two-fold.

One, Bradley is my maiden name; Two, before being published, I was a speaker and I can't recall one instance where my last name was pronounced correctly. And for some reason it is hard to spell. I'm mean, really? How hard can Trainum be?

There are benefits, though. Bradley comes way before Trainum. :-) On a side note, I wanted to write under
PT Bradley, but the powers that be didn't like the initials. As I considered what first name I would use, I ran several by my mother. Finally, she said, "If I hadn't thought Patricia was pretty when I named you, I would have named you something else. So, Patricia Bradley it was. :-)

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, yet another reason for choosing a pen name. Football and baseball players can get by using their real names, but can you imagine an author named Gronkowski or Saltalammachia?
Thanks for chiming in.