One particular phenomenon that has become quite popular in creative fictional and nonfictional writing is the use of pen names. Alternately referred to as a pseudonym, a pen name is a name that a writer uses to identify themselves in their works.
It could be a distortion of their actual name or it could be an entirely new name. Regardless, as long as any name outside the original was chosen specifically for the purpose of writing a particular piece or set of pieces, it qualifies as a pen name.
Some of the greatest writers in the world have used pen names. Stephen King, for example, a renowned American Author with several million copies of his books sold across the world, occasionally uses pen names. One of his more popular pseudonym is Richard Bachman.
Now, you might be wondering why exactly you would need to use a pen name. After all, doesn’t every writer want people to know who they are? Well, there lies our first out of multiple answers to that question. See below:
You might want to remain unknown
Unlike Stephen King who is easily identified with his pen name, other writers prefer to live their lives separate from their pen names. The privacy that comes with it offers a certain level of peace that they would not otherwise enjoy.
Now, even if you’re not the type of writer to seek solace and solitude all the time, the chances are that you’re the type to avoid trouble whenever you can. A pen name affords you the luxury of doing just that. For example, if you were to write a particularly hard-hitting satirical piece that criticizes a well-known government official or celebrity, you’ll likely get a lot of unsavory messages and actions from their fanatics.
But, if you were to use a pen name, it greatly reduces the number of people who can identify you with the piece you’ve written. This helps you to pass your message across without necessarily getting into the heat it might cause.
You might want to give the illusion of a certain gender identity
Between the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a bit of a bias in the industry that didn’t quite favor women. As such, many female writers wanting to be taken seriously had to use male pen names. This was so that the audience can receive their work much more favorably. An example is Mary Ann Evans who became George Elliot for her books.
Thankfully, things are much different today. Now, you don’t need to worry too much about every single person shoving you aside because of your gender. However, some writers and publishers still hold the opinion that certain works are better received by audiences when the writers are believed to be of a certain gender.
For example, the world-famous writer of the Harry Potter series J.K. Rowling chose not to use her first name, Joanne. Instead, she simply chose her initials, and quite frankly, it did give the impression of her being male to many people. Similarly, Bill Spence chose to identify in some of his books as Jessica Blair.
Granted, times are rapidly changing and readers are coming to books with an open mind. However, this is still something worth considering, especially if you want your creative piece to achieve a certain effect.
You may have concerns with the marketability of your given name
This isn’t the most common reason among authors but it is still a rather valid one. Authors who have native names that are difficult to pronounce sometimes use pen names to make up for it. This enables them to appeal to much larger audiences who might’ve simply judge their books by the name on its cover instead of even the cover itself.
A great example is Joseph Conrad. If you’re an avid reader, you must’ve heard of him or read his works. You should also know that he is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers to write in the English language. Well, Joseph Conrad’s actual name is Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. This is his native Polish name. As you can imagine, it isn’t exactly the easiest thing to pronounce and it might not have drawn readers to the stands. See our point now?
You should keep in mind that a pen name is not compulsory by any means and it isn’t always a prerequisite for making sales or getting preorders. You could choose to have one or not. Besides, many writers who used pen names for the reasons stated above did it for reasons that mightn’t apply to you. For example, many were doing it because of the socio-political climes they existed in during their time. Now, things are much different and you don’t have to face the same troubles they did. However, two reasons we would say are still very relevant are for privacy and simply for the sake of it!