Page 1 of 1

The logistics of pen names

Posted: May 10th, 2010, 11:03 am
by Sommer Leigh
There are plenty of resources out there that give advice on WHEN and WHY to use a pen name, but there is next to nothing on HOW to use a pen name. I suspect that the definitive experts are those that use them, and it would be counterproductive to out yourself so that you can discuss the logistics of it on your blog. The first rule of pseudonym club is that we don’t talk about pseudonym club.

A year and a half ago I decided to write Young Adult literature. So my husband and I talked about it. We decided together that it would be better if I didn’t write under my married name because my husband is a high school English teacher and should the day come (when the day comes) that I am published, he thought it would be better if his classes were not distracted by the fact he was married to me. This made sense. Then it became a question of WHO and HOW.

The WHO was hard at first, as my maiden name is clunky, complicated to spell, and usually mispronounced. But I worried that I wouldn’t be able to adjust to a totally new identity. So I compromised. Sommer is my real name, and Leigh is my middle name. I would still be me, just with a few less letters at the end.

Now the HOW. I’m just finishing edits on my WIP. I blog, twitter, and post on forums like this one under Sommer Leigh. For those of you in the know, how do you handle the logistics of a pen name? I know I’ll query under my real name, but if I want to point out my blog will I need to explain why it’s and not, you know, my given last name? Do agents cringe when they see someone using a pen name and think, “Whoa, too much trouble.” Or is it no big deal?

Do pen names then become logistical legal nightmares? Do authors ever change their name legally to the pen name, or is that taking it a little far? Have I made it harder on myself by building a blog identity with the pen name before I get an agent and sell the book?

I feel silly worrying without actually selling yet, but I do. I worry. I’m a good worrier.

What do you guys think?

Re: The logistics of pen names

Posted: May 10th, 2010, 11:19 am
by bcomet
Thanks for this topic, Sommer.

The balance between one's private and public life or even one's day job name and their writing job name is something I think about a LOT. For a variety of reasons, once your name is out, it's out. In some instances, it also is appealing to want to test the waters with a pen name first.

Another question: if one has a pen name and their own name, on different projects, does that dilute things too much or can you (like many authors) just admit the pen name later if you want to?

Re: The logistics of pen names

Posted: May 10th, 2010, 11:27 am
by polymath
A pen name as an alter ego, a writing persona, is a part of a writer's self-identity, a tool for preserving private identity in an increasingly intrusively intruding public reality. From a few hints, a writer's birthdate, mother's maiden name, home address, and other hazzardous private information can be gleaned from the Internet almost effortlessly.

In my case, the way I deal with all the hazzards of privacy intrusions is by using a variety of screen names. Another is the legal alias process. Any person not a felon can register an alias with a local municipality. The alias phenomena comes by different names, also known as, AKA, and sole proprietorship doing business as, DBA. The benefits are worth the efforts and fees. A DBA or AKA identity is valid for opening a bank account, engaging in online commerce receipts, and for having a public persona that's more difficult to penetrate than an informal alias identity because the identity recordation is in one place only, a local public records office. Albeit many public records make their way into background-check services' databases, there's an access fee involved, meaning there's an obstacle to justify surrmounting. Most municipalities don't automatically give out alias identities, some exclude them from public access altogether. There's got to be a substantively compelling legal reason to do so in most locales. There's no reason whatsoever to even give a real identity to an agent or publisher when one has a legal alias. What the heck, create a mystique. Be legally someone else publicly.

Re: The logistics of pen names

Posted: May 10th, 2010, 12:58 pm
by daringnovelist
Pen names are common. There are a whole lot of good reasons for using a pen name, most of them logistical. (From issues like yours, to just wanting to keep their various genres clear from one another.)

Most writers I know who use them don't bother with DBAs and legal paperwork. They just do business under their own name, and just put the pen name in the byline and use it as a screen name. So a manuscript would have their real name and contact info at the top (queries would just have the real name), and the pen name in the byline.

As long as your pen name doesn't sound pretentious or silly, or lame, it shouldn't hurt you.

Re: The logistics of pen names

Posted: May 10th, 2010, 1:24 pm
by Harper Karcz
I've looked into this too, as I'm not legally "Harper Karcz." It popped into my head as a workable pen name several years ago, and I've actually started thinking of myself as "Harper" rather than [Given Name Which Everyone Writing / Publishing YA Seems To Share] whenever I sit down to write. Even my husband calls me Harper when he sees me writing or editing or even reading blogs about the writing / publishing world. So it's definitely the name I intend to use when I start querying.

What I've heard is: you query with your legal name, but you can add a "writing as" under the byline of the manuscript, or even at the close of your query letter.



My Legal Name
Writing as "Pen Name"

The pen name is something you'd probably discuss with any interested agents you talk to on the phone, but I'd guess that if you've already established a strong online presence with your pen name, your eventual agent will be agreeable to presenting you to editors as your legal name / pen name combination.

I've read a couple interesting agent blog posts over the years about doing pen-name strategizing with clients. I think those were more so for authors trying to switch genres, or authors writing in a genre where names tend to be more, I don't know, evocative? of the mood of the work itself. Regency romance or erotica, for example. In that case, the agent and author were using a new name as part of the brand. I feel like that happens less often among writers of, say, YA or lit fic. Bet those pen-name brainstorming session would be fun to listen in on, though.

Re: The logistics of pen names

Posted: May 12th, 2010, 8:50 pm
by Nathan Bransford
Yeah, I do know from some authors who have pen names that it can be challenge to meld one's online presence with their pen name, especially if they've built up a following under their real name. I think it's harder to have a pen name than it used to be, but there are definitely authors who are able to pull it off.

Re: The logistics of pen names

Posted: May 12th, 2010, 9:42 pm
by Sommer Leigh
Thanks for all the great comments! I usually feel ok about not working under my married last name, but I've found very few people I can actually talk to about it and share thoughts with.

And thanks for your input too Nathan!

Re: The logistics of pen names

Posted: May 12th, 2010, 10:20 pm
by Em!
If you skip to about 18:50 in this podcast, Gail Carriger (of Soulless/Changeless/Blameless) talks for a few minutes about using a DBA.

I remembered the interview because Gail also says she chose to use a pen name because she's a teacher. So it sounds like her motivations were similar to yours, Sommer.