Do you know what Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Louis de Conte, Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass and Mark Twain have in common? Well, all these pen names were used by the famous author Mark Twain. Writers may have different reasons to use a nom de plume, alias a pen name when they write. The Brontë sisters published under the names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell 170 years ago, because they believed they would be looked on with prejudice. But today even J.K Rowling has a pen name – Robert Galbraith. Why do authors choose a pen name? Should you choose one when you write?
Writing under a nom de plume or a pen name has its own advantages.
1. Your writing could interfere with your career
You may be a high school teacher by day and a writer by night. Your writing could interfere with your career. Hence, writing under a pen name may be a good thing. This way, you can maintain space between your day job and writing.
2. It is all in a name
You may be somebody who may not like the way your name appears on a manuscript. If you name is Thedore Latrine or Thelonius Q. Hornswaggle, you may wish to make it sound better. Or you may have a name that is very common, like John Smith. So, you may prefer a name that makes you stand out among the masses.
3. You want to excel in different genres of writing
You may be a writer who can write in more than one genre. Writing in different genres using appropriate pen names may help to set the tone of the whole book. If you have written a mystery novel using a name like Firasmus Ollimander, it looks cool on the manuscript and also adds to the atmosphere of the book.
4. You are diffident
If you are keen to write a book that is an exposé on something controversial, then you may harbour the fear of getting into trouble. In that case, writing under a pseudonym may make you feel secure as it’s your alter-ego that is taking in the criticism or rejection.
5. You have a history of failure
You may be a good writer, but for some reason or the other you have a series of flops. Many famous writers have had their share of failure and have attempted to write under a different name. If an agent is likely to associate your name with past flops, then it is wiser to adopt a pen name. Who knows, your new name may make you successful!
6. You are writing a collaborative work
Did you know Robert Silverberg and Randall Garett collaborated under the nom de plume Robert Randall? Often collaborative authors write under a pen name to make the impression that the book was written by a single author.
7. You write for competing publications
You may choose to write under a pen name if you are writing for competing publications in the same field. This means you can use your own name for one magazine, and then create multiple pen names for other magazines. This works out for everybody.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published on e-Books India (the former name of Writing Tips Oasis) in January 2015.