12 Reasons to Change Your Name

Pen NamesAs a writer of fiction, you might choose to be published under a name other than your real one for a variety of reasons. The use of pen names, (or nom de plumes, literary doubles, or pseudonyms, if you prefer) is not uncommon. Although I’ve blogged about one reason for pen names before, I figured I’d provide a more comprehensive list of reasons today.

• The first three on my list have to do with Branding.
1. To separate your books into different genres or types or styles. For each name, readers know what to expect.
2. To give the reader the impression the book is an autobiography. You can adopt a character’s name as your pen name, as Daniel Handler did by choosing Lemony Snicket as a nom de plume in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
3. To share the same pen name with other authors, making it seem like a book series was written by one person. With the Tom Swift series of children’s books, several authors wrote under the single pen name, Victor Appleton.

• You may have reasons to shield your true identity.
4. To keep your real name in reserve until you’re a more established author. Eric Blair used the name George Orwell for this purpose, though it’s not clear what he was waiting for!
5. To protect your reputation. As a don at Oxford University, C. S. Lewis got published under the names Clive Hamilton and N. W. Clerk for this purpose.
6. To maintain your privacy. Enough said.

• There may be problems with your real name.
7. To choose a name more appropriate to the genre you write in. Pearl Grey chose the pen name Zane Grey for his Westerns.
8. To present yourself as the other gender. As a woman, you might feel your military adventure novels would sell better with a man’s name as the author, and similarly for you men who write romance novels.
9. To enable readers to more easily pronounce your name. Face it, some names are difficult to say.
10. To distinguish yourself from someone else. Your real name might spell or sound like another person (or thing). The British statesman and author Winston Churchill always wrote under the name Winston S. Churchill (I know, not much of a pseudonym) to avoid being confused with the then-famous American author Winston Churchill.

• Sometimes the publisher has reasons for suggesting a pen name.
11. To enable several of your stories to appear in the same magazine. Thus Robert A. Heinlein became also Anson MacDonald and Caleb Strong to avoid the appearance that a single author was monopolizing that issue.
12. To keep from saturating the market. If you write very fast, publishers might fear the public will see your name too often and tire of your novels too quickly. For this reason, some of Stephen King’s books were published under the name Richard Bachman.

Sure, there might be additional reasons for using a pen name. You don’t really need a reason, after all. It’s a personal choice and nobody’s business except yours and the publisher’s. (You’ll want your publisher to know your real name so they send those huge advance and royalty checks to the right account!)

Other good sites or blog posts that list reasons for pen names include this one, this one, and this one.

Oh, yeah, in case you were wondering, my real name isn’t—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 14, 2014Permalink

Rules Writers Break

In the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” several pirate characters throughout the movie mention the Pirate Code in reverent tones.  Late in the film, Captain Barbossa reveals, “the Code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Today I’ll discuss writing rules your grade school teachers taught you, and whether following them is something you must do, or should do. When teaching young children, it is often best to give them black-and-white rule sets.  That’s a lot easier to understand than wishy-washy grayness, the actual messiness of the real world.

However, if you aim to be a writer of fiction for the modern marketplace, it’s time to let go of some of those rules.  If, as you write, your mind’s eye sees your teacher from long ago admonishing you to follow one of the rules below, try deliberately violating the rule even as your teacher watches.  Steady practice at this should make the visions of your teacher go away.

  • Always use complete sentences.  Not only did your teacher tell you that one, but word processing software often alerts you when you’ve created a sentence fragment.  It’s fine as a general rule, but there are times when your story requires a sentence or thought to be emphasized, to stand out.  An occasional fragment is okay when used deliberately for such a purpose.
  • Don’t begin sentences with ‘And’ or ‘But.’  Your teacher might have extended this rule to all connecting words—conjunctions—which also include ‘or’ and ‘yet.’  Traditional English sentences require that such words, when used, connect two clauses.  Again, if your second clause needs special emphasis, go ahead and set it apart with a separate sentence.  But remember to use conjunctions properly when you do, according to their meanings.
  • Never end a sentence with a preposition.  This is an ancient rule imposed by grammarians who wanted to make English more like Latin.  The rule is long discredited now, or should be.  No one buried it with more flare than Winston Churchill when he wrote, “This is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put.”
  • Always use proper paragraph form.  By this your teacher meant paragraphs should have topic sentences, then sentences that build on or substantiate the topic sentence, and then a concluding sentence.  Therefore, by that rule, you would never have a paragraph consisting of just one sentence.  In fiction writing you can throw that rule out.  Just tell your story.  Paragraphs are useful to break up the text, to give white space so the reader catches a breath now and then.  Paragraphs also help to group like thoughts together.  A one-sentence paragraph now and then for emphasis is permitted.
  • Don’t use long sentences.  Many people confuse these with run-on sentences, which are different, and it’s still a good rule not to use them.  The thing about long sentences is, your reader could become lost and confused wading through all the ‘ands,’ ‘buts,’ em dashes, commas, and semicolons.  Use a long sentence (over, say, forty words) if you need to, but do it for effect and make it easy to read.
  • Never split an infinitive.  Stated differently, the rule is to never split an infinitive.  This rule, too, once created controversy but the battle is pretty much over.  You may now split with impunity.  Go with what sounds right to you.

If you are still in grade school, follow the rules presented by your teacher, (knowing you can break some of them later when your grades are no longer at stake).  For the rest of you, remember your main job as a writer of fiction is to move your reader emotionally.  If the story demands it, go ahead and break some of these rules.  Like the Pirate Code, they’re more what you’d call guidelines.  Take it from that one-time pirate and noted rule-breaker…

                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe

December 9, 2012Permalink