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  1. #1
    I write stuff J.D. Carelli's Avatar
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    Pen Name, Pseudonym, Nom de Plume - When do you need one and what to choose

    This is something I've long wondered about. My last name is one of those long, hard to pronounce, Italian names that people can never spell. So I have two questions:

    1. When might it be a good idea to choose a pen name?
    2. Considerations for choosing a good pen name?

  2. #2
    Great topic.

    I use a pen name because I want to keep my creative life and my work life separate, or as separate as possible. My name is rare enough that it would be pretty easy to pinpoint me. My last name isn't very long, but it's very difficult for people to get right, so that's an issue as well. By my reckoning, here are a few reasons to select a pen name.

    • Don't want any fame, should we be so lucky, to affect our personal lives.
    • If you write controversial stories or with controversial themes which could affect your career or social standing (think being a Christian and writing stories with lots of sex or homosexual relationships)
    • You have a hard-to-pronounce name, or name that you think could be a liability for marketing purposes


    I used to float one around here for a while, Lukin Markauskas, but it's a pretty misguided name because the last name is pretty damned long and doesn't roll off the native-English tongue. I've considered shortening it to Lukin Mark or Lukin Marcus. I've heard that the two-syllable given name and surname is a good way to go. I know I will keep Lukin as the first name. It has history in my family and it's a pretty cool name. The last name? Who knows? It should be something that, if not English in origin, is pretty easy for the English speaker to pronounce.

  3. #3
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    When you may need a pseudonym.

    1. You're writing about doing something unattractive to a squirrel with a fork.
    2. You just published a lavish collection of private photographs - without their permission.
    3. The police read your book and found the body.
    4. You take a harsh look at <insert religion here>.
    5. The tar and feather club are still looking for you after that last book.
    6. Your name exceeds the width and breadth of the cover art.
    7. There are no vowels in your name and it's seventeen letters across.
    8. Your name is already well known...unfortunately.
    9. You stand to make millions off your novel and you live in a poor neighborhood.
    10. NSA.

    Usually a short name that isn't obviously phony will suffice. You can see lots of this with actors and actresses. Often, you can pick out someone you locally admire, or perhaps a street name, and use that.

    Kerry (aka "K M Tolan")

  4. #4
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kmtolan View Post
    3. The police read your book and found the body.
    Classic. That's me.

    Seriously, I decided on a pen name solely because I'm embarrassed by the crap I write. Still, I chose something that is derivative of all my real names. If you know me, you'd get it real easy. But most folks who read my stuff (so few) don't know me. Anyway, I like my pen name so I'm keeping it.

    By the way, I love Lukin Marcus.

  5. #5
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Pen names are very seldom used to hide identities these days, especially in the age of the Internet where authors usually are promoting their works. The usual reasons SFF writers use pen names:

    1) You are writing a work for hire novel for a series that uses one author name (sometime the original author, sometimes a made up name,) for all the books, so it's not so much your pen name as the nom de plume of the series. These used to be a lot more common. Nowadays, work for hire and tie-in books just usually use the author's real name and have multiple authors for the series, but there are still a few that use one pen name.

    2) Some academics use pen names for fiction writing just to be on the safe side, but this was more common way back in the olden days. Likewise, there are some people who are in a sensitive profession and so need to keep their fiction publishing not clearly associated with their real name. It's not a big group but it does sometimes crop up.

    3) You want to differentiate different kinds of fiction that you are doing in the marketplace, usually SF and fantasy, especially as in the North American market, they are often now put in the category sections in separate sections. So Seanan McGuire uses her name for her fantasy books and uses the pen name Mira Grant for her science fiction series. Daniel Abraham uses his name for his fantasy, but for his SF collaboration with Ty Franck, they use a pen name of James S.A. Corey. Iain Banks used that name for general fiction and Iain M. Banks for his SF. Category romance writers often had several pen names so that they could put out a lot of novels without necessarily seeming to flood the market, and some of them still do this, though their actual identity as the owner of the pen name is usually known.

    4) Related, you are working with a collaborator but don't want to have two author names on the books, so you use a pen name for the both of you, such as Ilona Andrews for the husband-wife team of Ilona and Andrew Gordon.

    5) Your series developed a fan base but the publisher wasn't happy with the overall sales growth and may have dropped the series entirely. Booksellers have a budget for taking a risk on new, debuting authors, but on established authors, they are now often basing their orders on how the author's last book did according to Book Scan computer numbers -- which are incomplete and uneven -- even if the book is completely different from what they are doing now. To get around that with authors whom they feel have considerable potential, publishers new or old will often get the author to start his or her new series under a new pen name. Everybody -- the fans, the publisher, the booksellers, the reviewers, etc. -- knows who the author really is, and the author promotes his or her books under both the old name and the new pen name. But to the computers, the new pen name shows up without a track record and so booksellers can justify taking on the new series as part of their new debuts budget. (Which is yet another reason why anyone telling you that publishers don't like to do new debut novels, especially in SFF, is wrong.)

    6) The author has a name that he or she thinks will be problematic in the marketplace -- hard to pronounce or too generic or too close to a well-known author's name, etc., and so they want a pen name that they think will work better or stand out.

    There are other reasons, but those are usually the main ones. Only the first two usually involve having the author's identity secret, and in #2, the author is often promoting in person, just keeping a low profile outside the field re their professional connections.

    So if you do decide to do one or more, bear in mind that it doesn't mean that you are necessarily going to be hiding yourself. When you are choosing one, maiden and middle names, or family names often come into it. Making it as easy to remember as possible helps, especially in SFF where people are more likely to remember the author's name when trying to find stuff than all the many, generic book and series titles. And if you are writing under more than one name and aren't hiding, the usual advice is to have at least one website in each pen name, with books listed for that name, and then one general site where you have all the pen names. Quite often authors have them linked.

  6. #6
    I write stuff J.D. Carelli's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the replies.

    So the only question left is, what will my pen name be?

    I thought to use my middle name as my last name, which would be rendered 'Jason Daniels', but there are several artists of some sort or another with that name.

    I'm open to suggestions

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by jasoninchina View Post
    Thanks for all the replies.

    So the only question left is, what will my pen name be?

    I thought to use my middle name as my last name, which would be rendered 'Jason Daniels', but there are several artists of some sort or another with that name.

    I'm open to suggestions
    J.D. Rowan

    It was the first thing that popped into my head.

  8. #8
    sf-icionado / horr-orator Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
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    Having recently received an email from you, Jason, I know what your surname is - are you wanting to keep it secret here, or can I/we use it to make suggestions from?

    Speaking for myself, my pseudonym is up there on the left. I chose it for two reasons: first, I considered my actual surname to be a bit awkward as a writer, not particularly easy to guess at if you don't know the spelling, so might complicate searches, etc. This might have been compounded by living in Spain, as it is almost unpronounceable by the locals, whether they copy me saying it aloud or if they read it off the page (hospital announcements, for example, go: "Andreeyoo Crirr-- Crick-- Creet-- ...Andreeyoo." Invariably).

    I also wanted to salute my grandfather - "Hudson" is my mother's maiden name, and her dad was my favourite, a big reader like myself, lover of sci-fi like myself, etc. So "Andrew Hudson" was my first choice (complete with that pleasing 2x2 syllable rhythm, as someone noted above).

    Of course, someone is already publishing with it, aren't they: military non-fiction and/or African history - something like that, anyway. Not an awful lot, but I assumed that it would be an insurmountable problem for me to use that name too, so I added "Leon". My middle name is Noel, which I don't like, so I reversed it, which is the kind of thing I do for fun. Sigh.

    By coincidence, I discovered very recently that there is now a published author using my real name as well. So, no going back now!

  9. #9
    I write stuff J.D. Carelli's Avatar
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    @Sarunus. I do like the idea of J.D. something. My initial thought was J.D. Daniels, but alas, there is an actor by that name. I do feel that I'm being a little picky with the name, but it may last a while, so...

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Leon Hudson View Post
    Having recently received an email from you, Jason, I know what your surname is - are you wanting to keep it secret here, or can I/we use it to make suggestions from?
    If you have a suggestion, by all means. My last name is Vecchiarelli.

  10. #10
    sf-icionado / horr-orator Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
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    My first thought was to start deleting letters off the back.

    "Jason Vecchia" seems less of a mouthful, but still distinctive. "Jason Vecch" looks unusual, but that's not a bad thing if it isn't over-complicated, and this isn't. I could see either of these making a good author handle (and with "Jason" or "J.D." would work equally well).

    "Jason Vecc" doesn't look great to me, but "Jason Vec" could be interesting. It has the nice tiny-surname thing that works for Stephen King, only more so. You'd probably need to be writing sci-fi though, it has that kind of sound! I can see the covers now...
    ________
    JASON
    VEC


    BOOK TITLE
    ________

    Edit: I just consulted my Italian girlfriend and (likely you know this, but) she tells me your name derives from vecchio, for old. However, the "i" makes the suffix a plural diminutive, so "Vecchiarelli" could be literally translated as "Oldies".

    Calling someone vecchiarello would be an affectionate way of addressing someone old, like a grandparent. So "Ciao, vecchiarello!" would be something like "Hi, Oldie!" but with no implication of criticism - hard to correlate in English, really, I can't think of an equivalent that doesn't carry some degree of negative connotation.

    Now, I'm not saying that "Jason Oldies" would be a good pseudonym... but maybe your name's etymology will shake an idea loose!
    Last edited by Andrew Leon Hudson; September 21st, 2014 at 11:20 AM.

  11. #11
    J.D. Carelli

    It's a loose derivative.

  12. #12
    I write stuff J.D. Carelli's Avatar
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    Wow, Andrew, you're really putting a lot of thought into this. I appreciate it.

    I've been making a list of all the suggestions and will be showing them to people. J.D. Carelli jumped off the page for me, but it does sound a bit like I'd be writing murder mysteries or detective novels

  13. #13
    Heh, fair enough! I actually thought it sounded vaguely horror-esque. I'm definitely curious to see your list.

  14. #14
    I write stuff J.D. Carelli's Avatar
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    Quick questions. Just so I know whether or not to add it to my list, what does everyone think of J.D. Daniels? There's a child actor by that name, but he doesn't seem to be in the business anymore. Should I care one way or the other?

  15. #15
    The "D. Daniels" is a little harsh sounding to me. It doesn't flow very well, but best to ask the native English speakers first

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