Why You Should(n’t) Use A Pen Name: 5 Dumb Things

Why You Should(n’t) Use A Pen Name: 5 Dumb Things

My name is actually Terry Maggert, and I made a conscious decision (a rare event, but still) to use that as my pen name. If you write, you might be faced with a similar decision as more people read your books, and I’ve assembled what I hope to be compelling reasons for the type of name you use when creating a brand. For me, even my brand has a brand. See?

  1. Necessity made you do it.  If you’re a youth minister who writes giraffe-based BDSM erotica, you may consider a pen name. (Note: I have dibs on Lance Goodthrust, and if you think I’m kidding, just watch me). First: congrats on finding your niche, you maniac, and secondly, your choice of a pen name is a defensive movement designed to protect your identity. Which brings me to my second point.
  2. There is no privacy. Occasionally, I meet some adorable writer who thinks that their life isn’t an open book. News flash– our lives are beyond open; they’re a commodity that’s  being sold. Make certain that you create two entirely different identities for your brand and your life if the two aren’t congruent. This goes down to the detail of social media (especially social media), because that’s where you’re going to build the most important part of your growth. Which brings me to my third point.
  3. Don’t Get Cute or Witty with Names. I refer to the social media handles you choose. I use Terry Maggert everywhere, and I do so despite having titles that range from Young Adult Fantasy to Zombie Erotica. (Seriously. It’s a product of my childhood. Leave me be.) People who like my books can always find me. You know who can’t find you? People looking for your name instead of Wordcrusher or PirateWench69 on twitter and Instagram. If you don’t use your real name, then you must build a brand name so that people can find you. Otherwise, you’re creating a barrier between you and your readers.
  4. Pen Names  Can Infer Genre. There’s an expectation within genre fans that their favorite authors, if choosing a pen name, will pick something that dovetails with the style of books they write. If you’re a romance author (and statistically, you might be), then Selenia D’Argent makes a lot more sense than Bill Shotzenburger, who might be a lovely person but has a name that belongs to a guy who manages a tire store. Like buying bananas, choose wisely when picking your name.
  5. Pick A New Variation. Look, we all want the money that big name authors have, but selecting a pen name that’s close to theirs isn’t just poor branding, it might anger fans. You know- those people who stand outside a book store at midnight because some author just released a playlist of things their characters did while suffering from the flu? Yeah, those people. They’re rabid, they’re loyal, and they will absolutely brand you a fraud if you try to rip off their beloved author by name-crowding.

That’s a general guideline and there are many good reasons for using a pen name (organization being one), but just as many reasons to be yourself. Remember– you are the brand, as much as your books, and you must protect that identity every day. Across the spectrum of social media and other interactions, your name will be with you when you break out.

So, pick a good one, or go with the one you’ve had since the start. It’s working so far, right?

Terry

6 thoughts on “Why You Should(n’t) Use A Pen Name: 5 Dumb Things

  1. All excellent points, particularly concerning social media. I contemplated using a pen name that was nothing like my actual name, but it didn’t feel right. I ultimately decided to use my real name, just shortened down to initials and last name.
    You have the advantage that Terry is an androgynous name, and carries no preconceived gender identity. I use my initials for the same reason. I want people to pick up my book without making assumptions about how the gender of the writer might have influenced the story. I have no idea if it works that way, but it was a factor in how I chose my pen name.
    Doing it that way allows me to have a different presence on social media for personal stuff, but any of my book fans can easily find the personal “me” as well.

    1. Agree about the issue with gender and name. For many people, it’s a consideration. I was fortunate to have five letters in my first name, so initials weren’t an issue. Might have been different if my first name was Murgatroyd. 🙂

  2. My only publishing right now is in the academic world…but if I ever wanted to break free and write commercially, I really like my real name 🙂 My chiropractor thought it was a made-up name–the way that actors or other celebrities will change their names when they’re wanting to go big. Nope. I just happen to be named after my German grandmother’s best friend from Lithuania, and I married someone with a very cool last name that I just *had* to take on.

      1. I am Dr. Freeze, after all. For reals 🙂

        My husband and I have the best university email names. I am freezer and he is freezee. Sometimes I put pictures of a deep freeze and a slurpee on the front of my syllabi and tell me students: “I am the deep freeze, NOT the slurpee.”

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