At a conference last fall, I sat in on a few sessions where authors pitched their stories to editors.
One session had maybe a dozen authors, and I was surprised when at least four of them began by announcing, “my name is Jane Smith, and I’m writing as Suzie Brown.”
OK, they didn’t all use those exact names, but you get the idea.
More surprising to me than those introductions, however, was the fact that the editor stopped each author after that.
“Why are you using a pen name?” she asked.
Sometimes, the author had a good reason – a churchgoing family of five and a fondness for writing steamy lesbian erotica, for example.
But at least one author blinked at the editor with a confused expression. An expression that said, “I thought making up a pen name was the first thing a new writer is supposed to do.”
I know that look because I once had it. I’ll admit that one of the first things I did the summer of 2002 when I decided to try my hand at fiction was conjure up a good pen name.
Well, good may not be the right word. Atrocious might be more appropriate.
I don’t know why a pen name seemed like a more logical first step than, say, reading a book on plotting or joining a writers’ group.
But I know I’m not the only author to think that way. I’ve heard the same story from tons of others. Some have perfectly legitimate reasons for it – a real name that’s too common or unpronounceable, or a secret career as a spy.
I’m curious why the editor asked the question. Was she watching for signs that a newbie author had her head so far in the clouds she was more enthralled by the idea of a nom de plume than learning the craft or the business side of publishing?
That certainly would have been true for me back in 2002.
But like I said, there are perfectly legit reasons for using another name.
Once I got serious about writing, I never again considered a pen name for my fiction career. In a funny ironic twist, there was a brief moment last fall when the issue came up again. I was interviewing for a new marketing/PR job and wondered if I should offer to use a different name there. I knew the job required occasional high-profile media stuff, and I worried the organization wouldn’t want public ties to an author known for risque humor.
It never became an issue, since it turned out they were delighted to embrace my smuttier side. Still, it was the first time I’d given much thought to pen names in years.
Do you use a pseudonym for writing? If so, why? If you don’t, do you have any early moments where you toyed with the idea? Please share!
Oh, and before you ask, I’m not sharing that early pen name. Not even if you hold me down and tickle me until I pee. Some things are just too embarrassing. Yes, more embarrassing than throwing up in my underwear or spitting gristle in someone’s purse. That bad.