Should I Use a Nom de Plume?
There are several legitimate reasons to use a pseudonym. You simply may not like your real name, or it doesn’t fit the genre in which you’re writing. Your employer may not want you known as an author, or your profession may demand your anonymity. (People who work in the mental health field are a good example of this.) Your real name might be the same as a celebrity’s or someone whose name has a negative connotation. Or you might write in more than one genre and use different names for each. (If you’re an unpubbed writer, you don’t need to be worrying about this one yet. First things first. Get pubbed in one genre.) Also, Kristin Nelson recently pointed out on her blog that if there’s a chance you could be job hunting, you may want to write under a pseudonym because potential employers might be scared off if they Google you and find your books. (They’ll think you’re not going to be committed to the job if your writing career takes off.)
If you’re choosing a pseudonym, you may want to choose something close to your real name, such as your first and middle initials along with a variation of your last name, but you’re not limited to that. Keep in mind real-world issues like where your books will appear on a shelf and what famous authors your book might be next to. Even more importantly, choose a name for which an Internet domain is available, and make every effort to ensure your name is not already being used by a celebrity, another author, or a porn star. Search the name in various spellings, using several search engines, to verify.
Finally, if you’re just starting out trying to get an agent and/or publisher and you’ve settled on a pen name, you can, if you like, start right from the beginning doing all your correspondence with that name. Get your email address in that name and identify yourself that way. You don’t need to tell an agent it’s not your real name until they offer representation; and the only time you’ll ever need to use your real name is on contracts. (Other agents disagree with this; I think it’s your choice. See Nathan Bransford’s great post on contradictory advice.)
What about platform? If you’re blogging, obviously the blog will only function as part of a platform if it’s written under the same name that will appear on your books. Now, most of what I’ve said about pseudonyms applies best to fiction. With non-fiction, it may be quite different since non-fiction is much more platform driven. Your platform is most likely already established under your real name so a pseudonym may not be an option. If you’re hoping to write memoir under a pen name to avoid hurting people in your life who appear in your book, be aware that simply using a pseudonym won’t avoid all potential legal, ethical and/or relational issues that could arise.
Any more questions about pen names? Have you considered using one? If so, why?
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.