Pen Names for Branding Fiction & Nonfiction

If you’re a writer or you’re going to be a writer or you aspire to write at some point in the future, the question of pen names is probably going to cross your mind at some point. I had been thinking about writing a blog about pen names, but it wasn’t clicking in my head. Then this morning, EzineArticles’ Chris Knight wrote a blog about pen names. Not one to turn away from a ‘nudge’ from the universe, I knew my topic today should be about pen names.

Recently, I’ve been doing some thinking about using a new pen name for my fiction writing. Even though I am all over the internet and I have four books published, I actually haven’t published a novel yet. My first novel is coming out in February, I think… maybe the end of January, not sure which yet. My books thus far were two books of creative non-fiction (poetry, prose, essays), a contributor to an anthology (and editor), and then a nonfiction how-to book.

All my writing online is under Michelle Devon, and almost all of it is nonfiction. Some of my print writing is fiction, a few short story type things, but the majority of my print writing is all Devon. My blogs are all Devon. I do, however, write erotica and sexual fantasy writing under a pen name no one would ever recognize, and no, I’m not telling! I am not ashamed of it, and it pays well, but I also don’t want to brand myself as that type of writer and don’t want the two pen names associated with one another.

Do you use a pen name? Are you thinking about using a pen name?

As I get further into my writing career, I’ve shifted gears. When I first started writing online, I desperately needed the money. In the beginning, the online content sites paid me and they paid me fast. There were days I was so desperate for money that a quick $5 news articles that paid me the same day on Associated Content made the difference between whether the kids and I ate hot dogs and Ramen noodles for dinner that night or we went without. Literally.

Now, here were are many years later, and my entire world has changed. I no longer ‘need’ the money so desperately, my writing has grown and changed drastically, and my personal life, well, let’s just say it’s better than it ever has been.

But all that writing from when I was new, learning, desperate… it’s still out there.

As I move into wanting to sell 6-figure advance novels, secure an agent, and move from freelancing more into the fiction writing, I have wondered if my prolific-ness online under the ‘Devon’ pen name is going to hurt me or help me.

It might be time to reinvent myself, so to speak.

Even if I wasn’t desperate in the past for money, writing styles changes, we learn, we grow as writers, but when we write online, all of that writing stays online, in perpetuity. We have to ask ourselves every time we put something out there if that’s something we’re going to be ashamed of 10 years down the road.

As such, pen names can help a lot with new writers getting their feet wet. Not only do pen names help protect your real identity in the real world from being matched to your identity in the online world to protect you and keep you safe from the internet loonies, pen names can also help you brand your writing, make you an expert on a topic or area of writing and keep that separate from other areas, or it can separate your fiction and your nonfiction writing.

If you do choose to use a pen name, though, you should pick a name that is not obviously a pen name. Credibility for nonfiction writing is important and a silly pen name is not going to make you appear credible to your readers. Sure, use a name you like, that you think sounds nice, but don’t be silly with your pen names or give yourself a goofy pen name that is very clear that is not your real name. Although, I have to laugh when I say that, since I know some people with real names that are stranger than any pen name one could come up with. I’ve seen dime store romance novelists come up with some really funny and covertly sexual sounding names too.

I still recommend using a name that sounds like a real name. A lot of married women will use their maiden name. Me, my last name for my pen name is actually my son’s middle name. I think the point of a pen name is to protect your identity, not to have some fancy sounding fake name, or it’s to brand yourself if you have a super common real name. Sometimes, yes, even in fiction writing, it’s all about the bottom line. Being easier to find online means you sell more books. Shrug.

So my advice is, yes, use a pen name to protect your legal name. Think of it this way… when you’re a rich and famous novelist, making tons of money, and you want to travel to Rio for a vacation, your credit cards will be under your real name, not your writing pen name, and that way, you can get away from the fans for a much needed break from your writing fame once in awhile.

Nice picture, eh?

So yes, if you want a pen name, use one. Pick a name you can live with, a name that you don’t mind becoming ‘you’. If you were to meet me in person and I introduced myself, I’d be Michelle Devon… that is who I have become. Lastly, pick a real-sounding name, something readers won’t necessarily KNOW for sure is a pen name.

It’s your chance, now, before the fame and fortune hits, to define who you are… who you want to be… any name you want.

So… who are you going to be?

Love and stuff,