Every now and again, someone comes up to me and asks what I think about using a pen name on a new book. Most writers do, don't they?
I did. I did, at least, when I was young. That's back when I had come to the conclusion that a good-sounding, sexy, memorable name on the cover of even a poorly written book would impress an editor. As soon as I found out I was wrong, I dumped the false moniker and went back to using my real name.
Most authors, including the bestselling ones, have pretty plain names; and most of them never thought very seriously about changing them. There's
not much you'd consider particularly unique about names such as Stephen King, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, John Grisham, James Patterson, or Jack London. They're all fairly run-of-the-mill. Yet, their owners did pretty well by them.
Of course, there may be a time when you feel using a pen name will lend you a genuine advantage in the marketplace. I once used a woman's name on a novel written from a woman's point-of-view, for obvious reasons. I've known writers who have used pen names to avoid getting sued for libel, for example. That doesn't work, of course, because it's the person, and not the name, responsible for legal transgressions.
Still, there are some names that might catch on with editors, and there are other legitimate reasons for using a pen name. Long, unwieldy, or tricky ethnic names, for example, might prove an impediment to book sales. Although sometimes not even names with drawbacks such as those will keep a writer from selling more books. I doubt that changing one's name from something unusual to something easier to remember would have helped any one of several thousand writers who, over the years, scored pretty big with unorthodox names.
Authors such as William Styron, William Saroyan,
William Shakespeare, Edward Albee, Henry Fielding, Louisa May Alcott,
Isaac Asimov, Francis Bacon, John Barthelme, Albert Camus, Truman Capote,
Jeffrey Chaucer (after whom I once named a golden retriever, but that's
another story), Anton Chekhov, Franz Kafka, Jean Cocteau, J. M. Coetzee,
Evelyn Waugh (and a man, at that!), Oscar Wilde, Edith Wharton, P. G.
Wodehouse, William Wordsworth, J. R. R. Tolkien, E. L. Doctorow, William
S. Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlenghetti, R. Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville,
Fyodor Dostoevsky, and about 60,000 others.
So whether or not you change your name from the one you were born with to something more memorable or exotic is pretty much up to you. It's a decision you'll have to make and live with--for better or worse.
Smoke if you got 'em.
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