To Use or Not To Use …

1… a pen name that is. This seems like a simple decision, but in reality it’s a deeply personal one. For some, they absolutely must use one or suffer the consequences. For others, it’s a simple convenience. There are definite advantages to using a pen name and few drawbacks.

I use a pen name out of necessity.

In my personal opinion, the climate here in America surrounding erotica is still such that you are taking a risk if you expose your legal identity. People are still losing jobs once they are discovered to be writing erotica in their personal time. While the post-50 Shades era is a bit more accepting, we also see Amazon and Barnes & Noble filtering out erotica in blatant acts of censorship. The overarching message is that erotica is bad and we must protect the masses from it. That makes me somehow wrong for writing it by default.

Bottom line, we still live in a culture that abhors admitting we all love sex. Even worse if you admit to liking kinky sex. Worse still if you proliferate the idea that sex and sensual exploration of all kinds are worth writing about and sharing.

Additionally, I am not a full-time writer. I have a regular day job for my state government designing training curricula. I also live in a conservative, traditionally “red” state.  Before moving to the Southwest, I lived in Alabama and before that Virginia. All red states. All conservative. And I’ve worked full-time jobs as an employee the entire time I’ve been writing. Long story short, it is not in my best interest to advertise that I write erotica. Especially erotica involving BDSM.

The climate of the areas in which I live and the employers I’ve had, means that I have to consider more than just my personal feelings about what I write. Left to my own devices, I’d use my legal name. I have no shame about what I write. But, I’m not an island, and my situation means I use a pen name.

All of that being said, there are definite benefits to using a pen name and even blockbuster authors have been known to do it. Steven King also wrote as Richard Bachman, Nora Roberts writes as J.D. Robb, even the prolific J.R. Ward has written under the pen name Jessica Bird. The benefits of using a pen name are pretty succint.

First, it allows you to write outside of your genre without effecting the “brand” you’ve built. This is something I already do. The narrative non-fiction pieces I have out used a different name. The same holds true for the literary fiction pieces I have in the works, they won’t be published under Elene Sallinger.

The converse of this is that should any disasters occur, – writing gods forbid – with the use of a pen name, you can simply abandon it and start fresh with a new name and all the bad mojo dissolves with the old name.

Lastly, there is the privacy element. Fans are wonderful, stalkers are scary. I’ve had an experience with an overzealous fan and the fact that my legal identity was protected was a huge relief.

So, in the end, the decision is a personal one based on each person’s individual needs and requirements.  I use one, others don’t. All that matters is that you’re comfortable with your decision.

14 thoughts on “To Use or Not To Use …

  1. I have so many favourite authors that my name will be a doozy.
    I will use a pen name should I ever be published. As a physician I need some anonymity because I don’t intend to ever give up the day job. For the most part, patients like to believe their doctor only thinks about medicine. We have no other life.

  2. When I started writing, I was looking for a aggressive, “in your face” pen name, corresponding to my adolescent attitude (and, in retrospective, to my lack of writing skills). Now I am somewhat stuck with it. My stories have evolved, but I’m reluctant to make the harsh cut that comes with choosing a new pen name.

  3. I am about to self publish a short story collection and am using a pen name. The name was taken from one of the first character that I ever created. He was a stereo typical drunk, gruff kind of private detective. Although I never actually wrote any stories for him, I never forgot the name.

    More interesting than the name is the reason why I am using it. While most people see me as huggable and lovable, I have a few enemies. I have an ex wife who stalks my blog and everything I do. I have former colleagues who dislike me so much one even created a phony Facebook page pretending to be me and then sexually harassed female coworkers.

    There are other reasons too, but these are the most important. I don’t expect that any of it will make a difference, but I would rather try them not try.

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