To pseudonym or not to pseudonym?
August 25, 2012 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Is using a pseudonym right for me? I'm a fiction writer, not a talk-radio host!

I'm establishing an online presence for my writing pursuits (twitter, a blog, etc), but I don't have a web site or blog under my real name.

One of the reasons I've never used my real name online is that I have the exact same name (first and last) as a particularly odious and prolific far-right-wing talk radio host/blogger/writer. Literally the first 25 pages of google results for my name are this person (and, it being a relatively common first name and last name, the next dozen pages of results are all for other various doppelgangers of my name).

I know the value of having a professional online presence, and I want to engage with other authors, blog my experiences, and publicize my work. I've read and googled about extensively about pseudonyms, including the previous AskMe questions on the topic.

Unlike most of the people considering a pseudonym I read about, however, I'm not particularly worried about keeping my writing life a secret from family, friends or employers. In fact, I want to raise my profile and put myself out there in as professional a manner as possible. But I worry that using my actual real name will hurt more than it helps.

The pseudonym I'm considering is simply a variation of my real name (RealFirstname RealMiddlename instead of RealFirstname RealLastname), which is, as far as I can tell, unique in the world, and much more memorable than my real name.

So, here are my questions:

(1) Is this a good idea?

(2) Would my using a pseudonym mark me as unprofessional or a rank amateur in the eyes of agents, editors or publishers to whom I might submit work in the future?

(3) Are there any logistical, legal, or other challenges involved in using a pseudonym?
posted by Eldritch to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's a great idea-- before I finished reading your question I was going to suggest that you should do Firstname Middlename. It's not like you're becoming Destiny LeFleur Raven Roseblossom or something (I'm assuming). Using a pseudonym is completely understandable under your circumstances.
posted by sonmi at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

That is one of the best reasons to use a pseudonym and no one will see you as less of a professional for using a pseudonym as long as it's not transparently silly. Robert Jordan is a pseudonym; J.D. Robb is a pseudonym.

You should use your real name in business correspondence with editors and agents, and your pseudonym on the title page of your manuscript. This is a pretty good guide to the logistics, which aren't complicated.
posted by Jeanne at 12:45 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

First initial, middle name, last name. No pseudonym needed.
posted by empath at 12:48 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Writerly professional names -- pen names -- are more common thank you think. I would call it that, professional name, instead of pseudonym -- the latter does sound like you're either hiding something or trying to construct a persona when neither is what you're actually doing.

The analogy you have here is actors or screenwriters who have to take another name because theirs is already registered with SAG or whatnot, although this often happens for marketing reasons (funny-sounding foreign names used to be heavily discouraged). Nobody thinks they're trying to hide anything there.
posted by dhartung at 12:55 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

What dhartung said. Lots of famous people use names they weren't born with for reasons very much like this -- Michael Keaton's real name is Michael Douglas, for instance, but there was already a famous one of those (whose father, of course, was Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch and later known as Izzy Demsky before anglicizing it).

There is a long tradition of writers using different names for different genres -- Michael Marshall Smith is an SF writer who goes by just "Michael Marshall" for his non-SF thriller stuff; Evan Hunter was born Salvatore Lombino but gained most of his fame under the nom de plume Ed McBain, and would joke to fans who'd dug up an old book he'd written, "No, I didn't write that -- see, it's some other guy." (He got to use that joke a lot, because he had at least half a dozen pen names, and claimed to have forgotten some entirely.)

And of course, one of the most famous writers in the world today uses a pen name -- Joanne Rowling made up a middle initial when she chose the professional name J.K. Rowling, after the first publisher of the Harry Potter books was afraid that boys wouldn't read a book written by a woman.

So, to answer your questions:
1 -- Yes. Great idea.
2 -- Not at all, especially if your name is already (in)famous.
3 -- None. You sign the contract as Realname Eldritch, and the book is published as "by Fakename McGillicuddy," and the copyright is to some corporation that your agent helps you establish.
posted by Etrigan at 1:16 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not a pseudonym if it's your real name.
posted by pised at 2:31 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

It worked for Mark Twain.
posted by radwolf76 at 3:14 PM on August 25, 2012

I'd go with RealFirstname RealMiddlename, as you suggest. I've run into similar situations where the author just added his middle name (RealFirstname RealMiddlename RealLastname) and been very confused about whether or not the author was truly the famous individual I was familiar with.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:27 AM on August 26, 2012

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