Last week I stumbled across this article on Facebook.
It’s about writer Michael Derrick Hudson who wrote under the pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou in order to have his work published in an anthology. Writers using pseudonyms isn’t uncommon but why did Yi-Fen Chou cause such controversy?
There are lots of reasons writers use pen names. One reason is they don’t want to be known to the public or their work linked to them. There could already be a Mr Phil Rich published and to avoid confusing readers the name Mr Phil Thee Rich is used. Another reason is sales. When a buyer goes into a book shop they will study a book cover, the blurb, the first couple of pages and then look at the author’s name. If they don’t think they’ll like the author they may not buy the book. To avoid this publishers sometimes ask the authors to use a unisex pen name or to use an initial followed by their surname so their sex remains unknown. One famous example of this is Alan Alexander Milne who wrote under the name A.A. Milne.
I have a pen name. If you are familiar with my work and have spoken to me on Facebook, Twitter or any of the online writing forums I visit you may be aware of it. St Force. I chose a pen name because I didn’t want people associating my work with me while I was in school. I stopped using it when I entered University as I wanted to take credit for my own work and there wasn’t any need to keep the name. Some writers use pen names for the same reason. Stanley Martin Lieber wrote under the pseudonym Stan Lee until he could leave the comic book industry and move onto something more “grown up”. He ended up changing his legal name to Stan Lee due to his popularity and success!
Finally writers may use different names to write in different genres. J K Rowling adopted another name, Robert Galbraith, to write a crime novel. Although her secret identity was soon leaked to the press she said she found the idea liberating.
Of course, there are negatives to using a pen name, as Hudson has found out. Readers, (especially long-time fans) may feel betrayed when they discover your secret identity and realise the mental image they conjured of you is completely wrong. This could also harm your sales if your work is in print. (On the flip side of this any publicity is good publicity. The sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling skyrocketed when Robert Galbraith was revealed to be J K Rowling.) Some people (myself included) find it a bit confusing who is using what name for which books and will, therefore, stick with an author they are familiar with.
I think the problem with the article above is that Hudson was pretending to be someone from a different culture. Would the case be seen differently is it was Yi-Fen Chou claiming to be Michael Derrick Hudson? I think he was right to change his name to increase his chances of success if he was being judged solely by his name. As the article goes on to say however Yi-Fen Chou was rejected nine times before being published. What’s to say Hudson wouldn’t have found success if he had submitted under his own name nine more times?
How to create your own Pen name
If you feel like you could benefit from a pen name there are tons of online generators to help you. Those names can be a bit impersonal, perhaps you want something closer to home? You could use a variation of your real name. William could become Will or Elizabeth could become Liz or Beth. You could try and create an anagram from your real name although someone could figure it out.
You could use a formula commonly used in the *cough* adult industries and add the name of your first pet to the name of the road you live in. Maybe you know a name you really like and wouldn’t mind borrowing?
If you’re looking for inspiration here is a list of famous writers and their real names.
Lewis Carroll = Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
George Orwell = Eric Arthur Blair
Richard Bachman = Stephen King
Jo Hill = Joseph Hillstrom King
Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell = Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë
Dr Seuss =Theo LeSieg
Mary Westmacott = Agatha Christie
Do you have a pen name or pseudonym you don’t mind sharing? What would your ideal pen name be and why? Has using a pseudonym ever caused you problems? Leave your answers below.
Next time I’ll be talking about Fan Fiction, the good it produces and the legal problems it can cause.