If you're a writer looking to publish your first book, and you're wondering about taking on a pen name, there are a few questions to consider which will help you make your decision.
- How common is your name? This is something to be considered both in general and within your genre. For example, if your name is Robert Smith, you might want to take on a name slightly more unique so that it will stand out to potential readers. It can be something as simple as using initials and/or a slight change in spelling. For example: R. Smyth. Also, research the biggest names in your genre. Picture your book on a shelf next to their titles and consider whether you would get lost among theirs. For example, if you write Fantasy and your last name is Martin, think of how difficult it would be to find your single title among 5 shelves at Barnes & Noble overflowing with George R. R. Martin's works. That difficulty in finding you can transfer online as well. The last aspect to consider with this question is if you share a name with a famous or well-established author. If your name is George Martin (even without the 'R. R.') I would strongly advise taking a pen name.
- What gender dominates your genre? Yes, this is a thing and is generally more of an issue with female authors. I will address this to a greater extent in a separate post, but many times, authors take a pen name to match the gender that dominates their genre. For example, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Crime Fiction, Horror, Suspense, Thriller, Action/Adventure, and Techno-Thrillers are generally dominated by male authors. Romance, Young Adult, (Cozy) Mystery, and Women's Fiction are generally dominated by female authors. So, let's say you're a woman and you write Horror, it could be better to use initials, such as T.L. Martin or a male pen name such as Trevor Martin. There are arguments for and against this, which I will tackle head on in another post, so stay tuned!
- How much do you value privacy? Something I didn't realize when I began my career is how much of my personal and daily life I would need to share with my fans and potential readers. Sharing personal tidbits has become the norm for an author. If people get interested in an author, they also get interested in a book. Social media will become your best friend. Taking a pen name and having all your social media accounts under that name, can help you maintain your privacy and the privacy of your family. Maintaining privacy while in the public eye can be done, and I can tell you that in that respect, it is most definitely worth the minimal effort to choose a pen name.
These are three big questions to consider while deciding whether to take a pen name. But at the end of the day, it's a personal decision that will differ for each of you. If these things aren't that important to you or you don't think they're significant enough to hinder you, then write under your own name. If they are, or you want a pen name for no other reason than to have a cooler sounding name, then take a pen name!
There isn't a collective right or wrong answer. There's an answer that works best for you. Take it and embrace it.