Should a writer use a pseudonym?

This was a question to me from a writer just starting out. And I am going to answer it in bits, because I am too busy to sit down and write a long post this week.

So here’s Part One: THE PROBLEM

She has an unusual name (I’ve never come across it before) that is easily mispelled and mispronounced, and she doesn’t like it anyway. Let’s, for the sake of this post, call her Sally Sullimunder (and I hope there isn’t a real person out there with that name!). And let’s say she is thinking of calling herself Sally Tye.

Sounds like an easy call, doesn’t it? Become Sally Tye for your professional writing life!

But there’s a couple of catches that don’t make it so simple:

  • She knows that a name change would be hurtful to her father, Mr Sullimunder, who’s proud of being a Sullimunder.
  • And all those people who know her as Sally Sullimunder from kindy onwards are never going to know that the author Sally Tye is the person they grew up with/are now working with. And that’s a lost selling opportunity. (Most of us will buy a book by someone we know!)

So what should she do? She asked me because she knows I changed my name. Tomorrow I’ll talk about that.

In the meantime, what do all you readers of this blog think about the issue?


Should a writer use a pseudonym? — 12 Comments

  1. Well, if (when?) I'm an author, I'll be writing under a pseudonym, simply because my name isn't good marketability (I'd be in a bottom corner of a shelf somewhere, and it's a fairly forgetful/ugly name too…) but I don't even really want my family and co-workers and high school peers to know it's me writing it. And my father would also be quite upset too. Yes, I may lose readers, but… I can accept that.

    So I'm for all pseudonym. But does she have to change her name legally to do so? Can't she just write under the name (so she gets what she wants) but keep her name otherwise (as to not hurt her fathers feelings?)

    Interesting topic 🙂

  2. As a writer I use a 'Pen Name' – Yusuf Martin, why? It just happened! After my conversion to Islam I took my father-in-law's name – Yusuf (actually Yusop, but that was a clerical misspelling of Yusuf). So I became Yusuf Martin Anthony Bradley – which is long. I shortened it to Yusuf M.A. Bradley, then as people didn't realise that Yusuf and Martin were the same person I used Yusuf/Martin which got shortened to Yusuf Martin.

  3. I think Sally should acknowledge that her name is commercially difficult and come up with something from her name that isn't commercially difficult, like Sally Sulli. Who could forget that? Rolls off the tongue. Technically it's not too far from her original name and people will forgive her and she's not joining the Tye clan who may have been feudal or had some other sordid history. (What a shame her name isn't really Sally Sullimunder).
    I know lots of people that take parts from two names they relate to, to write under too. Kevin Radthorne, got his Rad from one name and his Thorne from another. There are a few Radthornes, but not too many. Rad, huh?

  4. I'm going to have to figure this out one day when I get published as well. I don't go by my full first name 'Alexandra'. I don't answer to it, I won't respond to it and I'm quick to tell whoever calls me it to instead call me something else. Its not that I dislike it, it just…doesn't fit me yet I suppose.

    I've been going by Lexie for a good 8 years now and it suits me well. It fits me and my personality. But to have that on covers of a book? 'Lexie Cenni'? It looks unprofessional I think. My family calls me 'Alex' or 'Aley', but in the former's case people might think I'm a guy and in the latter's case…'Aley Cenni' actually seems to suit me fine and may even look all right on a book cover.

    I think my last name is different enough as to remind folks who I am exactly, if they knew me before I got published that is. Most, if they knew me well, should remember I was always scribbling or reading anyhow so it should be a natural conclusion.

    As to the writer who asked you, I think that MacDibble has a good suggestion–take a small portion of her overall name and use that. 'Sally Sulli' or even 'Sally Munder' would work well, both are easy to remember and roll off the tongue easily. 'Sally Munder' sounds like a crime fiction/mystery author for some reason though XD

  5. I'm of the opinion that it is the writing that should be marketable, not the name. If your writing is good enough it really doesn't matter what your name is!

  6. It seems to me that there are, as with all things, pros and cons. Pros include the privacy afforded by a pseudonym and the chance to give yourself the name you wish your parents had given you:-) There is also the fact that writers whose last names start with A-G often have a visual advantage on the bookshelves – at least one report I read suggested they sell better because of that! But the cons are very real, and I think "Sally" has already pointed them out. I'd go with McDibble – alter the real name a bit to make it easier without offending her family.

  7. I get what she means. I have an unusual name, always have, even my grandmother still doesn't spell it properly. It's going to be a problem when I'm published but not only for it's uniqueness. That I can deal with, I can use it as marketing and branding. The real problem for me is that I don't have a surname and I think that's going to be a problem/concern/issue when it comes to publishing. Do I make up one? Revert to a family one or what? I'll deal with it when it happens. At the moment it isn't an issue.

    Can "Sally" use this same uniqueness to her advantage instead? People would remember her name.

    Incidentally the same issue comes up often with actors. Reese Witherspoon (Laura Jean), Marilyn Munroe, Judy Garland, Brad Pitt and the list goes on.

    In the end it's a personal choice. If you're going to go with one I'd tend to choose an entire pseudonym (and then register it as a business name) rather than just a partial one.


  8. As a reader not a writer, I very rarely choose a book by the author's name unless it is already known to me. I can see a problem with placement due to the alphabet, but again, if the content is good enough, wouldn't you get displayed well anyway?

  9. An increasing number of readers are doing searches and buying books via the internet.
    There is also an increasing demand for e-books via downloads (esp in the US so far).

    Would it not therefore be an advantage for an author to have a name that was easy to remember and not difficult to spell?

  10. I have been pondering over this too. In a lot of ways I would prefer – if I ever manage to seel this novel – to not use my own name for both privacy and alphabetical placement issues.

    I was told once by a bookseller that browsers home in on the middle of the shelves – and I find that quite believable because it's what I do when I'm not looking for a specific author. She said that caused problems because most authors choosing pseudonyms select from the middle of the alphabet for that reason and so the names starting from G-T take up more than double the shelving of all the rest of the alphabet. In turn that means even less of A-F and U-Z are actually looked at.

  11. Interesting question – and I haven't read the other posts yet.

    I know there is another author out there with the same name as me, over in the US, and given that I write romance the likelihood of being published over there is slightly greater, so I have given this some thought, and have two alternatives.

    I hate my middle name but I like the initial, so use the name I wish I had been given for my middle name, and my mother's maiden name. I will still have the same initials as I do now, minus the first one.

    Or I simply make sure that my middle initial is used so people (hopefully) don't confuse me with the US author who writes about public schools!

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