Some More Thoughts on Pen Names

A few good posts have come out in the last week related to pen names, so I thought I’d share them and maybe talk a little more about my experience with using pen names and give a few pointers.

First, PCW had a post on it: The Name On the Cover

She makes some great points.  Especially about being called by that name forever and having to sign that name over and over again for the rest of your career.

(I honestly will be happy the day I have people wanting my signature, but it really is one of the things I dread most about being a professional author.  The thought of hours on end signing my name over and over again is just not appealing to me.)

One thing she doesn’t touch on and which was one of the primary drivers for my choice to use a pen name is that little thing called the Internet.

As I’ve mentioned before, my real name is very unique.  Which means that when you Google me you only find me.  And, if I were to publish under my real name then I would bury my professional credentials under pages and pages of hits on this blog or my writing publications.

And, since the day job still pays the bills, that wouldn’t be a good thing.

Not to mention that I work in a conservative industry where someone might (likely incorrectly) react poorly to the thought that I also write fiction.

Before I move on, PCW is coming out with a writing advice book.  Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows I think she gives fabulous writing advice on her blog.  So, check it out.  I know I will.

Here’s the post announcing it: Some Useful Books.  (It also lists some more writing resource books.  A few years ago I asked for How To Write a Dirty Story by Susie Bright for Christmas.  This year?  Lavender Blue by Lars Eighner.  Should raise a few eyebrows.)

Speaking of the Internet, Rachelle Gardner had a good post up today at Books & Such: Is Privacy A Thing of The Past

Here’s what she says about trying to have a blog as a writer.

“The secret is to be real, yet keep truly private details to yourself. Be warm, and gracious, and gritty sometimes if necessary, always be a real person, but don’t feel you have to let it all hang out there. You need to seem like a whole, real person—someone with a face and a name and a life. Good days and bad days. You don’t have to be a completely open book.”

She’s right about how tricky it is to be a real person while still trying to maintain your privacy.  I share certain information on this blog, but withhold other information that would be too readily identifiable.  (Did that sentence even make sense?)

For example, I’ve mentioned more than once that I spent a year at Rice University.  I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the name of the two schools I actually graduated from.  To me doing so (a) creates its own issues and (b) makes it a little too obvious who I am if someone really wanted to go looking for me.

There’s a balance there.  I want to be authentic and share, but I also know I’m sharing with the entire world and don’t want to give so much information that someone can show up on my front porch.

At the end of the day, I know that, if I’m successful at this, I will lose the battle to maintain my privacy.  In this day and age they want author photos and attendance at conferences. And, if you do well enough, people will make a concerted effort to find things out about you whether you want them to or not.

There are far too many ways to find information out, legal or not, to really expect to keep who you are IRL separate from who you are as a writer or blogger.  (Assuming you do well enough for anyone to actually care to know.)

Some tips, though, for anyone trying to juggle separate identities.

E-mail: When I set up the mhleewriter e-mail account I just did it as an alias to my real account.  Problem with that option was that I can only set one name to put on e-mails.  So, even though I send an e-mail from that address it shows with my real name.

(This would be why e-mails with a free story came from my yahoo address instead.)

So, if you want to do this right, set up completely different e-mail accounts that are not linked to one another at all.  And do that for each pen name.

WordPress: I set up a blog for the other pen name.  Problem is, I did it using this account.  So, twice now, I have forgotten which account I was logged into and posted under this user name instead of the other pen name’s user name.  (I deleted the posts as soon as they were made, but they still existed and probably went out to subscribers of the blog.)

My advice would be to, again, set them up as completely separate accounts.  Or, better yet, use different platforms.  WordPress for one, Tumblr for another.

Forums: I have yet to screw this one up, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.  I have multiple accounts on at least one forum.  Well, how long do you think it’ll be before I am logged in under one pen name and respond as the other pen name?

I actually saw this happen on another forum.  There was someone on that forum who occasionally logged in under a joke user name.  One day they were logged in under the joke user name and posted about a recent sale under their own name.  Not sure if they caught it, but it was up long enough for me to see it and know who that joke user name really was.

Information Shared: This one’s probably the biggest challenge.  If you blog or post under multiple pen names, how long until you share enough information unique to you that someone puts two and two together?

(This, of course, assumes that you’re being an authentic person under both pen names, which I am.)

I know a few of the followers of my other pen name’s blog also follow this one.  I think they’re über blog followers so probably don’t see the connections between the two, but I suspect it wouldn’t be too hard for someone looking to connect the two to do so.  Especially over time.  (I’m currently thinking of writing a non-fiction book under the other pen name that wouldn’t be too hard to tie into this pen name.)

Bottom line:  Pen names are not anonymity.  They’re a polite fiction that really only works on the surface level.

They would’ve worked with me as a reader because I just look for books by John Doe author and don’t really care about who that person is.  But they don’t work with that interested type of fan that wants to know everything about their favorite author.

Then again, as OSC said at that workshop, “Nobody’s noticing you.  Believe me, that’s your problem.”

So if you have a pen name, maybe having someone uncover your true identity is a sign that you’re doing something right…

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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2 Responses to Some More Thoughts on Pen Names

  1. Jennifer Bardsley says:

    I like the new cover a whole bunch!

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