Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Question: pen names

Is it wise for an unpublished writer to start building a platform under a pen name?

I know that many agents consider pen names as thinking-too-far-ahead and I also know that I should have some Internet presence before I start querying (right now I don't have any), because if nothing comes up when agents google my name, that's a bad sign.

The problem is I really want to use a pen name that sounds more "commercial" and fitting to the genre I write in (YA Romance), my legal name being too exotic to write and pronounce.

I know I could query using my legal name and discuss this later with an agent when he/she offers a representation, but what about the platform? I need to decide already what name I'll be using on my blog/FB, etc.

Thank you in advance for your answer.

A couple misapprehensions here: You don't need a lot of internet presence to query a novel. You need a website with your contact info and a picture of your cat and that's it. If you have writing credits, you can list those on your website too, particularly if they're with smaller magazines, or online outlets.  You do NOT need platform to query a novel, and all the time you spend building platform is time you should be using to write.

I don't know why some agents consider pen names at the query stage to be "thinking too far ahead." That's rubbish. If you want a pen name for any reason, you're smart to get started NOW.  If you want a pen name to protect your true identity (you write dinosaur porn and you're a pre-school teacher for example) you'll want to get an EIN and an LLC set up in your pen name so you can cash checks made out to that name. That takes a while.

Being prepared is always better than not.

I know several people who use pen names and I met them thinking it was their "real" name.

And if you query under a pen name you use this form:

Thank you for your time and consideration,

(Writing as SharqueForBrains)

If you want to conceal your true name during the query process, you use this form:

Thank you for your time and consideration,



Steve Forti said...

"you write dinosaur porn and you're a pre-school teacher"

It's a good thing I wasn't drinking coffee when I read that, or I'd need a new keyboard. Thanks for that one.

B. DuBois said...

"Dinosaur porn"?
Is there some other kind, Janet? Hmmm?

That's almost as bad as "fictional novel".


Excuse me while I get back to perusing It's for . . . research. Yeah.

LynnRodz said...

This is a great question. I've always used my pseudonym for my art work, music, and as of late, my blog. I hope to do the same with my novel. That said, I don't mind cashing checks under my real name so I assume the EIN and LLC that you're talking about is only for those wishing to protect their true identity.

Karen McCoy said...

Does this go for hybrid authors too? I'd like to self-pub under a pen name eventually, especially if there's a no compete clause in my contract...

An author friend of mine uses a pen name, but I didn't realize it until we were out to dinner and she signed the check. I stupidly asked, "Who is [real name]?" And she said, "Uh, me."

Jane Schmoe said...

Several years ago I used a pen name on a mss I was querying.
Imagine my surprise and glee when I answered the phone a few days later to hear an agent asking to speak to my pen name!
When I recovered from my heart attack enough to respond, "Yes, speaking..." It was the agent's turn to have the heart attack. My pen name was masculine, and my voice feminine.
The agent was beside himself. He expected a man, and was actually angry I was a woman. Frankly(Can I use this term while being female?)I think he was over-reacting, and I was insulted to know this man thought because I was a woman it somehow negated my writing skills. I am totally turned off by the whole idea there are male and female subjects or genre or a male could do a better job writing than a female.
There are lessons to be learned from this situation, but I can't for the life of me know what they may be.

Michael Seese said...

Dinosaur porn? What, are Christy Canyon and Peter North back in the biz?

DLM said...

BlancheDuBois, hee. "We need this. For reasons." :)

Jane Schmoe, what a perfectly excellent story about an absolute schmuck. I'm not writing under a pen name, but I'm a woman writing 1st person from a male POV, and I'm just WAITING for the twits at the back of the bar who sneer about whoever's actually on stage, to even try sniping about my feminine inability to do this.

I think your lesson, frankly (hee) was: that agent was a yipping hysteric. *Eyebrow*

Jane Schmoe said...

DLM: Well, I can understand his surprise, but not his anger/disappointment. I didn't indicate on the mss that it was a pen name, but I was not trying to be duplicitous, I had every intention of revealing my identity when it was necessary.

I never thought an agent would call! I expected waiting and waiting for a reply and mentioning the pen name when an agent wrote back expressing interest.

If you write well, gender shouldn't matter. I have to admit most of my main characters are men, and the mss in question was male adventure.(It's probably called something else today.) But we all know men write romance and use female pen names. So why is that perfectly acceptable but a woman using a masculine pen name gives pause?

I applaud your courage, imo 1st person is challenging no matter the gender. Anyone snickering about a female writing a male character isn't worth the effort it takes to listen.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Note to self: add more adorable pictures of my dog to the blog when it's querying time.

Steve Stubbs said...

What if the name on your birth certificate is a nom de plume and nobody even knows what your real name is?

I do believe some authors have that problem.

DLM said...

Jennifer, I can say from experience - with both an insouciantly adorable pup and a dear little cat - the cat pics work better. See also: Gossamer. :)

Jane, exactly - surprise, yes, but disappointment? "Next!" Nobody needs that agent, except Andrew Dice Clay maybe.

Steve ... hrrm? I'm confused. Then again, my blood sugar may be dipping. Or spiking. Or I may have poor reading comprehension ...