So you've written a book? Congratulations! That's an awesome achievement. Where to from here? Before…
Nōnen Títi (a pen name) July 2019
Penning Under a Fictional Name
There have been times in history that using a pen name was common practice and other times when it was considered deceptive and morally wrong. Sometimes the political situation in a country is such that a writer must take on a fake name to prevent being imprisoned or worse; sometimes people need to take a genderless name or a name associated with a different gender if their society has a prejudice against one or the other. Today, in the west, there are no strict rules or repercussions, so every writer must make the decision whether to write under a pseudonym and if so, what name to choose.
Personally, I do not regret having decided, now more than a decade ago, to start using a pen name, but there are some things I would have done differently.
I decided to use a pen name because I write socially critical stories, and I did not want my husband and children to have to deal with negative feedback that could affect their work, would my books ever get famous enough for this to become a problem – which they never did.
But though pennames might have worked in the past to conceal a person’s real identity, it is virtually impossible to keep the two separated on the internet. The moment you register your books or you apply for an ISBN, for example, you have to give your real details, as is the case if you want to get paid for them. Not too long after I started publishing, did I find that the algorithms made the connection and I often saw my pen name and my real name coming up simultaneously.
What pen name?
Pen names can be real sounding names that are simply not a writer’s given name or they can be completely fictional. I went with that last option since I did not want a name that could possibly be associated with a real person anywhere.
Since the characters in my books all portray ordinary people, who are not bestowed with special gifts and often feel like a number in the crowd, I decided to play with the word “non-entity” to make that a symbolic representation for my audience and characters. And because I wanted it pronounced the way I heard it in my mind, I added a macron and an accent, as they often did in Latin and Greek.
However, had I lived in New Zealand at the time, I might have noticed a connection to the Māori language, but I did not, and once I started to discover that people believed the name to be Māori, I had already published. To prevent this becoming a problem, and even if most people I talked to did not take offence, I have put my picture with my bio and I explain the reason for the pen name on my website, which defeated the purpose of choosing a pen name in the first place.
In addition, using accents on the name turned out to make writing posts, especially on social media, which do not have the buttons for them, very cumbersome. I regularly have to type my name in a document and then copy paste it.
Besides, using a pen name is not so easy if trying to establish yourself in a niche or specialized topic. I recently found myself attending a conference and speaking under my real name while trying to promote books that have my pen name on them, and having to explain the connection. Especially in the academic world, pennames are not really considered acceptable.
Many people use their real name for one genre and a pen name for another genre – or multiple pen names – and if I could go back, that is what I would have done.
On the other hand, my pen name helps me come up top of the list if somebody googles it. I do not have to worry about being mistaken for somebody else. And the confusion about the meaning of my name often gives me an angle to a conversation about my books and my reason for writing.
The misconception people have about the ethnicity of the name is not a problem, as long as I do not start pretending to be Māori in order to get published in certain magazines.
I recently heard about a man who took a female pen name so as to be able to be accepted as a romance writer. That is fine since it is the quality of the stories that should decide success. However, if he is going to try and get published in women’s magazines without admitting he is male, this can become a problem. On the other hand, most women writers in the past had to take a male name or they could not get published at all, and even as recently as two decades ago was J.K. Rowling advised to use initials and not her name, so as not to discourage male readers.
Every writer is different
My advice is to consider it carefully before you decide to choose a pen name. If your given name is quite common and you want to be noticed, picking an original name will probably help. Maybe you want a name that is perfect for the genre you are writing in; a flower name might be less suitable for horror stories than for romance, for example.
Once you picked a name, google it and see what comes up. Make sure it does not have any connotations with things you do not want to be associated with. – My name came up with a little monkey in South America, which I thought was lovely and considered using as my logo.
Do some research on the meaning of the name itself. Make sure there is not somebody else already using that name as a writer. You cannot copyright a name, obviously, but it could be regarded as using their established name for your benefit.
Talk to other people, because they might think of something, you missed yourself as I did.
If you want to keep the two names strictly separated, you have to consider this for every correspondence you undertake in order to get your books published and paid for, and even insist that people who do know the connection not reveal that.
In short, there are benefits and drawbacks to using a pen name, but if nothing else, it is a lot of fun and a well-chosen name can become a strong brand.
With a background in healthcare, philosophy and psychology, Nōnen Títi writes both fiction and non-fiction motivated by the inborn personality differences that influence the behaviour, beliefs and natural talents of everyone on Earth. For more about Nōnen’s books, visit nonentiti.com.