Pseudonym, pen name, nom de plume, literary double—whatever you you call it, there are many reasons for using an alternate name when you publish your writing. A few big reasons are to reserve your real name for other works, maintain some level of privacy, general marketability, and to have a fresh start (for established writers as well as fledgling writers).
Reserving your Real Name
Stan Lee is probably the biggest name in comic books. He co-created Spider-man, the X-Men, and many more beloved comic book characters. The relatively recent success of Marvel movies made him more of a household name and exposed his sunglasses-wearing face to countless moviegoers through numerous cameo appearances. Anyway, I bring up Mr. Lee because “Stan Lee” started out as a pen name. Born Stanley Martin Lieber, the comic book legend created the pseudonym of Stan Lee because he wanted to use his real name for more serious, literary work (as opposed to comics). After immense success as a comic book writer, Lee eventually legally changed his name to match his pen name.
Some folks simply want to be able to go about their lives without being tightly tied to their pen name and its related works. Most authors don’t have a problem with people recognizing their face in public, though sometimes their ID or credit card might give away their identity when they’re out and about (e.g., bouncer in front of a club checking your age, or paying with plastic). A pseudonym would solve this problem. However, when you’re super-famous (i.e., your work spawns hugely successful film adaptations) like J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin, people might recognize you on sight; paparazzi even start following you around. Your pen name won’t help much at that point.
Of course, many of us would gladly trade away some privacy for such success. Continue reading