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Why I Use a Pen Name and How I Created One

April 22, 2019
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When you start writing, it’s common to ask, “Should I use a pen name?”

There are many opinions on the subject. Some writers agree with pen names while others disagree. Their reasons are their own, but I find most disagreement is related to a need for personal acknowledgment.

Why Do I Use a Pen Name?

When I started writing, writing was for me and only me. There came a time when I knew I needed to publish my work. This would entail releasing my fiction to the public.

Not a problem.

My fiction is action-packed, entertaining, urban fantasy. I felt comfortable letting the world read this material.

I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my story.

I struggle with depression and bouts of anxiety. For the past seven or eight years, I’ve been working through it with a counselor. She has pushed me to write, especially about my journey overcoming depression.

Most of my family, friends, and colleagues knew nothing about my struggle. Only one or two people were kept in the loop.

Invisible illnesses are still looked down upon as something imaginary and not widely accepted.

For that reason, I never felt comfortable sharing my story.

Using a Pen Name Brings Safety to My Story

I can comfortably write under a pen name without any worry of retribution. Granted, I don’t hide behind the pen name. I decided if I was going to write, a pen name would provide me a layer of security, like a blanket, to help me write about my journey.

But, people will find out who I am.

Clients, friends, and family have started to learn about my journey. Some have accepted it. Others have not.

In either case, I was able to write my story. I’ve received comments regarding the way people relate and their gratitude for me sharing the story.

That’s why I needed a pen name. I needed to write. I needed to reach people. And they need me.

That’s why you might need a pen name, too. We all need to reach out with our stories. Someone is waiting for yours.

The Marketing Side of Pen Names

I wanted a pen name for marketing purposes, too. My real name is clunky. It doesn’t flow well for an author name. It would work fine with non-fiction, but I needed something for fiction. My name is not worthy of the fantasy genre. It doesn’t flow or sound whimsical.

So, I set to work.

I created lists of words; favorite characters, places, creatures, plants, animals, and more.

Taking those words, I made combinations that flowed well together. It led me, with the help of my partner, to create the name Willow Shire.

Willow refers to Willow Ufgood, Willow Rosenberg, and Willow trees. Two characters I love (from Willow and Buffy respectively) and my favorite tree.

Shire worked, because the word is heavily ingrained in the fantasy world.

I found a name I loved. One that brings me safety. One that brings me marketability.

Using Pen Names to Target Readers

Not only does the name let me market my fiction, I can use it as a variety of pen names to separate out different genres of writing.

When I release my non-fiction books, the name will be Willow Shire or another version, depending on the genre. Currently, I have marketing, spirituality, and mental health books planned. That’s three completely different reading audiences — not including the fantasy.

As I market new genres of books, I can tie them to variations of my pen name. Willow Shire, Will O’Shire, W. O. Shire, which separates the genres into audiences who like those genres. That way someone reading my Urban Fantasy isn’t being told to read my natural spirituality by Amazon and other providers.

I can still market the books to everyone, but the algorithms used by major retailers will work to my advantage if I keep the pen names separate.

For example, if you use Amazon, you probably have an Amazon Author Central account. Multiple pen names mean you can create multiple biographies and author pages tailored to the audience in that name’s genre.

That means more relevant content for the customer, which means you have a better chance of selling to them.

If You Are Struggling With the Question, “Should I Have a Pen Name?” Ask Yourself These Three Questions.

Do you feel comfortable using your own name to write?

If you write about sensitive topics, you might want a pen name. One reader/writer mentioned they were getting another pen name because their new book was a steamy romance, the kind she didn’t want her family to know about.

Is your name marketable?

Push ego to the side and really ask yourself this question. Ask others, too.

Unfortunately, you have to include the question, “Will a name of this gender market well?” Readers are picky when it comes to the gender of an author. It’s one reason many female authors use initials or completely male pen names.

J.K. Rowling not only uses initials for the Harry Potter series, she uses a male pen name, Robert Galbraith, for her crime mystery series.

If your name is not marketable, don’t come up with one pen name. Come up with fifty. Then figure out which works best. Keep the list, too. You might use them in the future.

Finally, do you write in multiple genres?

You can publish everything you write under one name, but you’ll see better results if you publish separately.

Especially when building an email list. Not everyone who reads fantasy wants to hear about depression, and vice versa.

Think of it like this, when you take your car to a mechanic, you want him to be greasy and covered in dirt. You’re not going to hire your mechanic to do a heart transplant.

There are plenty of doctors who are great with cars, but you see them as doctors. You don’t say, “I need my oil changed, let me call my doctor.”

Genres are the same way. The name, the genre, and the writing style ingrain in a person’s mind.

There’s a reason Campbell’s Soup created Prego, rather than calling it Campbell’s Soup Pasta sauce. Nobody wants soupy pasta sauce.

In the End, the Choice to Use a Pen Name Is up to You and You Alone.

You have to be comfortable with the choice. If you’re not comfortable with a pen name, then it’s probably not for you.

Pen name or not, write and tell your story. Someone out there needs to hear it.

Someone out there wants to hear it.

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