4 Reasons for Using a Pen Name: Why I’m Using a Pseudonym

  Pieter Claesz Painting (Image   courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Collection Online;” Rogers Fund, 1949).

Pieter Claesz Painting (Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Collection Online;” Rogers Fund, 1949).

When my novella, “In His Corner,” is published by Lyrical Press, the book won’t carry my name but my pseudonym—Vina Arno. It’s going to be my first book-length work of fiction, so some people are asking: Why use a pen name? I’ll explain below. I also looked up other writers who used pseudonyms—from Agatha Christie to Stephen King—and came up with four good reasons for using a pen name.

(1) To Write in a Different Genre

Last July, I started writing “In His Corner,” a romance novella about an Olympic gold-medalist boxer known as the Juggernaut, who goes to the ER for stitches, only to fall head over heels with the beautiful doctor who treats him.

I started working on the novella two months after I finished writing another manuscript, a historical novel about Douglas MacArthur. Yes, it’s the iconic American general of the “I shall return” fame, who liberated the Philippines and rebuilt Japan after World War II. Admittedly the difference between writing about MacArthur and the Juggernaut was enormous. My target audiences for the two stories are entirely different as well. It made sense to use a pen name. So I became Vina Arno.

I could not have guessed that “In His Corner” would be acquired by Lyrical Press, which is owned by Kensington Publishing Corp., six months after I finished writing it. I never thought Vina Arno would get published first. I haven’t given up on MacArthur, or on writing literary fiction, but I also plan to continue writing romance.

I’m not alone in using a pen name for this reason. The beloved mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Mega-bestseller J.K. Rowling published a thriller as Robert Gailbreath, causing hullabaloo when Galbraith’s identity was revealed. Anne Rice wrote erotic novels under the pen names Anne Rampling and A.N. Roquelaure when she wasn’t writing about vampires.

(2) To Hide One’s Identity

This is the primary reason for using a pseudonym. Back when novels were written mostly by men, Mary Ann Evans took up the pen name George Eliot.

The short-story writer O. Henry’s real name was William Sydney Porter. He used O. Henry as his pseudonym to hide the fact that he served time for bank fraud.

Similarly, the mystery writer Anne Perry tried to hide her criminal past by using a pen name. Born Juliet Hulme, she was a teen-ager when she was convicted of participating in the murder of her close friend’s mother. Hulme served time and later became Anne Perry. Her story was the subject of a Peter Jackson movie, “Heavenly Creatures” (1994). In recent years, Perry has finally talked about her past.

(3) To Publish More Books

One of my favorite Stephen King books didn’t carry his name, but his pseudonym Richard Bachman. The book is called “Thinner.” In his Web site, King explained that he used a pen name because at that time, publishers felt one book a year per author was all the public would accept. Considering how prolific King is, that was certainly a problem. So, he wrote under a different name to publish more books.

(4) To Get a Clean Slate in Sales

An author is only as good as the sales of her or his last book. Melanie Benjamin, the author of the historical novel, “The Aviator’s Wife,” can attest to that. Her real name is Melanie Hauser. She openly acknowledges that she became Melanie Benjamin because her first novels (chick lit), published under her real name, were unsuccessful.

Last month, Benjamin talked about this when she graced an online forum sponsored by Backspace, which I attended. She said that an author’s book sales are unfortunately attached to the author’s name. When she wrote her first historical novel “Alice I Have Been,” she used a pen name as suggested by her agent since it was a different genre. It gave her a clean slate as far as sales are concerned.

A Pen Name Offers Opportunities

As for me, I look forward to getting published as Vina Arno. I relish the chance to write in different genres and explore diverse topics. My writings are all connected ultimately.

On the surface, Douglas MacArthur and the Juggernaut don’t have anything in common. But here’s a historical fact: In 1928, MacArthur was the head of the U.S. delegation at the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. The American boxing team wanted to protest an unfair decision by withdrawing from the competition. MacArthur didn’t allow it, declaring that “Americans never quit.” The press had a field day, accusing MacArthur of treating the Olympics as a war without weapons.

This little nugget of information was at the back of my mind when I made the Juggernaut an Olympic boxer.

Read a related story: “3 Tips for Avoiding a Pseudonym Identity Crisis”

“Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill,” (oil on wood painting) by Pieter Claesz of Haarlem, the Netherlands, 1628. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Collection Online;” Rogers Fund, 1949.