Pen Names are Good. Or are they Bad?

Several years ago while having my eyes tested, the optometrist asked me if I ever hesitated to make decisions. A little confused, I asked why. “You’re the quickest patient I ever had for giving answers,” he said. Each time he changed the lens for me to see which was clearer than the other, my answer was immediate.

I still give quick answers unless there is an important reason to ponder. However, I’ve learnt over the years that sometimes pondering can taint an answer. Gut reaction is sometimes better.

Diana Lynn Tibert
I love my name.

When it came to deciding if I wanted to use a pen name for my youth novel, I thought long and hard about the consequences. After all, I had become attached to the name I had grown up with. I had even researched and found it had arrived in Canada in 1751. Although the spelling had changed over the centuries, it was the name given to me at birth.

The surname doesn’t accurately reflect who I am, just who my father’s father’s father was. He was German and could trace all his ancestors back to Germany. However, I am an equal mixture of four cultures: German, Scottish, English and Irish.

Still, the name on my official records stood above the other three surnames of my ancestors.

With the deadline for my novel approaching, I flipped back and forth from, No, don’t use a pen name to, Yes, use a pen name.

The argument for not using a pen name was obvious. My real name was my name. It had already been published, so readers may recognise it. It could easily be found all over the web. I could claim that book as mine without explanation.

The argument for using a pen name was also obvious. I could create a name easily pronounced, easily spelt and easily remembered. After all, adults couldn’t pronounce it properly so how could I expect a ten-year-old to do so? Secretaries copying information from one source to another couldn’t even get the spelling right to keep my medical records straight.

Diane Lynn Tibert
Juggling more than one name may be a wee bit confusing.

I thought about creating a pen name for a month, considering the pros and cons. Then one morning, before opening my eyes, a name materialized in my head. I admit I was half asleep when I thought of it. I asked myself, “What name would not only appeal to kids, but be easily remembered by them?”

Candy McMudd popped in my head. I got up and immediately wrote it down. There, I had decided in that one second that I should use a pen name and what that pen name would be. All day, I played with the idea. Maybe it wasn’t the best. Maybe I should rethink this idea. Then I’d remind myself that gut reactions were better than long pondering discussions with one self.

And Candy McMudd was born. She would be the author of all my children’s books and similar material.

Now and again, I wonder if my decision was the right one. I feel a little uncertain about saying, “I’m Candy McMudd.” when promoting my book. I feel I must explain that it is just a name, one that is easy to remember, spell and pronounce.

On the other hand, books sold over the Internet don’t need me to say that. It doesn’t really matter what name is attached to a title as long as readers recognise it.

Throughout my nonfiction career, I’ve used my given name. Now that I feel I’m on the verge of my fiction career, I must decide what I’ll use. Should I simply use my given name or use both my given name for nonfiction and Candy McMudd for everything else? Or should I chose a third and use it for my adult fiction?

Diane Lynn Tibert
How many names should one person have?

I feel like I’m going through an identity crisis.

It will probably be years before I know for sure if my decisions were good or a not so good. Until then, I’ll just keep on writing with whatever name tag I’m wearing.

Do you use a pen name? If so, how do you feel about it?

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9 thoughts on “Pen Names are Good. Or are they Bad?

  1. I recently watched a news segment on CNN that reported that a person’s name can have a direct impact on their success. It was quite interesting. Regarding pen names, I think you need to be very comfortable with the name if you’re going to use one. I only know one person who uses a pen name and she embraces the name like it was on her birth certificate.

    • The CNN report sounds very interesting. Would Cher be Cher if she were Susan? Would Madonna be Madonna if she were Karen? Names must stand out, but it’s difficult to know what will and will not work.

      Thanks for visiting Tracy. By the way, I included a link to your blog in my recent post along with a surprise.

  2. Hi Diane,
    I understand and respect your reasons for using a pen name with relation to writing for children. Judy blume made the transition without too much difficulty though, so I don’t feel it’s a particular handicap. As far as building a career is concerned, it is probably easier to break into the market via the adult fiction route and of course that will give you the ability to sell any children’s fiction you have created.

    I suppose pen names are a rite of passage for many authors, to test ideas anonymously. I feel it also depends on the genre as well. I’ve never used a pen name because my work is very much connected to my activist bent as well as my gender therefore it would work against the readership I’m after. However, if I do decide at some point to take a walk on the wild side and write horror or scifi, I might just become create an alter ego for the fun of it.

    • Transition from one to the other may be smooth even without using a pen name, but I want to write for both — children and adult — at the same time. Keeping the two separate seems to be a safe way of doing this. It’s like a brand name. After all, we are selling our names.

      I could try it without using a pen name, but if it fails then I’m starting from scratch again with a new name.

      Thanks for visiting and posting a comment, Val.

  3. I never considered a pen name. I’ve written short stories for adults and YA fiction and never once considered that there would be a conflict. Still, my YA fiction does not differ greatly from the fiction I’ve written and had published in literary magazines. It’s an interesting question, the answer for which I think would depend upon the writer and what genres they were writing in. In your case I can understand your reasons. Unless something drastically changed for me I wouldn’t want to write under another name.

    PS. I left a little something over at my blog for you, Diane. Enjoy!

    • The writing business is a complicated thing. What works for one may not work for another. I feel I will still be learning about it 40 years from now.

      I keep thinking of actors and singers who have changed their names and probably had more success than if they kept their original names. I mean, who knows where Marion Robert Morrison and Henry John Deutschendorf would have ended up without a name change.

      Thanks again, Laura, for awarding me with The Sylish Blog Award.

  4. I think that youth writing tends to brand a writer, making it hard to publish adult fiction under the same name. Very few authors have managed to be successful in both markets without a nom de plume.. This is a little silly but it’s how things have evolved. For that reason I’d probably make the same choice as you did.

    I write online behind this alias because I’m still learning, and willing to show my rough drafts to garner critique while I build stronger skills. I will have to give up the smokescreen eventually… like you I am a little unsure of where to draw the line, though in my case it’s for very different reasons.

    • My fear with writing stories for children under the age of ten and writing novels for adults is that a child might accidentally pick up an adult novel by me and find inappropriate content. My adult novels aren’t graphic, but they do contain mature subject matter.

      I wasn’t aware that a writer rarely succeeds in both with just one name. That’s something to keep in mind for the future.

      There are many reasons people choose to use pen names. Your reason is a good one, too. Actors and singers do it all the time and no one cares. It is the name they make famous that matters.

      Thank you for dropping by and adding your comments.

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