I’ve recently had two amazing things happen. I had a baby and not long after I signed a publishing contract! As such, I will be publishing my first ever novel.
This leaves me with a dilemma. When I first started work on my story, I assumed I would need to use a pseudonym to hide my identity. My circumstances since then have changed, and so I was left with the question of whether to change to my real name or continue to use the name Evelyn Silver. I had a number of factors to weigh, and think that perhaps my method of deciding might be useful to other writers faced with the same situation. So here are five questions to consider before deciding between a real name or a pen name.
1. What are you writing?
If you are writing a children’s book or YA fantasy or other similarly non-controversial genre, you’ll likely have no problems arise from using your real name. However, some topics and genres may have more impact on your life if you decide to forgo anonymity. For example, if you use your real name to publish something like hardcore erotica or particularly violent horror, you will be forever tied to that genre. So if you interview for a new job, your future boss may do a quick google search and find it. While unfair, you may be judged for this and it can potentially cause problems for you, and so that risk is something to take into account.
For me, I realize that writing a polyamorous LGBT+ paranormal romance can indeed make others think negatively of me. However, I’m willing to own it and this is not enough reason for me to use a pseudonym.
2. What will help your book sell?
A common convention among authors is abbreviated names. J.R.R. Tolkien, S.E. Hinton, H.P. Lovecraft, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling are just a few examples. They all had different reasons for using initials instead of their full names, and it’s become a style associated with some genres to write initials instead of full names at times, and so adopting this style may help you fit into a set group of authors by association.
Two of the authors I mentioned only used this abbreviated version of their names for what I consider an unfortunate reason – they wanted to hide their gender so that boys wouldn’t avoid their books. While I personally like to think that this is less of a factor now and that we’ve somehow become more enlightened, I know it’s not the case for everyone. I once had a confrontation with a family member of mine who felt that their white son shouldn’t be made to read a book about immigrant Chinese girls/women written by a woman (specifically, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – a classic masterpiece) in an AP Literature class because what interest would they possibly have in a story that didn’t center them? This is a double whammy of misogyny and racism, but does give merit to the idea that some people will avoid books with a woman’s name on the cover, or a particularly ‘ethnic’ name. I would argue for challenging this social convention – it won’t change if women and people of color hide forever behind pseudonyms. However, many of us dream of being able to write for a living, and it is a possibility that being X.X. Surname may get you a few more sales depending on your target audience and genre. So that is a factor to consider for many of us when deciding what to do.
That said, sometimes using your real name can be a good thing. Authenticity is often lauded, and some genres may work better with some real names than they would with fake names. My book is in the romance genre, and having a feminine first name visible on the cover is not a detriment with a vast majority of romance readers being women. Either way, one should weigh the pros and cons of your name/pen name and how it may play with your genre and audience.
3. Do you have something to hide?
If you are in the closet and writing a lesbian love story, you have a big decision ahead of you. The most important thing to consider before potentially outing yourself is safety. Do you live in a situation where being out could put you in danger? If the answer is yes, I would suggest putting your safety first and using a pen name to hide your identity – at least until it’s safe.
Safety aside, perhaps you’re just not ready. Reveal things about yourself at your own pace. If you’re writing something personal that draws on your past, perhaps you’re not ready for some people in your life to know that about you. These are good reasons to consider using a pen name for your work, as no one should be forced to out themselves in any way before they’re ready.
In my case, I originally wanted to hide that I was polyamorous from my parents. However, I did end up coming out to them about two years ago, and so this reason for wanting a pen name became irrelevant for me.
4. Do you like your name?
No long paragraph for this one. It’s a simple question – do you like your name? If not, here’s a chance to change it in a public way. This does not apply to me, as I am very fond of my name, but for anyone who wants a change, publication is as good a time as any!
5. How will it affect the people around you?
This is the one that got me. While I might have no problem outing myself as polyamorous and bisexual, I realized something important. My book has explicit adult content. I’m comfortable with this, but there is someone in my life who might not be: my newborn son. I worry that if I were to use my real name, it is a possibility that he might be teased because of me later in life.
There are some things for which I’m willing to risk him being teased – for example, I chose a beautiful but unusual name for him from mythology that will likely stand out among his peers. My own real name is unusual, and I think the benefits outweigh the cons.
Some things either can’t or shouldn’t be hidden. I won’t hide my religion from the world to help him appear more mainstream and avoid bullying, and his biracial identity may draw bullying from the worse parts of our society. But I had the thought of what would happen if a bully got their hands on my book and started reading parts aloud at school or camp to try to humiliate my son. I can’t imagine many things more mortifying for a teen.
It’s also possible that if word got out, other parents wouldn’t want their kids around him because of the things I’ve written. The society we live in is rather uptight about anything sexual and while I can make the choice to carry that stigma for myself, I’m unwilling to potentially put the stigma of having ‘that kind’ of mother on my child if I can avoid it. And so, I’ve decided that while I desperately want to see my real name in print, my son’s potential mental health is worth far more than my vanity. As far as my romance writing is concerned, I will eternally be Evelyn Silver.
I hope these questions I posed to myself can help you decide whether to use a real or pen name. If you like what you’ve read or want future updates for my upcoming novel, follow me here and on twitter @EternalEvelyn! Subscribe to my newsletter to keep up with new developments here.