Monday, 23 September 2013

What's In A Name?

Hello. My name is Bella Beechcroft. Well, it was a couple of weeks ago when I was at the National Association of Writers’ Group’s Festival of Writing. During the festival, they run a Mini-Tale competition, where delegates who enter have to tell a tale in exactly 100 words. Not 99 words. Nor 101 words. Exactly 100.

However, in order for the competition to be judged blind, entrant’s have to use a pseudonym, a pen name, so for mine, I chose Bella Beechcroft, and as you can see from the photo here, my Mini-Tale entry was one of the shortlisted tales.

I know many writers wonder about whether they should use a pseudonym. There is an air of mystery behind pseudonyms, especially in light of the recent revelation that JK Rowling is Robert Galbraith. But don’t get hung up over whether you should use a pseudonym. To be honest, put the effort into writing whatever it is you want to write first. Worry about your name later.

At the moment, my attitude is that whatever I write will have my name next to it, unless there’s a reason for not doing so, such as this competition example. But there are legitimate reasons when a pseudonym may be necessary:

- Like JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith - if you have a track record in one particular genre, getting agents/editors to read work you’ve written in a different genre in an objective way can be difficult, so a pseudonym may help with this. But this is only something you need to worry about when you’re a well-known name in a particular genre!

- To differentiate one genre of books from another to your readers. Again, when you’re well known for writing one particular genre, and you have an enlightened publishing team who are willing to consider something you’ve written in another genre, it may still be necessary to use a different name to tell your readers that your work is of a slightly different nature. Iain Banks wrote books under this name, but he also wrote Science Fiction books under the name of Iain M Banks. Not a huge name change, but enough for his readers to differentiate the genre of the book. The novelist Joanna Trollope also writes as Caroline Harvey. Madelaine Wickham had written several successful novels before she began writing the (very) different Shopoholic series of books, under the name of Sophie Kinsella.

- Sad to say, but some readers expect certain genres to be written by men, and others written by women. Men make better thriller writers whilst women are better writers of erotic fiction. Actually, that statement is complete trash, but if the general readership believes this to be true then some agents/publishers believe it’s better to have the right ‘name’ for the genre. 

- To get more work. For non-fiction writers, pseudonyms aren’t as important, with many non-fiction writers writing about a variety of topics under their own name. However, there may be times when a different name can be useful. If you regularly work for an editor of one magazine, they may not take kindly to you selling similar work to a competing magazine … so a pseudonym can help get over this problem! 

- Sometimes, editors become aware that a large portion of an issue is written by a handful of writers, and so they might encourage the use of pseudonyms to suggest to the readership that their bank of writers is actually bigger than it is! Some short story writers use more than one name, especially if they are prolific.

- Finally, a writer may use a pseudonym because they don’t want to be known as the writer. If you’re a six-feet nine-inch tall bloke, who plays rugby at the weekend with your mates, drinks fourteen pints in the after-match party and drives 44-tonne juggernauts during the week, you might not want your mates knowing that you write Mills and Boon romances.

So, don’t get hung up about what name to write under. The one you’ve got is pretty good place to start. If you need to consider a pseudonym there’s usually a very good reason for doing so … even if it is just for one competition to help with the anonymity for judging. If you don’t have a good reason for doing so, then don’t.

Good luck. 


  1. Who does the cheque go to if you write in a name other than yours?

    1. Yes, you do need to the the publishers your real name at some point - unless you have an understand bank manager!

  2. Am I technically using a pseudonym? I use my maiden name as that's what I was called when I first got published and it seems appropriate for my style of writing.

    1. I suppose in some ways you are, if you're also known by your married name for other things.