The Power of the Pen Name

How old is Franklin W. Dixon anyway? I mean, that first Hardy Boys novel came out in 1927 and new ones are still being published with Dixon still credited as the author. Assuming he was 20 when he started, Dixon would be 103 today and still going strong!

Well, of course author Franklin W. Dixon didn’t really exist. The publishers hired many writers over the years to pen books under that name in an effort to keep the authorship consistent. It’s a fairly common practice with many long-running series.

But what about authors that choose to go with a pen name? I used to wonder why writers sometimes used a pseudonym, as if they were somehow ashamed of what they wrote. That was until I started doing it myself, after which the answers became a little clearer.

If an author is established in one genre and attempts a foray into a completely different genre, then perhaps using a pen name would work for them. A steamy romance written by Stephen King may raise a few eyebrows but not sell very well. However, published under a pen name any prejudice would be removed and the novel would be given more of a fighting chance.

What if the author’s true name doesn’t suit the genre they happen to be writing for? Would religious readers buy a Christian book by someone named Lucifer? Would fans of erotic thrillers flock to a book written by a Chastity? Would the book itself be overshadowed if its author had the unfortunate last name of Manson? Extreme examples to be sure, but also instances where pen names would probably be recommended by a publisher. 

A pen name may be practical if the author’s personal safety was in question due to controversial subject matter. Of course, one would also argue that writers should always take ownership of what they write. But even if Salman Rushdie use a pen name when he wrote The Satanic Verses, the death and violence that ensued afterwards would have only suggested him a coward had he stayed hidden behind it.

In my own case, I think it’s high time to consider a pen name.  Not only do I share my moniker with a deceased Irish actor and a retired NFL quarterback, no less than five writers out there are named Richard Todd. Even including my middle initial hasn’t stopped confusion and embarrassment on the part of people erroneously contacting me instead of “that other” Richard Todd.

Most recently I was confused with the music reviewer of a large urban newspaper. Adopting a pen name would stop that confusion too. But then again, think of the concerts I could get into…

Richard S. Todd is a Canadian author and blogger. Visit him online at www.richard-todd.com.

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Author: Richard S. Todd

Pro copywriter. Expressive voice artist. Award-winning public speaker.

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