Pen names – pros, cons and how to go about it

​This blog is a quick run though of a couple of reasons people have pen names, why, the pitfalls, benefits and how to set one up – if you feel you’d like a pen name or are just curious, enjoy! 
So many writers have a pen name, or at least an alternative name. There are varied reasons for this, as a couple of examples J K Rowling went with her initials to seem more masculine for sale value (sexist I know but the industry can be a cruel master), and the famous Sophie Kinsella also writes under the name Madeleine Sophie Wickham to avoid connotations to The Shopaholic series in her heavier genre works. 
Myself I use the nickname Bandit because it sums up my personality and I have an awkward to say, non catchy Polish surname which I love – but really who would know that Sajdak is pronounced sy-dak. Bandit is an old school nickname and it’s so much easier to remember. 
There are pros and cons to setting up a pen name though.
As a professional writer a pen name can set you up well in a genre, just like a particular publisher. For example some of the best known occult books come from Llewellyn and some of the best writers in the area have pen names: Silver Ravenwolf and Raven Digitalis to name my favourites. 
So as prejudice as it may sound, a name is not a name – it’s a cursor. Writing needs to be treated like business and you need to be treated as a brand. 
If you want to get into historical literature maybe take a name from the era. If you’re writing academia perhaps use any titles you may have so you add credibility. As for science fiction take inspiration from people like Ursula K Le Guin – I’ll let you look up the meaning of the K.
It may seem shallow but a profile is important, much the same as your characterisation. I mean, if two books on horror asylums have the same cover but one is written by Ellie Smith and one is written by Lady Luna Tick, which will you remember? This isn’t about your name, it’s about making a brand.
Some people don’t want to do that, and that’s also fine. 
To some people this can seem like a gimmick, so you need to decide what kind of writer you want to be. Some people are about the book, some about the package and others an entirely different approach. These are all fine, but you have to thing long term. Let me give an example of that:
I am a huge fan (bordering on obsession) of a band called Blood On The Dance Floor. Now, their old music was quite offensive and their new is profoundly philosophical but a lot of people remember the days of synth and swearing. What you decide is your ‘brand’ which includes your name, is going to be a continuous – so think carefully, is Luna Tick going to sound cool when you want to try out a deeper story or will that get passed over as teen fiction? Think future. 
After choosing a writers name the legalities get a little more complicated, especially if you self publish. Writing online may not be a problem but when it comes to earning money where do the cheques go? The bank payments?
And there we go, problem.
The companies you work for or publishing house will obviously know where to send a payment but if you run your own books, people find alternative names untrustworthy.
So I recommend registering as a limited company or sole trader with your pen name as the brand. And we’re back to branding. I know, I know, broken record and spurning like a terrible seminar, but it’s important. 
This does mean doing the correct tax returns and such but you should be declaring your income anyway so it shouldn’t be too much extra work. You’re local governing body should have information on their website if you want to save on an accountant – and it’s not all that hard if you keep your records up to date. I use direct gov UK if I have queries. 
So there you go – the quick start guide from Roxanne ‘Bandit’ Sajdak.


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