Three Reasons to Use a Pen Name

Why did I choose to write under a pseudonym? Why not lump all my books together under my real name? Here are reasons why I use a pen name and what you need to think about when considering one for yourself.
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You’re on the run down a dark alley in the dead of night. Your cover is blown. You thought you could enjoy a double life – librarian by day, perhaps, undercover detective by night. But a library patron recognized you. What do you do? You could keep running or, better, why not turn around and face your pursuer? You have every right to live in both worlds. After all, you’re good at both jobs. And that’s kind of cool.

I’m not a librarian or a detective, but I write in two wildly different genres under two wildly different names, and that’s kind of cool too. Anjali Banerjee is my real name (I dare you to pronounce it), but I write psychological suspense as A. J. Banner, and I’m having oh so much fun doing it. But why did I choose to write under a pseudonym? Why not lump all my books together under my real name?

Here are reasons I use a pen name and what you need to think about when considering one for yourself.

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This guest post is by Anjali Banerjee. The Philadelphia Inquirer called Banerjee's debut novel, Maya Running, "beautiful and complex" and "pleasingly accessible." She has since written eight more novels under her real name and two novels of psychological suspense under the pen name, A. J. Banner, most recently The Twilight Wife, praised by Adam Woog of The Seattle Times as having "a canny premise and an intense follow-through."

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1. For readers – so they know what they’re getting.

What if you pick up a book with a dark, brooding front cover and a broken title dripping blood, but when you read the novel, you get poignant women’s fiction? You would probably feel a bit ripped off. If Anjali Banerjee, who writes general fiction featuring Indian-American characters, were to pen a novel of psychological suspense, you might get a little confused. The dark book cover and the pen name “A. J. Banner” together suggest a story of deception, a whodunit that makes you vaguely uneasy all the way through. The pen name helps you to know what you’re getting.

2. For booksellers and librarians – so they know what to recommend. 

You’re a bookseller, busy shelving new releases, when a young woman comes up to you and says, I just read The Girl on the Train. I want another book with twists and turns. Among other titles, you might recommend The Good Neighbor or The Twilight Wife, by A. J. Banner. Both novels feature a woman in jeopardy who doesn’t know whom to trust – her neighbors, her friends, or even herself. These titles are a far cry from the novels written by Anjali Banerjee, which might be appropriate to recommend for a reader seeking a good escape, nothing scary, or a sixth-grade teacher who wants a middle grade novel celebrating cultural diversity (the teacher might like Anjali Banerjee’s novels, Maya Running or Looking for Bapu).

Other authors have chosen pen names for similar reasons – so readers and booksellers will immediately be able to identify and categorize the books. Amanda Quick, Jayne Ann Krentz and Jayne Castle are all names used by Jayne Krentz to write in different genres. Agatha Christie wrote six romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott, and Isaac Asimov wrote science fiction for youngsters under the name Paul French.

3. For me – for a new adventure. 

Have you ever imagined packing a bag, leaving everything behind, and embarking on a journey to a foreign country where nobody knows your name? You could be anyone, do anything. You could become a performer in Cirque du Soleil, or a spy, or a mountain climber, or a singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band. As Anjali Banerjee, I write about my cultural heritage, love and loss, magic and bookstore ghosts. As A. J. Banner, I go darker, plunging into the world of psychopaths, deception and unexpected plot twists. We don’t know whodunit until the very end. I’ve always dreamed of penning this kind of Gothic psychological suspense novel, like the stories of Daphne du Maurier or Joy Fielding, two authors I’ve always loved. Like many readers, I need more than one kind of book in my library or on my reading device; I just want to have an idea of what I’m in for before I turn the first page. I hope readers of Anjali Banerjee would also enjoy A. J. Banner’s novels of darkness and deception. That they would love a cover featuring a broken seashell with the tagline, What if everything you remember is a lie? That they would pick up The Twilight Wife in a heartbeat.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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