Help Me Decide: Should I Use a Pseudonym For My Fiction?

Red Masked Josh from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 Bill Stilwell, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

So, what’s in a name?

When I write fiction, I feel like an entirely different person, certainly not the same individual who writes the projects that I write for other people. There’s a separation in my mind. Healthy? I don’t know, but there’s the fiction writing me, and there’s the writing books for other people me, and the two feel very separate.

Which is why I always imagined that when I finally wrote a novel, I’d write it under a different name, a pseudonym, something like Shawn Merrill (Merrill is actually my first name). Why?

1 – It feels like a different person writing, so a different name feels appropriate.

2 – I’d like to keep a soft line between the writing I do for other people and the writing I do for myself. What if I write something in my fiction that turns people off from using me to write their nonfiction?

3 – The novels I write are not “Christian.” Ugh. I hate using that term to describe writing, or books, or music, but it’s how people talk about these things. I think I’d feel more free to write the fiction I want to write if it wasn’t as closely tied to the writing I’ve already done, which has been mostly Christian memoirs.

4 – If someone loved my fiction and looked up my author page, I don’t think they’d be interested in reading the nonfiction that I’ve written. And probably vice versa.

On the other hand, someone I was talking to recently discouraged me from using a pen name. She said that the world needed more Christians writing “secular” fiction, and that I should embrace the tension.

What do you think?

27 Replies to “Help Me Decide: Should I Use a Pseudonym For My Fiction?”

  1. I “hear” you on all counts, yet still think you should use your own name for your fiction writing. Who knows, maybe you can broaden someone’s views if they do check out your other work.

  2. I would be in favor of a pen.name, or at least some way to differentiate between the two writing styles. What about a subtle difference like M. Shawn Smucker?

  3. At first I thought, “It’s a little funny because in no other profession is this an option.” But I get it… And, I know exactly one Christian person who hasn’t read a secular novel. But I can guarantee she wouldn’t hold it against you. My grandma loves everyone.

  4. Ooo, I like Dolores’s idea. Use a variation of your name that is clearly still you. Mix up the initials or something as she suggested.
    When you are “writing for someone else” use one configuration.
    When you are doing your own thing, (whatever bookshelf genre it may be) use another configuration. Either one will still look like you which you want to own fully.

    But the differentiation is a gentle reminder to us of what we are picking up.

    Then stay with that.

    BTW – enjoyed your little essay on the man in the chair and time. Nice. Enjoy your chaos.

  5. Morning Shawn! Enjoyed your front porch email while sipping my coffee on my porch today too (before my little hooligan woke up to seize the day, haha). Thanks for that thoughtful post – reminding me to embrace the fullness of today.

    Also. for your fiction pen name I love the idea of keeping your name as is or just slightly different so people still know it’s you writing. I look forward to reading your new novel and think it’s great you’re writing for a diverse audience… After all that’s how I want my life story to be shared too – in a diverse context & not just with a select few “churched” folks (who I love dearly too of course).

  6. I’ve struggled with this a lot. I think the answer is just up to you. I don’t write “Christian fiction” either. I found freedom using a pseudonym for a little while because it allowed me to say whatever I wanted to say without judgement from anyone. I wrote a story about a drug dealer and I think it is my best writing but it doesn’t “fit” into a nice, neat Christian mold.

    It’s VERY possible the fear in our heads is the real problem Shawn, not the actual content itself. Unless it is something very explicit (and even that is open for interpretation obviously) you are fine to release it under your own name. But again, it’s totally up to you.

  7. Ok.

    Number 1. That image is creepy. Smuckin’ creepy.

    Number 2. Yes. You should use a pen name. And it should contain 2 initials and a last name. And I’d choose something different than “Merrill”. It’s a fine first name. But as a last name, it’s a bit weak. The Rs and the Ls make it less memorable. Perhaps use it as the first name and then choose a last name that contains a B or D or K in it. Something like Merrill Bing or Merrill Burk or Merrill Kortland.

    Number 3. I won’t judge you if you decide to go with Shawn Merrill, at least, not to your face. Promise!

    Number 4. You’re first name is Merrill. That’s funny.

    1. 1. I love when you use my last name as an adverb. That’s what that is, right? I’m not great with grammar.
      2. The certainty with which you answer my question peaks my curiosity. We need to talk.
      3. I just assume you’re always judging me.
      4. It’s only funny if you didn’t grow up in a life where every first day of school you had to correct the teacher and get made fun of by your classmates. (So of course we did the same thing to my oldest son.)

      1. Merrill,

        1) Yep. Adverb. Because it describes creepy, which is an adjective I believe…
        2) Would love to discuss my certainty over the phone. :)
        3) Which only makes an @ss of you and me. I was probably already an @ss. But not you.
        4) You’re officially my friend “Merrill.” I’ve never had a friend named “Merrill.” Now I do. ;)

  8. I think pseudo name Shawn, but agree it should be recognizable in some way. I like Merrill but (I can’t believe I am going to say this) have you ever gone on Goodreads for example and if you don’t spell the name exactly right you can’t find the author and Merrill would be easy to misspell. Personally, this annoys me and sometimes I just give up.

    Also, I think you need a pseudo because for whatever reason I do believe someone looking to have you write their story might be bothered about you writing fiction. I know many do use their name for both but this is Lancaster County. Lol

    Aren’t you glad you asked:-)

  9. This isn’t something I’ve really thought about before. My dad has written both non-fiction and fiction, and I believe he has only used his real name (but maybe there are actually more books out there by him). In my own writing, I haven’t dabbled in the fiction area (at least not yet). I think I would stick with my own name though – it’s who I am.

  10. I totally get your reservations, but I’d like to just offer a glimpse of who “Shawn Smucker” is as a writer to some of the rest of the world. I’ve shared some of your posts, and now I see other Facebook friends of mine– who are totally outside the Christian blogosphere– sharing them too. And they never introduce your posts with anything about you as a Christian or a biographer; they introduce them with “tears” or “beautiful” or “incredible.” So you may not be as pigeonholed as you think. And even if you are, there are far worse things than “Shawn Smucker” bringing to mind poignancy and beauty and insight.

  11. Chevy and Cadillac are both reputable products from the same company. Same goes for Tide and Oxydol. Having one “brand” for dissimilar products confuses consumers and in some cases would be deceptive.

    it’s the same band, whether you go to a Funkadelics concert or a Commodores concert, but the music is different. Nobody tries to hide the fact that Anne Rice, Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure are the same author born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien, but the widow Rice benefits from helping fans find the books they are likely to enjoy. Harlan Ellison puts the byline “Cordwainer Bird” on work that he wrote to suit the customer’s sensibilities, not his own, but you know, sometimes I like Harlan’s work better when he’s constrained; a great writer needs a great editor.

    You can always mention in the author bio that “Manly Sojourner is a pen name used by biographer and memoirist Shawn Smucker for his fiction.” Who knows? Perhaps you’ll decide to add a similar item to your non-fiction. if your fiction eclipses your nonfiction work.

    There will always be people who are offended by the faith,or by your fiction, but most readers will by satisfied by separate branding.

  12. Great question, and it seems like you’ve given it some thought. I think pseudonyms were way weirder decades ago than they are now. I think it happens more often than we realize and for different reasons. I know of one writer who uses her maiden name instead of her married name, possibly because it fits with the subject of her novels, which is based in part on her heritage. I know of another writer who published a contemporary romance under her name and then wrote a YA fantasy adventure using her first two initials and her last name. A third example is a woman who writers steampunk fiction and contemporary romance under her “real” name and Amish fiction under a similar but different name.

    In each case, it matters less to me whose name is on the book than how good the story is. So, while this isn’t an answer, really, maybe it offers some perspective? As a writer, I’m curious about why people choose to use pseudonyms. As a reader, it doesn’t bother me.

    I say “win-win” either way!

  13. You are a grea-fantas-ing writer! (Great-Fantastic-Amazing) I say it’s good being who you are. Sometimes when I find a good book, i want to see what other books they wrote and will search the name. However, if it feels better to you as you slip into this other person; go for it Mr Shawn Merrill!!! I day write the book; name the title, and then try different options on cover and see what feels right to you. Just let us know; we don’t want to miss out on a good read;)

  14. I really enjoyed your post. At age 66, I’m not old. But I can relate to those of you with little ones and watching and wishing and enjoying. My baby just turned 40 with her own 3 y/o. My son died just before his 16th birthday and wished I done a few things differently. His 45th birthday was yesterday. I have a tendency to want to tell all parents of little children to watch them close. I don’t, but I want to say “hold them tight. You never know”.

    Regarding your own name versus a pseudonym. I’ve read all the pros and cons above. I’d like to be able to google Shawn Smucker and be able to find what all you’ve written. Non-fiction or fiction. I am an avid reader of Christian and secular fiction and non-fiction.

    Personally, I think you should use Shawn Smucker. Having said that, I think you know your audience better than I, so you need to do what you think is best for you.

  15. Actually, your name already sounds like the name you would choose to write under. It is totally apart from most of the fiction, or any other type of name for a writer. And most of all, it is the name your parents gave you. However, if you feel you are a person apart from yourself, writing fiction.under another name might give you the freedom to write as you feel might be important to your writing.. John Grisham has written a few books that are different than his norm, but I don’t care, I stilll like him.. And I would like Shawn Smucker under any name, just so I know what it is, because I want to keep reading what you write. I do think you have a calling in comedy. When you’ve written about really bad experiences, you find the humor in the.situation. whereas, I would want to have a good cry. Best wishes whatevere you decide. Joyce

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