What’s in a Pen Name?

Names mean things. We all know that. From choosing “just the right” name for a newborn to learning the true name of a demonic or celestial being so as to have power over it, naming is a long and storied tradition. As a writer, the choice of whether to write under one’s given name or a chosen pen name is something we all consider. As I work on The Romance Novel Project, I have to consider reasons to choose a different pen name under which to write this book and any other romance novels I choose to write. So, let’s talk about why an author might choose a pen name.

Branding

The first reason an author might choose a pen name is to help establish a brand. While all of us are multifaceted people, it’s easier to market a brand that has a clear identity. Robin Schadel has a brand reputation for writing dark urban fantasy/paranormal, southern gothic thrillers that are rated either R or NC-17. These books deal with mental illness, suicidal ideation, torture, violence, etc. There is an expected tone and type of content in the books under that author brand.

By contrast, The Romance Novel Project might get up to PG-13. It’s a very different tone than the books under the name Robin Schadel, and so, if my readers were to go and read this new book, they might be confused and disappointed, as it is not what they have come to expect from books bearing that name. And again, while we are complex and while readers can enjoy multiple genres and styles, we come to expect certain things from creatives once we get a feel for their style.

Anonymity

Another reason an author might choose a pen name is for anonymity. This can be out of fear that any level of success will destroy their ability to have a private life. This might also be out of fear that they will receive judgment by those they know for what they write. A really good friend of mine paid her way through graduate school (earning an MFA in Creative Writing) by writing trashy romance novels under a pen name. She was afraid that people would judge her for the style of writing that paid her bills and that her literary fiction would not be taken seriously.

On a similar note, I know people who come from very religious families and/or teach at ultra-conservative schools who use pen names to hide the fact they write “smut.” They fear losing their job. My dissertation director suggested I write my novels under a pen name so that connection to them would not hurt my reputation as a scholar and a researcher. If we compare my sales against the number of times her work has been cited by other scholars, more people know me than know her. But the fear of losing face or of losing respect/jobs/job prospects can lead some to use a pen name.

Why I Chose a Pen Name

I chose a pen name for a few different reasons. Honestly more people know me as Robin Schadel than by my real name. I’ve gone by Robin Schadel ever since I was fixture of the New Orleans goth scene in the late 1990s; there are some there who will tell you that Robin Schadel is my “real name,” as it reflects who I am better than my name. So, I chose to write under the name that had a decent social media presence.

And, to be fair, that name does represent who I am far better than my actual name.

How I Chose My Pen Name

Okay, so when I was a pretentious little baby bat way back in the 1990s, playing Vampire: the Masquerade and going to goth clubs, I noticed all the cool people who had been in the scene for around a decade or more had “scene names” that all sounded like vampires or gothic novel characters. So, I chose one too. I chose Robin Schadel, which was a play on the German Rabenschädel, or “Raven Skull”. Yes, it sounded cool, dark, and mysterious. And, as someone who was playing with gender and presentation (and looking androgynous at the time), it worked either as masculine or feminine. And the name stuck with me.

Of course, there are other reasons why authors choose pen names that I haven’t covered here. And so, I ask, writers, if you use a pen name, how did you go about choosing yours? Or, why did you/did you not choose to use one?

Promotional Hype

My debut novel, Liam’s Doom, is on sale at all major and minor retail outlets from Amazon to Barnes & Noble to Bookshop.org. I request that you support Bookshop.org, as their site supports local and independent bookstores. The eBook is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and through my webstore.

Carmilla’s Ghost is now on sale. The paperback version is available all major online retailers, including AmazonBookshop.org and at Barnes & Noble. Currently, eBook pre-orders are only available at Amazon and through my webstore.

It Hungers (formerly Stone Cold), the third book in the series is currently available for pre-order as an ebook on Amazon. Paperback preorders go through my website and will all be autographed! The book will officially release on 3 May 2022.

My prequel novel, Blood/Lust is also available on Amazon and Bookshop.org