Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Should I use a pen name or my real name?

by Stephanie Morrill (or Olivia Piper)

Stephanie/Olivia writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Even though I get asked this question on a regular basis, I've apparently never answered it on the blog. So today is the day! Should you use a pen name or your real name on your books? What are the benefits? How do you make it known to agents or publishers?

I've heard a variety of industry opinions over pen names, ranging from "they're deceitful and shouldn't be used" to, "Sure, go for it."

Historically, pen names have been used for a variety of reasons. Female authors sometimes chose male pen names so they might be taken more seriously in the world of literature, like George Eliot author of Middlemarch. George Eliot's real name was Mary Ann Evans. (My AP English teacher drilled into us that George Eliot was a woman, and that if we were given an essay question about George Eliot during the AP test, we were to refer to her as SHE. We were told this about once a week, I recall.)

Or Stanley Martin Lieber wanted to save his name for when he wrote novels, so for his comic book endeavors, he opted for a pen name - Stan Lee.

On a more corporate level, pen names often get adopted for series. The Nancy Drew books weren't all written by Carolyn Keene, for example.

But what about you? Is a pen name a smart move?

Maybe you just don't like your name, or you want something a bit more jazzed up for book covers. Your last name might be way too common or virtually unpronounceable. Or maybe your name is Steve King, Stephanie Meyers, Sarah Dessan or something else that's just a bit too close to an already established author.

Regardless of your reason, here are some things to take into consideration.

Your real name will be out there too.

These days it would be basically impossible to completely conceal your real name.


When you're promoting your book, you'll be promoting not just on-line, but in person too. Which means you'll be telling people at school, at work, at the library, at the pool that your book is being published! Oh, happy day! And then they'll say, "I'm rushing over to Barnes and Noble to buy a copy right now!" To which you'll need to respond, "Well, it's not published under Amy Smith. It's published under the name Olivia Piper." (And by the way, I'm staking my claim on that pen name! Dibs!)

Your branding needs to be done under your pen name

If you're trying to build recognition of the name Olivia Piper, then you need to be doing everything AS Olivia Piper. You need to be blogging, pinning, and tweeting AS Olivia Piper. 

But what about querying? I would still query with your real name, but when you're talking about your blog or something, you can say something like, "I blog at such-and-such address under the name Olivia Piper, where I have X number of followers."

Maybe a variation of your legal name would be better

When you're at author events, they'll be calling you by your pen name. So if it's going to be too tough to respond to "Olivia" when your name is "Amy" then you might consider a variation of your given name instead.

Using your initials can be a good choice. S.E. Hinton and J.K. Rowling are excellent modern examples. Both these ladies wrote male main characters and were writing "boy books" so initials worked especially well.

Or you can do your first and middle, your middle and last, or your first and your mother's maiden name if you don't want to entirely abandon your given name.

Have questions about pen names? I'll do my best to answer them!

Brief advertisement: Jill Williamson's Captives is currently on sale. You can snag a digital copy for $1.99! Not sure how long her publisher is running this sale though, so grab it today.

75 comments:

  1. I've never thought about using a pen name, really. My name isn't particularly unique, but it's not the most common either, so...but, like everything else, it's good to keep in mind!

    Here's a "pen name" for the fun of it: Emma Martin. ;) It's my default fake name, and it's got quite a long history (full of laughter). I love good ol' Emma...xD

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    1. Hey, everyone else, how about y'all share a fake name, too? :D Just make one up on the spot if you don't have one already. We can use our fake names today too...hmmm that would be fun...xD Might want to keep your normal name there, too, though that way it doesn't get super confusing.

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    2. You know my pen name and my real name, Amanda. :)

      ~Robyn Hoode

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    3. I'm SO glad you suggested that, Amanda! I scheduled this post last night, and this morning when I woke up, I thought, "I should have suggested people share their just-for-fun pen names!"

      I was always wanting to change my name as a kid and messing around with the spelling. We have quite a few elementary school papers where I wrote my name as Stefany. I also went through a phase where I wanted to be called Desert Flower, which I read in a book about Native Americans and thought it was the most amazing name ever :)

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    4. My real name is Brittney Johnson and I always thought it sounded way to plain to be in the front of a book cover! I have often thought of having a pen name but I'm not quite sure if I would really like that... but if I did have to pick a pen name it would be: Anastasia Morgan

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    5. I do, Robyn. ;)

      That's funny, Ms. Morrill! xD

      And I like the name Brittney...but Anastasia is cool, too. :)

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    6. Um.........

      Bethany Miller, Hope Baldwin, B.H. Miller? :P

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  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for this! I've been lying awake at night just weighing the pros and cons of a pen name. Because for some reason, I really want to write under a pen name. And well, this post just puts my thoughts to rest. Makes a lot of sense, too.

    I still plan to use a pen name under my first name and a variation to my mother's maiden name. So here's my question: is it possible to change certain letters but still keep the "essence" of a legal name?

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    1. What funny timing, Jemimah!

      Can you give me an example of what you mean? I'm not sure I understand. Do you mean like if your name was Amy Smith to instead be Aimee Smyth?

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    2. Yes, that's what I meant.

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  3. Dang. And I had "Olivia Piper" all picked out too...
    XD
    I used to want a pen name, because I thought it was "cool". Now I think I NEED it to be my REAL name so people believe me when I walk into a bookshop (someday *fingers crossed*) and say, "Behold. My book". ;)

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  4. I've sort of thought about it, but that's mostly because I'm worried agents will think my real name, "Sarah Faulkner" is actually a pen name and that I'm just trying too hard. You know. William Faulkner, Sarah Faulkner . . . yeah.
    However, I don't really like the idea of using a pen name. It's something I'm kind of torn over.
    Thanks for another thought provoking post, Stephanie!
    ~Sarah Faulkner (or Kenna Grace)(Wait, isn't your daughter's name Kenna . . .?)

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    1. Haha, it's funny because I have a cousin named Sarah Faulkner, and my great grandfather's name WAS William Faulkner! Sometimes when I tell people that, I walk away letting them think that I am the descendant of a famous author. haha

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    2. Yes! It's McKenna, actually, but I'm guessing we'll go through a Kenna phase at some point :) My son calls her "Tenna" for now, so maybe when he gets his K sound figured out, she'll be Kenna.

      I think Faulkner is a beautiful last name, and common enough that they might not think about it at first. If you were Sarah Tolstoy, Sarah Steinbeck, or Sarah Hemingway, I think that would jump out a bit more.

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    3. 'Tenna'. That's so cute! My sister's name is Jenna, so the younger ones will sometimes call her 'Denna'. And then Joshua is 'Dwa-dwa'. :) I love how little kids talk!

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  5. Wonderful advice.

    What Cait says is quite an interesting point too!

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  6. Thanks for answering my question, Stephanie! I'd prefer to use my real name, but I did come up with a possible pseudonym if there are too many authors with my last name.

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  7. My first name is spelled .. .ahem... uniquely. As in, it's pronounced a little differently to the way it looks. All my Internet accounts (and I have lots of them, e.g. Blog, Wattpad, Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, Gmail, etc.) are based on some combination of my legal name. I blog under my middle name and my mam's maiden name.

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    1. Rose, you have Wattpad? I do (ChihuahuaCharms -- although I haven't piste anything on there); what's your username? :)

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  8. I thought about using one seriously for a while, and I'm thinking of using my real name for the reasons mentioned (people will be able to find out who you are if they want to.)
    Speaking of pen names, look at Cassandra Clare. Her fake name, to me, screams FAKE... But I kinda don't blame her for having a pen name, after I looked up her real name and discovered appearently it's Judith Rumelt, or somemthing... And uh, I can't picture a blockbuster series like the Mortal Instruments being written by a "Judith Rumelt" lol.

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    1. Also, the main reason I don't want to use my last name is because people are always asking how it's spelled ("like the chicken or the university?" People always ask.) But I figure if there are author out there with names like Taherah Mafi or Amy Tintara, my readers should be able to cope with my real name, lol.

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    2. I have the opposite problem, lol. My last name was the 11th most common worldwide, last time I checked. The irony is that my pseudonym, if I choose to use it, could be spelled with or without an e, but I like it for its sentimental value :)

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    3. Yeah, Allison, I've seen published authors adjust their names for their genre, particularly YA. The marketing department apparently doesn't think kids want to read books by someone with a grandmother's name :) I've also seen it for Amish fiction, where authors write under a simpler sounding name.

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    4. I guess it would not be a incorrect assumption that Beverly Lewis' real name isn't Beverly Lewis? :P

      Hannah, cool! :D

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  9. I once wanted to write under the pen name Jean Spurrier (Middle name and Mother's maiden) until I looked on Amazon and some other book sites and found that no one with my last name has EVER been published. I shall be the first as Rebekah Gyger.

    As to people with pen names, R. J. Larson is a good example. She has written under three names (Which I read in an article on her in the Book Club Magazine). She has one for each genre she writes (Larson is for fantasy), which I have to say that I am glad about because she published her historicals under Kacy Barnett-Gramckow.

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    1. Yes! That's a great reason for writers to use pen names. It's very helpful for their readers. If I ever write something other than a contemporary, I'm guessing I'll be using a pen name.

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    2. I understand the reasoning behind it (so as to not confuse readers), but I also see where I might not want to do that. I plan to write in different genres (I read many and have ideas for a few different ones) and in the end, I would just be confused. Plus I know some authors who wrote different genres but kept the same name and I found it easier to search for their books.

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  10. I use the pen name Karoline Kingley. I only changed my last name so that my overall name would have more a of a memorable ring to it.

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  11. Now all of a sudden I want to write under the pen name Piper Davis...I suppose I shall wait and see.

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    1. Piper is such an awesome name. Hannah is too, though!

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    2. I just realised there are at least 3 Hannahs on GTW . . . We should start a club! ;)

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    3. LOL! It's true, Hannah is a pretty common name! xD

      And I've read a book with a character named Piper Davis. :)

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  12. My favorite author, Erynn Mangum, wrote her first book before she got married, so she still writes as well... Erynn Mangum. Lol. Something to think about if you're a girl teen writer. Your name could very well change within the next decade or so. :)

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    1. That's why I have just decided to go with my name, Gyger. It is short and I might end up with something crazy to spell. This way, my husband could not get mad that I didn't use his name for writing, because I told him ahead of time.

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  13. I've always sort of liked the idea of a pen name, but never seriously considered it. :) I think I'd find it stressful, having to keep up with two names when one is already hard enough. ;) I'd always be getting my blogs mixed up.

    (love your new pen name, Stephanie! :P)

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  14. I'm really thinking about going by my first and middle name and leaving out my last name since it is usually pronounced wrong :)

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  15. I used to think I would use a pen name, but I changed my mind. I like the part about you having to remember people will call you by your pen name at writers conferences and other times.
    I suppose my name is pretty rare though (I think I have only met two other Girls named Naomi....)
    If I did use a pen name it would be.... Clotilda Windcrest, for fantasy.....maybe Marilynn Millbrook, for historical.... Maybe....:)
    Thank you for the post it was interesting!:-)

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  16. Anneliese Blakeney is my pen name for privacy reasons. When I start working toward traditional publishing I'll probably use my real name. For now I'm just building up my skill.

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  17. I've been going by the name of Poem Girl for my blog for a veeerrryyy long time but when I considered sticking that onto one of my books but I decided it just didn't fit (since pretty much all of my books won't be on poetry) So I tweaked it adding my real first name and shortening my blogger name so now it's Sarah. PG, it was the only thing that worked for me I tried Antoinette Epaulette but it didn't make the cut and felt strange even though PG constantly reminds me of the movie ratings I don't mind that much and the name feels comfortable this way if I ever get married I won't have to worry about my name changing I can keep Sarah, PG.

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  18. This is actually something I've thought about before. For several reasons, I've debated whether to use my full name when I publish, and I'm leaning towards just using my first and middle name as sort of a "pen name": Taylor Lynn. I don't use my full name on the internet for privacy reasons, so I'm already known to Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, etc. as Taylor Lynn anyway. Besides, I love "Taylor Lynn", and it's rather unique, so I think that's what I'll most likely be publishing under. :)

    As for a made-up pen name, though...gah, I don't know! Um, I came up with a name I want to use for a character at some point, can I use that instead? ;) Haha, it's Melanie Lancaster--I just love the way it flows, and I think it's perfect for a character. :)

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  19. My husband wants my pen name to be Casey Peters. He loves the came Casey, and Peterson was my maiden name, so I guess that's why.

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  20. I will also mention that if you are a pastor and you write fantasy or science fiction, you might consider a pen name. Ministry is a hard thing sometimes, and certain members of your congregation might be difficult and make trouble for you if you write something they don't like. So file that away, for what it's worth.

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    1. Sadly, that doesn't surprise me-some people can be closed mined about that sort of thing. I went out to lunch and a movie with a friend from HS today, and she's going to youth ministry, and I don't think she would be tolerant if I told her I write fantasy.

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  21. My maiden name is very common, and my married name, though fairly unique, is full of vowels and is difficult to spell even for my good friends (and some family, but we won't go there). I decided on a combination of my MC's name from my first (serious, yet disastrous) attempt at a novel when I was 17, and a family name, so it's both sentimental and has meaning for me. I love the way it flows, too.

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  22. I used to tell people my pen name was my first name spelled backward. Then I'd watch them mentally process what A-N-N-A actually looks like backward. I've always been slightly jealous of people who can rearrange their first name to get a different name ;)

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    1. You don't like Naan? Or Nana? Or Anan? :)

      And I adore the name Anna. Classic and beautiful.

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    2. One of my favorite quotes from a friend is, "My name's spelled backwards" (Referring to the name Hannah).

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    3. I know an awesome Anna, and an awesome Hannah. Actually, Hannah likes to be called Nana. Most of the time.

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    4. Thanks! My youngest sister actually calls me Nana a lot, so it's grown on me over the past couple of years ;)

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  23. Ha!! I've never heard of pen names! All I knew of was the real name and initials.
    I prefer the initial; I think it looks nice.... Or maybe it's because my favorite authors are C. S. Lakin and C. S. Lewis (Hee Hee they're both C. S. L.).

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  24. My pen name is my real first name, my real middle initial, and my first name spelled backwards. Palindromes have always intrigued me. For a while I considered my real name, but then discovered that Ardnek put me closer to the front of the alphabet. Also, if I ever get married, I don't have to jump through hoops with last name issues.

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  25. Thank you so much for this post, Olivia! (haha) I was going to operate under a pen name, but I started my blog last September and . . . I started it as me, not as Ellie Drake. So I'm not sure anymore. My MC is also male and my book is a fantasy, so maybe I'll take your lovely idea for initials instead of a real name.

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  26. I use the pen-name Anastasia Inkyfingers, but not always.

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  27. Since I was nine I've had the name "Kayla Lime" all picked out and ready to go. I liked the color green (hence the "Lime") and the name Kayla randomly popped into my head. Since then, I've always wondered about pen names and how I would go about them. Thanks for the post!

    -Alyson Dow/Kayla Lime

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  28. I'm still trying to figure out, whether or not I would want to have a pen name. My full surname is "Geuverink" which is besides in Germanic countries unpronouncable as the "geu" sound just doesn't appear in any other language. On the other hand, I know the name would be unique and I actually quite like both my first and surname, so I'm not sure yet. It would be weighing off the options of uniqueness to pronouoncability

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  29. Catsi is (gasp) not my real name, but my pen name. I go by it because my first name is impossible to pronounce correctly when you read it, and impossible to spell correctly when you hear it. I've had it pretty much since I started writing. I'm not really sure where it came from, actually, it just popped into my head one day when I was like ten and I've loved it ever since.

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  30. @ Stephanie Morrill,
    One quick thing, I found an error in this post.
    The error is:
    "To which you'll need to respond, 'Well, it's not published under Amy SMith.'"
    It should be Amy Smith, not SMith

    Just felt like I needed to point this out.

    Unicorns, Kittens, and Rainbows,

    A. G.

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  31. Wowwwwww. Lots of discussion and pen names and blog names! Awesomesauce! :D

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  32. I could be wrong, but I don't think Carolyn Keene wrote ANY of the Nancy Drew books -- I'm pretty sure she doesn't even exist. I found this out years ago, though, so I could be wrong. :P I was rather shocked at the time.

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    1. That does ring a bell, Emii! That the name was completely fictitious. Maybe a better example is the Gossip Girl books, which are credited to Cecily von Ziegesar. My understanding is she wrote some of them, but not all, though she was involved in developing them.

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  33. I've always written under my first and middle name which is Annie-Jo Elizabeth. In the past I have thought of developing a pen name, but decided to stick with the real thing on this one. My for-fun pen name used to be Emmaretta I. Chatterson. :)

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  34. My pen name was from a language that I tried to make up. It's Kalkla Nahachti, which means writer of the symbols. ;) I don't know if I'll ever use it though. Sorry about this being so late!

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  35. From Amo Libros:
    This is way cool!! I've thought about pen names off and on since I began to want to be a writer. I was wondering, though, if there would be any legal issues involved in writing under a pen name, and what you would do if you got married between your first and second books. Would you be legally obligated to confuse your readers? Or could you stick with your maiden name? Would it require some legal hoop-jumping?
    As for my own pen name...I honestly have no idea. "Amo Libros" is Latin (in English word order) for "I love books". Not the most original, but I love Latin, and it works perfectly as a username.

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  36. As many others on here, I am thinking really hard about whether or not I want to use a pen name for my future writings. My name is Olivia Dunlap, and I generally lean towards publishing under O. C. Dunlap (my initials). However, I'm not sure if my OCD initials sound "too fake" or are distracting. For some reason I just don't feel like Olivia Dunlap would really be much of an author name, but that's just me.

    I have a few questions. What do you think about gender-bending pen names, and how it will affect the social aspect of being an author, especially a first-time one? I'm not really concerned, per se, about appearing to be a "woman in a man's world," but I often just LIKE male names much more than female names.

    Also, the main reason I'm considering a pen name is that one day, I may well be embarrassed by my earlier works. I was thinking about using a pen name for a few publications, then choosing a new one, and continuing this pattern until my writing has matured and I feel comfortable putting my own name on the cover. If I ever decided to, I could then come out and reveal myself as the author of the previous works. Does this sound like a good idea? The biggest problem with it that I can think of is that it will be neigh impossible to build up any kind of reputation for several years.

    Thanks!

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  37. The thought of having a pen name crossed my mind, and I remembered this post, and reread it. I don't know if I'll be using one, (I'm not planning on it) but it's fun to think up other names. :)
    I rearranged my real name several times, and managed to get "New Corny."
    I'm not sure if that would be the best option... I certainly hope my writing isn't corny.

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  38. (Well this post is super duper late... hehe)
    Anyways, I'm started to sort of get serious about my writing and not just do fanfiction and such. I have a fanfiction.net and Wattpad account, both of which are under then pen name "PenofaPhoenix," which I love :) But obviously, I can't use that as an "actual" pen name.
    I went by "Lucy Wang" for a while, because Wang is my grandmother's last name. And Lucy because I like the name Lucy! :)
    I signed my French essays as "Charlotte Duerre" or "Emma Duerre" because Emma Watson :P And I needed a "French" name to sign at the end, since my teacher said for us to have fun with it! :D

    But in all honestly, right now, I'm considering keeping my first name and using my middle name. My last name is "Ho," (it's Chinese) and even though I act like I'm okay with it now that I'm in high school, all throughout Elementary and Middle School I was teased, so I think I'd like to avoid that. What do you guys think of "Isabel Wei" as an "official" pen name?? ^^

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Disagreement is welcome. Rudeness is not. Please be considerate of each other!