I know my name makes me stand out. In general, I think that’s a good thing: I’ve had lots of clients choose me because I stand out in a crowd. I’ve also had more than a few clients think they were working with a man and were very surprised to find otherwise. It has occasionally bothered me — there are plenty of photos of me floating around out there, which any client doing a little due diligence is bound to come across. Over all though, I tend to get a chuckle out of the confusion and move on.
Right now, though, I’m wondering if having a name that isn’t clearly feminine has worked in my favor.
Yesterday, Copyblogger posted a piece titled, “Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants.” I almost didn’t read the post, assuming that it would be interesting but just another post about marketing that I could afford to skip. But that comment about women’s underpants wasn’t just a clever headline. James Chartrand really does wear women’s underwear — because James is a woman.
I encourage you to read the whole post, but it boils down to the fact that James discovered that she could land a lot more clients by using a male pen name.
It’s a tough truth that there are still clients out there that, without even thinking about their decisions, offer male writers better gigs and better pay. It’s not just a question of gender, either — many clients are likely to choose writers with ‘American’ names, or at least names with European roots, rather than Indian or Hispanic.
So What Are You Going To Do About It?
Using a pen name is an option: James demonstrates how useful it’s been. However, there are some logistics that are worth considering before you jump into writing under another name:
- If you’re choosing a name of the opposite gender, you may not be able to talk to your clients on the phone without a lot of explanation.
- Signing contracts and accepting checks under another name can be tough. At the bare minimum, you’ll probably want to create a business so that you can use the business’ name for things like taking payment.
- You may have some fall out when clients and others learn that you aren’t who they think you are.
That last one is one of the biggest concerns in my mind. A little ambiguity isn’t too bad. My clients and I tend to get a laugh out of any situation which gets me addressed as ‘Mr. Bram.’ But I’d never want my clients to even consider the idea that I was deliberately trying to give them the wrong impression about myself.
Using a pen name full-time, as James does, can be difficult, especially when you get into questions of ethics. I think that James has handled it well — she explained the situation on her own, without prompting — but if you’re considering doing something similar, think about what it will take for you to approach the idea with the same honesty. It’s not a trivial matter.