It’s all in a name!

Stephen King’s done it. Ian Rankin’s done it. So has Elton John.

What am I talking about? Using a pen name or pseudonym, of course. But why would you want to? Well…

  • If you’re writing erotica and children’s books, you don’t want readers mixing up stories about cute, fluffy rabbits with another kind of Rabbit!
  • Obviously if you’re name is Martha Frump and you’re writing steamy romance novels, they might not sell as well as an author called Desiree Fontana.
  • If you’re writing in a completely different genre, you might use a pen name so readers know that instead of quirky chick lit, they’ll be getting a psychological thriller.
  • You might want to avoid persecution or discrimination from a subject that’s emotive, political, or includes propaganda.
  • It can be extremely liberating because you’re able to write about something you might not normally do.

I’ve noticed a lot of authors who use a pen name to distinguish between styles or genres actually mention that they’re using a pen name, which, to me, kind of defeats the object. For example, Sophie Kinsella will have on her covers, “Writing as Madeleine Wickham.” This may be because traditional publishers have had clauses in their contracts that authors can’t write books that compete with each other within a certain time period, so having a pen name may get around that.

So should you use one? Well, the choice is entirely up to you. When I wrote Trafficked: The Diary of a Sex Slave, which is a serious psychological thriller, it was a million miles away from my quirky, funny chick lit, but I decided I didn’t want to use a pen name for several reasons:

  • As a reader, I don’t just like one genre. My reading is eclectic, and I’m sure many other reader’s tastes are, too, so I don’t think by writing another genre I’ll be losing readers. In fact, I think I’d be gaining them.
  • I wanted to use my name to do something useful and raise awareness to a subject that is all to often forgotten about. That’s the power of being an indie – we can write what we want, when we want.
  • I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and I want to see my name on those covers!

I’m now writing a children’s book, and I’ve decided not to use a pen name again because it won’t just be read by children, it will also be read by parents who are reading it to their kids, and if they like my style, they’ll also hopefully pick up my adults books, too! Plus, if the children like it, when they get older, they’ll also check out my adult books.

If you’re thinking of using a pen name, then consider the pros and cons and weigh it up carefully. And if you’re called Princess Pom Pom and feel like that name doesn’t really suit someone who writes serious astrophysics, here are some tips:

  • Pick a unique pen name you like that fits in with the genre of your work.
  • Avoid choosing a common name, and I’ve heard you should go for ones with higher letters in the alphabet such as A-M as it can improve visibility.
  • If you want to avoid sexism, you can choose letters to hide your gender like JK Rowling’s done (although everyone knows she’s a woman now!).
  • Research the name to make sure it’s not trademarked.

It’s your turn in WG2E land! Are you using a pen name? Would you want to?

Happy Writing! – Sibel XX

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  1. I use my own name (actually a shortened version of the name on my birth certificate, not my married name) since I write closely related romance and women’s fiction. Even with this, I have had readers complain that my women’s fiction does not always end with the heroine having a happy love life, calling them “romances” when they’re not. But there will always be someone who’ll miss the point!

  2. Great timing for this post, as I was considering this only last night! I have a back catalogue of novels which don’t fit with my current style, and I wondered if releasing them under a pseudonym might be a way of getting them off the dusty shelf and earning their keep. Thanks for the food for thought.

  3. I had a pseudonym once. In fact, I still use the old email address. But over a year ago I decided to just be myself. A lot of my friends and contacts knew my real name, so what was the point. It’s been so liberating. No I’m just me, no masks, no complications. I also write mixed genres and I don’t think it’s a problem.

  4. tom barry says:

    I mainly write romantic suspense and business thrillers. I use the pen name Moll Molone for erotica.
    There are two main reasons for this. One, as an author you want a clear and distinctive brand. Second, many mainsteam readers are uncomfortable with erotica. On page one of a Moll Molone book i disclose it’s a pen name, and my real identify, but not on the cover. My logic is that if a reader has got as far as sampling page 1, they are unlikely to be offended by erotica, but may be interested in my other work.

  5. I use two pen names. My last name is seldom spelt right and never pronounced correctly. These days with computers, my name is spelt wrong more often than right because I think on the computer screen people see the line on b as an l. Tibert then becomes Tilbert. I’ve even had this happen at the doctor’s office.

    After 40 years of mistakes, I decided to go with a simpler surname: McGyver. I use Diane Lynn McGyver for all my adult writing. My fantasy and romance novels contain mild sex not suitable for children, so when I published my children’s novel (for 8 to 12 year olds), I chose another surname, one easy to remember for kids: Candy McMudd.

    I’m happy with both and even though I plan to release adult novels across several genres (fantasy, romance, historical, mystery and western) I’ll stick with the one adult surname.

    That said, any nonfiction books might bear my real name–Diane Lynn Tibert–because my name is known in genealogy and gardening circles (which would be the subject I’d write about) because of my columns that have been published for more than six years.

    I think the name for each genre is slowly losing its power. I also think–as you do–people read across genres, so why change your name? Let them find you. I read across genres and don’t expect a writer to stick to only one.

  6. Ha ha, oh yes, a pseudonym can pay dividends! I had one in my past writing life (mainstream published erotica) – no way did I want men giving me odd looks and women gritting their teeth every time I stepped into the shops in our local town, or for that matter when out to dinner in a restaurant etc. It was a flirty blonde bimbo nom de plume… ;)


  7. D. D. Scott says:

    I do use a pen name, but will continue to use the same one across all the genres I write, for the same reason as you, Sibel, so I can bring along my readers across all of the adventures I pen.

    D. D. Scott = D. D. (because I have a huge weather hang-up and that’s a nickname I got as a kid – Doppler Dawn, yep, as in the weather radar) :-) + Scott (my DH’s first name) :-) .

  8. Steve Vernon says:

    Because I have written wild horror fiction, comfortable campfire ghost stories, young adult novels AND a children’s picture book it would make GREAT sense to use a pen name – but so far, I never have.

    (mind you, I have a couple of dandy names picked out if I ever decided to write pornography or romance)

    I will tell you that because my last name starts with the letter “V” I have often run into problems at bookstores – finding my books on the bottom shelf, due to alphabetic order – so I have heard that – at least in traditionally published books – it is better to have a name with a letter beginning with K, L or M – which leads to you showing up on the middle shelves.

    This, undoubtedly, is the REAL secret to Stephen King’s great success. Doesn’t have a thing to do with his great books – it all come down to that capital K in his last name.


    That’s it.

  9. Julie Day says:

    I write YA and adult romance and have kept my name for those, because they have similar content in the stories ie magical realism. When I get published in younger children’s I will keep the same name as again it will have magical realism. Only if I write a completely different style of book will I think of changing it. But as of yet, all my books, be it for adults or children, have the same sort of theme running through them so will keep my own name.

  10. SK Holmesley says:

    I use a pseudo name for everything I do not related to my W-2/1099/C2C employment, because my professional credentials (i.e., my day job) has nothing to do with the books I write. Because when I was coming up the ladder, there were few women in high tech positions, I was scrutinized more closely than my male counterparts, I never wanted the two the mix–so I use my great grandmothers name for my pen name. I’m working on a technical manual right now, though, and I’ll publish that under my own name. I’ve been using multiple names for so long now (over 40 years), I’m comfortable with it and probably won’t change even once I fully retire and don’t have to blur that my whole life isn’t technical from work colleagues and managers. My original concern was that the IRS might have problems with it, but I’ve discovered that they don’t care what name you use, as long as your tax id is correct and they get their share. Mostly, I don’t want a potential employer to think that they can judge my technical skills by the things I do that are not related to high tech whether it’s writing non-technical fiction or just participating in a social medium, such as Facebook. I have a few close friends I met through work who know that I write fiction, but only a few.

  11. Alison Pensy says:

    I thought long and hard about this before deciding to use a pen name for my adult romance novels. I use my real name for my Young Adult novels and because they are getting so popular and I get emails from lots of young people who downloaded them onto their ereaders, I was worried that they may just do a search on my name and download whatever came up. I know I do this for authors I like. I just download their books no matter what they write coz I know I enjoy their writing style. Also, like someone mentioned above, I am building a brand for my young adult novels and didn’t want to mess with that.

    One of the things that I considered a disadvantage was the fact that using a pen name would effectively put me at the bottom of the pile as a new author again. I knew I had a lot of adult readers and knew a lot of them would probably be cross-over readers. So although I only have my pen name on the cover, I mention on the book page on Amazon, Nook, etc. that the book is written under a pen name. I also mention this on my website and facebook page too. It seems to be working because I am getting several cross-over readers from my young adult novels.

    For my pen name I extended my maiden name from Blake to Blakeley, and chose a ‘romancey’ type first name that began with the same letter as my real first name. Adrianna Blakeley, romance author was born :-)

  12. Merry Bond says:

    This is a great topic, Sibel. I use a pen name because my married name is very ethnic (my husband is from India) and my maiden name is always misspelled and mispronounced (Wolfson). I also started writing romances when my kids were in elementary school, so I thought it best to separate my two selves — writer and mom.
    I picked a name that both is easy to spell, English-sounding (most of my books are set in England) and at the beginning of the alphabet. It’s easy for me to remember since it’s the first syllable in my husband’s full last name (before the British got to and changed it — they are so kind!).
    For my first name, I’ve always been called Merry, even though my full name is Miriam, so I went with Meredith. People are usually surprised to hear that that’s not actually my name.
    I don’t understand how people can pick a name that is completely different than their real name — how do they know when to turn around when people call them? And then, we had a big discussion on what name you put on your name tag at conferences. I usually put my pen name, unless I’m with my home chapter, then everyone already knows me by my real name, so I go with that one.
    And besides all of these great reasons — it’s just fun having an alter-ego!

    • SK Holmesley says:

      Definitely fun. I so agree. I actually have a pen name, my real name, my maiden name (which I still use in some circles), my married name (hardly used anymore, since I’ve been divorced for decades, but used when my son was still in school), and my social (i.e., Facebook / etc. name). They’re all different, except my first for the real / maiden / married. To your point about how would you know who they were talking to, I actually like the difference, since the people who call me one name or the other have different expectations of who I am. I used to attend conferences more than I do now, but it was nice that I could go to a computer conference (where a lot of people knew me) and be respected for my technological expertise, but go to a fanfic conference and just have fun without having to worry that I didn’t say anything silly and betray myself as being being female, rather than an automaton.

    • Sibel Hodge says:

      Oh, God, Merry, I know what you mean about people getting your name wrong. I used to get called all sorts at school! Merry Bond is very cool! Like a happy spy! :)

  13. Deborah Jay says:

    I thought about this subject for a long time before deciding to use a pen name, and the main reason is similar to some others: I have technical books already published under my real name (Debby Lush) and I want my fiction writing to be distinct from my professional publications.
    Added to this, and the final clincher: I’d like to be published in the US and who wants to read stuff written by a Lush!

  14. I decided to use a pen name to be able to keep communication regarding me writing easily seperable from my personal communication. Also, the anonymity is a bit freeing. Thanks for tip on checking trade marks. I’d never considered it, but I just checked and am in the clear.

  15. Christina says:

    I use a pen name for my more steamy romances. Anything not considered at least PG 13 or in a completely different genre, save for non-fiction, I’m going to use a pen name. My reasoning is I don’t want there to be any difficulties with my day job or any other job I decide to apply for in the future, I want to keep parts of my life private, and I also feel more free to experiment in my writing under a pen name.

  16. Colleen says:

    I live in a small town and too many people know me or my family to not use a pseudonym for the steamy stuff. Just in case… Not to mention my very conservative mother and assorted conservative relatives might expire on the spot if they knew what I wrote and I don’t want to be responsible! LOL Anyway, I kind of like having an alter ego and it’s a name that *I* picked.

    I thought about just using my initials but the problem with using initials is you don’t know how your name will be catalogued on Indigo or Amazon or wherever (periods? no periods? spaces?) and that can affect the search results. HP Mallory brought up only two books but
    H. P. Mallory turned up 26.

    Also, since many employers often Google prospective employees these days, discovering your real name associated with “porn” could be a deal-breaker. With so many people chasing so few jobs, I don’t want to give an employer any excuse to deep six me or my resume.

    I’m currently writing a mystery so my real name will go on it. :)

  17. David Slegg says:

    Hi, Sibel!

    Guilty as charged. Thanks for a great post!

  18. Adan Lerma says:

    glad i saved this to finally read when i had time -

    and am very glad to hear the reasons you’re not using a pen name, or, similarly, as per d.d., not using multiple names

    i get the sense that one big advantage of the new breadth in publishing, via indie publishing, is the wider acceptance by readers of an author having varying writing interests -

    esp since most readers “also” have varying reading interests ;-)