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Should you write under a pseudonym?

14 July 2017

From author Roz Morris:

Should you use a pen name? Why might you? What problems might it cause? I rounded up a quiver of authors with noms-de-plume and asked them to answer some practical questions.

. . . .

An author name is a brand, of course, and traditional publishing has a long history of strategic pseudonymery. Names or initials might make a writer sound more exciting, more serious, more like an already famous author (JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin, anyone?). Androgynous names might do you favours if your readership is gender sensitive. A new surname might put you at a more visible part of the bookshelves or next to giants of your genre (George RR Martin again).

. . . .

Deborah Swift (@Swiftstory) has published four historical novels under the name Deborah Swift, and one novel, Past Encounters, under the name Davina Blake (here’s her Undercover Soundtrack). ‘I use a pen-name for Past Encounters because it has a narrower focus, being a close study of two relationships. My publisher was not keen on me changing to a more modern genre (WWII), and rejected the book. I did not want to go through a long submission process, so I self-published to be available for the 70th anniversary of the filming of Brief Encounter and the bombing of Dresden which feature in the story. I thought Past Encounters would attract a different kind of reader, and this has proved to be the case.’

. . . .

Wolf Pascoe (@WolfPascoe) is an anaesthetist as well as a poet and playwright, and you might have seen the Undercover Soundtrack for his poetic memoir, Breathing For Two. ‘I decided in writing about anesthesia to use a pen name for patient confidentiality. Of course, I don’t use real patient names, and I take pains to change any identifying details, but I wanted an extra layer of security. Also, as I’m still practising, I didn’t want there to be a chance that I’d encounter a new patient who might worry I’d be writing about them in the future. And finally, I’d rather not have my hospital knowing about my writing activities — this gives me more freedom to say what I want to say about the medical establishment without fear of retribution.’

Link to the rest at Nail Your Novel

Here’s a link to some Roz Morris books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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33 Comments to “Should you write under a pseudonym?”

  1. All of these are great reasons to use a pseudonym, that one reason but One reason that the article doesn’t mention is that it can simply be for fun, especially when the pseudonym chosen Is perfect for the genre being written in.
    For example, Mike Oxlong could be a good name for an erotic writer, Ben Dover for someone who writes exercise manuals and Terry Fied for an author of horror.
    Really, The possibilities are endless.

  2. I wish I’d used a pseudonym for my fiction. I didn’t realize how common my name is – I googled it, years ago, and didn’t get many hits, but I do now.

    But six books in, it strikes me as a bad idea to rename myself.

  3. Should an author use a pseudonym?

    If they’re writing in more than one genre, yes.

    I tend to get annoyed if I’ve read half a dozen detective novels by a writer, and the next turns out to be a romance or a Western.

    If I have to look up a review of every book before I buy it, that starts turning into a hassle. I’m not reading for hassle. I’ll probably write them off and buy the next book from someone who hasn’t disappointed me yet.

    It’s not like the old days, when I was limited to the library and the local bookstore. Everything in print and used is available with a few clicks.

    • Ashe Elton Parker

      You mean you don’t read the product description? The first thing I do is click on the “Read More” link on a book’s page on Amazon/Goodreads these days so I can read the book’s full summary/cover copy. I don’t refer to the reviews until I’ve done that step, and only if I’m still uncertain I want the book. I find that the cover copy generally clears up the question of genre for me. Of course, I’ve been burned enough by (imho) poorly written books by favorite authors branching out into different sub/genres that I’ve learned not to simply click “buy” on any particular book without first reading the summary/cover copy.

      (Most recent example: The book whose author PG recenly praised for the style of the review request. I clicked on the desciption, and I was able to learn it was a contemporary thriller of some kind and thus decide the book wasn’t for me. I didn’t even have to scroll down to the reviews.)

      • Plenty of authors want to write in different genres and don’t want to have to keep up with a pen name for every one. I think there’s an expectation that a book will have a genre-appropriate cover and description, and on the other side, a reader will put in the few seconds’ attention that it takes to determine if this is a genre or type of book they want to read before complaining that it’s not what they expected. (The example of this that I’ve seen frequently on Amazon reviews is people who buy a graphic novel story set in a novel universe, like the Dresden Files, and then leave one-star reviews going, “I didn’t know this was a comic! I hate comics!” even though the cover is clearly a comic style illustration, different from the novel covers, and there is other info to show what it is in the book’s info.)

  4. Not sure if it was mentioned, but I would think if your given name is Danielle Steele, you might want a pen name….

    • Marion Zimmer Bradley said this was the one reason for an author to use a pen name or an artist to have a stage name. She used the example of a friend who sang tenor and his name was Enrico [middle name] Caruso. Very good reason for a stage name!

    • Yes, that can be a thorny issue.
      I remember a while back there was some confusion between Jennifer Armintrout and Jennifer L Armentrout, The former now goes by the name of jenny trout.
      What made things worse there was that they both wrote in the same category, paranormal romance and urban fantasy.
      Here is jenny trouts post on the situation

    • There are also the three Stephen Kings. (Sounds like a movie.) One is Stephen King, one is a fake, one’s real name is Stephen (middle initial) King. The last included his middle initial in his writing name and referred to himself as “The Other Stephen King”. He has since dropped the middle initial and has stopped referring to himself as “The Other”. Presumably he found it more profitable to be confused for the big guy.

    • [Smiles smugly, knowing her name is unique]
      [Ducks as people aim blows at the side of her head for being a smug wiseass]

    • Yup. Michael Keaton’s real name? Michael Douglas.

  5. I’ve been rolling the idea of a pseudonym for a while now, mostly for the reasons mentioned. Currently, I write historical romances, but if I want to branch out into contemporary romance, I don’t want to disappoint my readers who would be expecting historical. It’d be a known secret, of course, but it’ll make it easier for prospective readers to get what they like to read.

    • I think savvy readers would be able to tell a contemporary romance from a historical one just based on the cover alone.

      • Yes, you’d think so, and I think so too. But the feedback I’ve gotten as I’ve noodled around the internets is that readers really really want to be able to hop on and get what they need. Which leads to my feeling that while I could have two sections on my website, one for historicals and one for contemporary, readers would rather associate one genre with one name. And, also, the idea of writing under a pseud sounds fun. : D

  6. I really wanted to write under a pseudonym, or several, but could never think up a suitable name for myself. It’s a good thing I don’t have children, or I’d still be calling the kid “Hey You.”

    • You can always name a child after a grandparent or other relative. And you could do the same for a pen name, come to think of it. Hm. I like both my grandmothers’ names.

      • My grandmothers were named Mary and Ida. Not exactly inspiring, I’m afraid, and Ida wouldn’t have approved of some of the things I’ve written.

        Now that I think of it, my several times great-grandfather was named Alexander Hamilton Faunce, so I guess I’m far from the first person in my family to have trouble coming up with an original name.

        • Ashe Elton Parker

          My paternal grandparents named all their sons after past presidents. My father was Harry Truman [BIRTHSURNAME].

          My birth name is my grandmother’s first name, and my mother’s middle name. I’m told my grandmother didn’t like her first name until Mom named me after her. Until that point, she went by her middle name, Dorothy, which she gave to her eldest daughter.

          (The maternal side of my family tends to recycle names like this a lot–talk about having difficulty coming up with names. It would probably cause more confusion if half the namesakes’ parents were on speaking terms with their parents’ siblings whom they’ve been named after.)

          My sister was luckier. Mom named her after two characters on the Waltons.

    • An interesting way to create a pen name: First name – the name of your first, or favourite pet. Last name – the street where you grew up on … which would make me Suzie Kentucky!

      • Tinker Cardiff.


      • Ashe Elton Parker

        After first pet, a Golden Retriever, and one street I remember living on as a child (we moved a bit):

        Nugget Halsey.

        Er, yeah. That doesn’t read like a really awful porn name conceived by a really bad (worse than usual) porn actress who thought she was being clever, does it? LOL

        Current pet, a cat, and the street my maternal grandmother’s house was on (in lieu of another street name from my child hood where I spent a substantial number of years):

        Einstein Fillmore

        Better. Maybe Einstein Halsey? Einstein Halsey Fillmore? That sounds like a right and proper pulp SF author from the golden years of SF, doesn’t it?

      • Hmmm. Mystic Pine. Or, Mystic Oak (short for Charter Oak).

        Makes me sound like a fortune teller. 😉

      • I would be Peaches Rural Route 1, lol

  7. Thrilled to have my post in your round-up – thanks, David!

  8. I write under a pen name for multiple reasons. When I started writing, I was working fill time in a professional position and didn’t want folks necessarily knowing I was writing romance in my down time. The other reason is that my real name is as common as dirt. I have a friend whose real name was Jane Smith. Seriously. And yes, she writes under a pen name for that reason.

  9. I use a pen name that’s only a slight variation on my real name, mostly because I wanted something easier and because there are enough people with my real name that I wanted something unique. I decided against separate pen names for different genres because that’s just too much of a hassle, and I never know when I might want to try something in a new genre. I’m just a multi-genre author, and readers should expect that going in. (I do try to make sure covers give a good indication of the genre, though.)

    • I’m actually the opposite of you folks. My real last name is difficult to spell and pronounce. I spent my school years correcting my teachers and my kids do the same now.

      • I was constantly correcting people on the pronunciation of my last name as well. Just last week someone called me ‘Fownch’ which was a new one. For the record, it’s pronounced ‘Fawntz.’

  10. Well… if you’re writing both porn/erotica and Christian fiction, pseudonyms may be A Very Good Thing! 🙂

    Or if you’re a guy writing romance…

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