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Writing: Should The Self-published Author Use A Pen-Name (Pseudonym)?

Trade publishers are notoriously wary of using the same author name across different genres, or of using a name that they feel is inappropriate for a particular book  – hence the morphing of Joanne Rowling into the more masculine J K Rowling, even though she doesn’t have a middle name. While self-published writers have the freedom to choose their own pen-name, the decision isn’t always easy or obvious. A group of self-published authors discussed the options on ALLi’s lively private Facebook forum earlier this week. Here are some of their conclusions:

 

Photo of Charlotte Bronte

An early self-publisher with a pen-name – Currer Bell, aka Charlotte Bronte (image: Wikipedia)

E J Lamprey: “I have always used E J Lamprey as my pen name, so when I turned indie it was the automatic choice. It was familiar, and it kept my work and private lives completely separate. The  name I use is part of my full name so there hasn’t been a problem with creating a legal entity – just the odd sensation as the Lamprey name slowly gains ground that I am developing a split personality!”

Michael La Ronn: “I write as Michael La Ronn because La Ronn is my middle name and I have a fairly common last name. I, too have a profession and don’t want to mix my work and writing life. It’s much easier this way.”

Isabel Burt: “I chose to use my middle name as my pen name, as my first name is too tricky. But then, with social media, I realised I had to decide how to present myself online. I decided it was simpler to keep all things author under the one name: Isabel Burt. It was weird to be addressed by my middle name, but I think it was the simplest decision, and I am used to it now. I will let you know a couple of novels, and another year of social media, if I still think that!”

Chele Cooke: “My real name is Michele Cooke, but I write as Chele Cooke because my internet presence over the last decade has always been under the name Chele. I have made quite a few friends online over the years through fan fiction and online fiction, and I didn’t want to invalidate the name I’d made by using a different name for my novels. I think you can work it any way you want, but from a personal view, I’d think carefully about changing your brand name if you already have a following.”

Matthew Wayne Selznick: “I’ll never forget what James Patrick Kelly said: “I use all three names because I get paid by the word.”  Me, I use my full, real name because my brand is me and I am my brand. I don’t want there to be any difference in people’s mind between the writer and the person–that’s an integral part of building a reader community. Unless you have compelling reasons (you’re a lawyer; you’re a schoolteacher writing erotica, etc), I strongly recommend using your real name. Be real at every opportunity. It’s less work than the alternative.” 

Diane Capri“People buy books by authors they love. The more they know your name, the easier it is to find your books. There’s a ton of info out there about choosing a brandable name and many, many authors have done this, including me. So the real trick to this is to find one name and keep it unless you have a very good reason to change and then realize that you’ll basically be starting over because no one will know the new you.”  

Eliza Green: “Eliza Green is my science fiction pen name because it’s short and easy to remember!”

J J Marsh: “I write as JJ Marsh, for several tedious and uninteresting reasons. But I found consistency – J.J. Marsh, JJMarsh, JJ Marsh – vital for SEO and discoverability. Note that Goodreads insist on the . after each initial, even after writing and asking for the change to JJ, not J.J.”

Debbie Young:“Unusual names can be an advantage, unless they are difficult to spell. Although my married name of Young is very common, I’ve stuck with it because I have a long-established blog called YoungByName which I wanted to keep and which has now evolved into my author website.”

Dianne Ascroft: “I’m glad I chose my maiden name as my surname because it isn’t common so it’s easy to find my work. I don’t mind whether people know my real name as well, but I try to use my pen-name as much as possible so that all my writing can be found easily.”

 M Louisa Locke: “I had a career as a college professor as Dr Mary Lou Locke, and I wanted to distinguish my writing name from that. My full name is Mary Louisa Locke, which is a mouth full–so I went for M. Louisa Locke. It sounded like Louisa May Alcott to me, which fitted my Victorian era mysteries. What tickles me is that evidently my name sounds like Alcott’s to search engines, because if you search for my name in Google or Amazon, Louisa May actually shows up, not that far down the list!”

 

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25 Responses to Writing: Should The Self-published Author Use A Pen-Name (Pseudonym)?

  1. Nicki Greenwood December 31, 2015 at 4:02 am #

    I’ve had my pen name for several years now, and I took a lot of time thinking about it (Googling to make sure there were no other romance authors out there with the same name, seeing where I would be on bookstore shelves, etc.) when it really turned out not to be hard at all. “Greenwood” is a derivation of my actual surname, and since I’m a tree hugger, it fit me. I would caution you to Google the name you’re considering to be sure it can’t be confused with someone else (i.e. another author or a rampaging ax murderer, LOL). That way you also know if the web address would already be in use. You might also want to consider whether the name is easy to spell and remember, so you don’t have to spell it out to people all the time, and also who your audience is. I hear a lot that female writers of books for young adult males don’t want to be seen right away as “female” and thought of as out of touch with potential readers (J.K. Rowling chose to use her initials for that reason, if I recall right). Initials seem to be hot these days.

    Beyond that, pick a name you will want to live with, because if you get famous (and who here doesn’t hope so?) you’re going to be living with it for a long time! Good luck, everyone!

  2. James Nuzzello January 1, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

    Pen names are easy to come about if you’re in a zone, and not worrying about using the authors real name. Most actors change their name for all sorts of reasons. My particular choice Jimmy Nuzz came about by writing, but didn’t want to use my formal name. What for,it hasn’t anything to do with being creative. I figured that since my creative expression comes from a place in my active imagination, so why not call myself something close to my name, but different. Also these con artists that say a pen name must be legal, well take it from the source. Who says so, because if you are using one an any of your material,whether writen expression or art; you own it end of story. “Be immune to rumor” llike my aphorism?, which I place right before my pen name on everything I write. I created it, and own it also. No one is going to challenge you. Well if anyone calls you out on it, well there is such a thing as good conflict. This I know because I write. Back at you later. “Be immune to rumor” Jimmy Nuzz

  3. James Nuzzello January 1, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

    Pen names are easy to come about if you’re in a zone, and not worrying about using the authors real name. Most actors change their name for all sorts of reasons. My particular choice Jimmy Nuzz came about by writing, but didn’t want to use my formal name. What for,it hasn’t anything to do with being creative. I figured that since my creative expression comes from a place in my active imagination, so why not call myself something close to my name, but different. Also these con artists that say a pen name must be legal, well take it from the source. Who says so, because if you are using one an any of your material,whether writen expression or art; you own it end of story. “Be immune to rumor” llike my aphorism?, which I place right before my pen name on everything I write. I created it, and own it also. No one is going to challenge you. Well if anyone calls you out on it, well there is such a thing as good conflict. This I know because I write. Back at you later. “Be immune to rumor” Jimmy Nuzz

  4. Jennifer Carlson December 28, 2014 at 8:13 am #

    I’ve always thought it would be interesting to use a penn name based on one of my characters..,

    But of course, I suppose I have to wait until I get published to even think about a penn name or pseudonym.

  5. CJ July 23, 2014 at 7:53 am #

    Hi Debbie! very helpful article. I have a Chinese name and I want to use it for a pen name. Is first name okay to use or must it always have to have last name? It’ quite unique and I really like the name and want to be known by it.

    • Debbie Young July 23, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      I think you can use whatever name you’d like, CJ. Don’t forget that the great Charles Dickens originally published under the nonsensical pen-name of “Boz”, and it didn’t do him any harm! Good luck with your books.

  6. Donna December 31, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    I am wanting to write some non-fiction related to my career. I’m a woman in a very male dominated industry.

    I’m considering using a male pen name or just initials to be taken more seriously.Too many women have been dismissed and treated horribly by men at seminars, workshops, books, etc.

  7. Hannah Steenbock December 10, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    I’m a little late to comment but here goes:

    When I first started dreaming about getting published, I chose my pen name (that I’m using here to comment, as well). That’s because I had been told several times that writing fantasy is “just escapism” and a sign of a weak mind.

    And being a therapist and coach in my other life, I didn’t want to be seen as “escapist” … Recently, however, I’ve been more open about both aspects of my life, so clients know about my writing, and my readers can find out about my coaching work. In fact, I’m about to bring my coaching to the writers’ world, but that’s another topic.

    I really believe in sticking with one pen name, even if writing different genres. It’s hard enough to keep posting on FB straight with two names!

    And that pen name will become its own brand in the long run. I was aware of that when I chose mine, which uses my mother’s maiden name, together with a first name that I chose for international ease. I googled that name before I made the final decision about ten years ago. As far as I know, there is still no other Hannah Steenbock out there writing books.

    • Debbie Young December 10, 2013 at 10:48 am #

      Uniqueness is always a great quality in a pen-name, Hannah, especially in the age of SEO! While I can understand that writing fantasy might be considered escapism in some ways (surely that is part of the joy of it?), I’ve never heard it called the sign of a weak mind before – how extraordinary! I think you’ll find plenty of fantasy writers in ALLi who will agree with me! Thanks for sharing your interesting position, Hannah, and good luck with your work.

      • Kiera January 14, 2015 at 6:19 am #

        Hello! My name is Kiera and I’m aspiring to be a young author. I plan on publishing a book before I graduate high school(I’m in 8th grade now) And a pressing issue has stepped forth, my pen name. I’m really struggling with this since my last name is so long. My last name is Dankesreiter and it would wrap around the cover of my book! I’ve thought about it and realized on all of my school event paperwork they have me down not as my full name, but an abbreviation, K. Dank. I was wondering if this would be a good idea for a pen name. What do you think as an experienced writer?

        • Debbie Young January 14, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

          Kiera, that sounds like a good idea, because it would be really easy for readers to remember, and also easy to spell, which is an advantage when searching online for a book. If you’re already comfortable calling yourself that in your head, because of the use it already has at school, it might be the perfect choice. Whenever you’re deciding on a pen-name, it’s always worth googling it to see if anyone else has the name already, or searching on Amazon or other book-related sites. For example, if my name was Charles Dickens of Ernest Hemingway, I think I’d change it to something else to avoid confusion, no matter how fond I was of my own name! Good luck with your career as an author – it’s great that you are so focused and determined at your age, and we wish you every success with it.

    • Aaron February 21, 2014 at 6:22 am #

      Hannah,

      This is quite an interesting post. I’m currently in grad school for Mental Health Counseling. I’m writing fiction just for fun, as it’s a great outlet. I probably will never have to worry about what name to give to a publisher. I was stumbling around on the internet out of curiosity and wishful thinking. I figure that if I am ever lucky enough to have work worthy of publishing I will use my full name, Aaron Philip Gordon. Professionally, I will simply exclude my middle name. Based on your experiences, do you think this is satisfactory or should I use a pseudonym?

      Also, I’d love to hear about your experiences as a therapist, coach, and author.

      Thanks so much for your advice!

  8. Debbie Young November 29, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    Clare, I can totally understand that, being right at the end of the alphabet myself – though my 10 year old daughter sees that as a relative advantage: “Mummy, it doesn’t matter if I’m late to school because I’m last on the register!”

    • Kiera January 14, 2015 at 6:17 am #

      Hello! My name is Kiera and I’m aspiring to be a young author. I plan on publishing a book before I graduate high school(I’m in 8th grade now) And a pressing issue has stepped forth, my pen name. I’m really struggling with this since my last name is so long. My last name is Dankesreiter and it would wrap around the cover of my book! I’ve thought about it and realized on all of my school event paperwork they have me down not as my full name, but an abbreviation, K. Dank. I was wondering if this would be a good idea for a pen name. What do you think as an experienced writer?

  9. clare weiner November 29, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    I decided to use a pen name as my ‘real’ surname begins with a letter far down the alphabet, (and therefore the fiction shelves!), plus English people (unlike Americans, S Africans, and Australians, where we have relatives) always mis-pronounce it and make a dog’s brekkie of it. I use a version of my middle name (Mari not Mariella) and a family surname (Howard) which belongs to my ‘maternal line’ and was given to the boys but not the girls, and moves me up into the first third of the alphabet…

  10. David James November 29, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I use my real name, but am lost in the jungle of David Jameses, from footballers to estate agents to novelists of sci-fi and horror and those such as David James Smith etc.

    • Debbie Young November 29, 2013 at 11:22 am #

      I sympathise, David – and I guess the upside is that it’s very hard for people to misspell your name!

  11. David Rory O'Neill November 29, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    This is my third attempt to leave a comment on this subject. I wonder why it seems not be working?
    Well, they say third time is lucky. It’s not that this is significant it’s just me being dogged!

    Sometimes one does not have choice about using a Pseudonym. I found my own name was in use by a US based horror writer and therefore went with an old maternal family name.
    I am often surprised by how few people notice my real name in the copyright blurb. I guess readers rarely look at that. Am I odd because I do?
    David Rory O’Neill.
    A new member enjoying exploration.

    • Debbie Young November 29, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      Hi David, sorry you’ve had problems trying to leave a comment, but I’m glad you persevered – welcome to ALLi!

      I must admit I would never think of looking for an author’s real name in the copyright blurb – if I read that bit, it’s usually only because I like the typeface that the book has been set in and I’m wondering what it’s called! But I’ll look at it in a new light now, searching for the truth behind pseudonyms – thanks for suggesting it!

  12. Warren Shuman November 28, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    Interesting note on pen names: I have a book in my library titled : “The Haunted Room” written by A.L.O.E Published in 1878 hard-cover in good shape. T. Nelson & Sons, Paternoster Row, Edinburgh and New York. How many of my good friends are aware of what the letters stand for?

    O.k. I’ll tell you. A Lady Of England. In that time is was not accepted fashion for women to write books, especially mysteries. I have her true name somewhere, but she hid her identity well. B the way, it’s an excellent read.

    Warren.

  13. Elizabeth Ducie November 28, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    My first published works were scientific textbooks relating to my profession and went out under my first name and married surname. When I started writing fiction and creative non-fiction, I moved to my middle name and my maiden name, so that I could have a separate identity and not confuse my readers. However, I quickly realised that my professional colleagues were also potential readers of my fiction, so I became quite open about the two names and where they fit into my writing world.

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