Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
I’ve written about pseudonyms on my blog before. They have a long history in literature and the arts, and even nowadays on the Internet, many people choose to comment on blogs or maintain their Twitter presence under a pseudonym.
Some authors have pseudonyms because their real name doesn’t seem right, for whatever reason (it may be hard to pronounce, hard to spell, or just doesn’t sound like an “author”). Typically these people have their entire online persona and write all their books under this pseudonym, so for them, it’s not as much of an issue.
There are others who write different genres under different names. And still others who are re-launching their careers under a different name to escape unhappy sales figures from a previous writing life. Other authors have the same name as a celebrity and take on a pseudonym to avoid confusion.
But I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time we rethink the idea of pseudonyms for authors. This isn’t easy (some of my clients took on a nom de plume at my advice), but times change and it often requires we change our thinking. What makes me bring up this whole topic?
I think people networking online want authenticity. When we’re interacting with others via social media, we don’t want to interact with a “brand” or a false front, we want to interact with a person. I think it’s difficult to be a real person, be “you,” when you’re not actually “you.”
Of course, my clients who have pen names feel like they are actually “themselves,” just under a different name. They haven’t invented someone new and different. The pen name is not a false front, it’s just a different name.
There’s also the fact that much of what we see online is not, in fact, authentic. There are lots of fake names, lots of anonymous commenters, and most of all, there is a lot of marketing. Is that really “authentic”? Can we really say that the internet is all about being real? The question remains… how important is authenticity and do pseudonyms jeopardize it?
2. Social media management is a pain.
If you have two or more names, managing social media can become a real problem. Staying on top of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. is hard enough with ONE name; trying to do it for two or more personas can be absolutely crazy-making (or impossible).
3. It can be too distracting.
If you’re writing under two or more names, there’s a good chance your focus will be so distracted between the two brands that you will no longer be able to do your best work in any genre.
4. What does your alter-ego look like?
There’s the issue of the author photo. Can you use the same photo if you’re out there on the Internet under two or more names? And the author website—do you give your secret away or do you have separate websites for your different pen names?
It’s all so complicated!
In this world where many of us are present and visible 24/7 on the Internet, pseudonyms are going to be more and more difficult to manage, and less effective at accomplishing their goals. It’s a dilemma.
We’re not going to completely get away from pseudonyms, since there are real reasons people use them. However, for now I’d say, only use one if it’s crucial – if there’s no other way. And if you use one—it’s best to use only one name in your online presence—website, blog, Facebook, Twitter. Just inhabit that name and become it.
I’ve been wondering about whether to use a pseudonym or not since my last name is Olley. Yep, I’m Kirstie Olley. I’m always debating with myself if the similarity name would be advantageous or detrimental or have no noticeable impact.
Personally I’d prefer to use my real name, but with the recent hoo-hah over books by people with names extremely like a celebrity’s eg/ ‘James A Patterson’ (the A is very important apparently) I’m worried people might claim I’m trying to use the name of a famous person with that one letter to differentiate. If I was doing that wouldn’t it be wiser to pick someone more famous (no offence intended, Ms Alley) or a writer?
So much thought to have to put into a name!
I thinking of writing as JK Rowling. That HAS to help…right?
Elizabeth (Buffy) Greentree
Didn’t JK Rowling actually choose ‘JK’ because she thought her books would be more successful if it wasn’t obvious she was female? That might be urban legend. Anyone know?
Yes you are right. JK did pick her pen name because she believed she would be better received if she could me a male author and she was writing a male lead. So it makes sense. 🙂
*Actually*… I believe she used initials at her publisher’s insistence: they believed her books about a boy wizard would go down better with boys if they didn’t know the author was female. And the “K” isn’t her real middle name. She doesn’t actually have a middle name. She stole “Kathleen” from her grandmother, if I recall correctly.
Again, assuming I have my facts straight, if she had it all to do again, she would have published as Jo (or Joanne) Rowling and the first book would have remained HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE in the US. 🙂
Ran into this at the recent ACFW meeting. One author is known to me by her “real” name, because she’s a member of my local ACFW chapter, but her name badge had the pen name on it. Had to stop and think what to call her each time we met.
The other author is a colleague who writes under a pen name, which she had on her name badge. But I know her real name. Had to ask her what she wanted to be called, and she admitted that it was just easier to think of her under her pen name.
If I were to adopt a pen name, I think I’d choose “Tom Clancy.” What? That’s taken. Then Richard or even “Doc” will do.
Seriously, I agree–pen names aren’t for everyone.
There’s a hook right there!!
“Doc Mabry, gunfighter with a past.”
James Scott Bell
My agent and I decided to use a pseudonym, K. Bennett, for my zombie legal thriller series. Not to hide behind, but for simple brand distinction. The series was different enough for that purpose, though it was a close call on whether to use the pen name. I’ve integrated it into my website. I have a simple Tumblr website, (kbennettbooks.tumblr.com) for the pseudo, and a Twitter account. I will say that is the main challenge, your point #2.
Part of the calculation was that mine was a traditional print deal. I would say now that if an author is going primarily into self-publishing, it’s a lot easier to use one name and different branding (primarily via cover design) for different genres.
IOW, the use of the pseudonym seems to me to have been much more viable under the old model.
I considered a pseudonym when I first began entering into the online world because of my husband’s line of work. After reading one of your previous blogs on this topic and talking with my man, we decided I’d just use my name. Just the thought of the time it would take to maintain two personas scares me. 🙂 I can’t keep up with the things I’m trying to do now online.
I think it would be hard to keep people/readers from knowing both personas for people who maintain a pseudonym and their real name. Thanks for sharing your insights. It’s obvious you’ve thought this issue through.
P. J. Casselman
Agreed. I can barely remember my passwords. If I had to keep a whole new name going, I’d need a pet parrot to keep me straight. Arrrgh!
I am thinking, if an agent ever looks past the incorrect Google search of my name (1,426 I think, including doctors, accused plagiarists, teachers, and druggies) – They’ll recommend I used a pseudonym. I have one ready, just in case.
I’ve been having this exact issue, because of the whole “branding issue”. My profession is a passion as is my writing, and many feel I should have a brand for each. I’m definitely leaning towards streamlining both into 1 “brand”. Two interesting finds sum up the differences here:
I look forward to reading everyone’s comments.
Adam Porter (@AtlasProWriter)
Pseudonyms can be good for brand distinction. If you write one style of book but wish to publish in a genre that may not be as friendly to that style or content, using a pseudonym can make sense.
Or, if you are just trying to adopt a certain mystique. A “hat and glasses” anonymity can be simple to achieve and provide a modicum of insulation or privacy.
P. J. Casselman
Oh, that was mystique? I thought you just loved Calypso music. GRIN
It’s a funny argument without doubt. Recently I was researching some old Hollywood golden era information. Who are Donald James Yarmy, Julie Wells, Thomas Mapother IV, Bernard Schwartz, Carlos Ray, and Charles Carter? With names like these a change may be understandable. Why wouldn’t you want to be: Don Adams, Julie Andrews, Tom Cruise, Tony Curtis, Chuck Norris, and Charlton Heston?
These days the famous go for shortened versions like J-Lo, or the bizarre (50 Cent). It becomes their brand. I don’t know… I guess it’s personal. Whether or not it’s authentic few people may ever care. Are people on the working side of the book the only ones worried about this, or do readers think about this when reading? Isn’t privacy equally as important as transparency? With great technology comes great exposure.
For me it’s about privacy. My real name is kind of unique (as in, I’m the only one who comes up when you do a Google search), and I got one too many lectures as a kid about not giving out personal information online. So when I decided to get serious about my writing, I created the pseudonym and used it for everything so that a reader doing a quick search of my name won’t give them my address, phone number, and high school GPA.
I have a couple of pen names picked out, BUT I am nowhere near being published yet. I am a single 30-something and still hoping to get married, so I’m not sure I want to use my current last name in case it gets changed; thus possibly forcing a pen name.
Second, I fully intend to be a NYT bestselling author, which means book signings, and the way I currently sign my legal name is AWFUL! So, I’ve actually been considering pen names for the purpose of a better signature.
Third, I inhabit a particular kind of very conservative mid-western life. I just started working with a genre that would be HUGELYMAJORLYGINORMOUSLY frowned upon for me to be writing to begin with, much less publishing. So, I’ve considered a pen name for that genre.
having said all this, I would only consider one pen name for standard writing and POSSIBLY the second pen name IF I’m writing that specific genre. Plus, I figure, by the time both of those get big enough to worry about managing, I can pay someone else to deal with that. 😉
I actually never really considered a pen name. My last name gets misspelled a lot, but I figure I can just buy the website domain name for all of the possible misspellings! 🙂 To me, I would just rather be me and have no feelings of pretense–not that there IS, I just might feel that way.
I do have one writer friend I met who has a pen name VERY similar to her real name. I can’t remember which is the real name and which is the pen name. Oops.
P. J. Casselman
You actually have a name that people would choose for a pseudonym. It has a ring about it.
Oh Rachelle, you’re right. It’s complicated. Last year I wrote this post when I was blogging at The Wordserve Watercooler: http://wordservewatercooler.com/tag/pseudonyms/
There are pros and cons. But hey, when you’re name is Nutter and you’re writing about lunatic asylums in England and the Brits refer to being a “nutter” as someone off their rocker, what’s a writer to do? Heck I don’t know but I opted for the pseudonym and I love it. I don’t care if eveyone knows I’m Jill Nutter. Eveyone knows J.D. Robb is Nora Roberts and wasn’t her name originally Norma?
The authenticity issue bothers me. I’ve heard that a well known person in publishing once said last year that he would never hire anyone using a pseudonym. That hurt. That really hurt. And I think that was very wrong, just my opinion. Have we forgotten all the well-knowns out there that have done this for centuries for different reasons? Mark Twain, Stephen King, Julia Quinn, Sidney Sheldon, George Eliot, and on and on and on. So I love being Jillian Kent and I hope someday my name is up there with all the others that use pen names. And if someone doesn’t want to hire me as an author because of it, well that’s there loss. How’s that for opinion?
I love your personal story about pseudonyms, Jillian! Thanks for sharing it here.
Thanks Sue! You’re so blessed to have a great author name already. Enjoy it thoroughly. 🙂
I write about intersex, a group of rare and often misunderstood conditions. So I considered a pseudonym. But I figured someone would eventually publish my birth name. It still makes sense to have one name as an author and one as a civilian to make it easier to have some sort of a private life.
I was born a Polley, adopted at 13 to become a Zarifeh and changed my name again when I married John Major.
Although, when I was a teenager, there was that hope of having HRH in front of my name.
Hahaha. That is funny. I may still have a chance to have HRH in front of my name. Harry’s still available & only 2 years my elder. Lol
get thee to a castle! Oh wait, he’s in Afghanistan…stay home and write to him!
P. J. Casselman
Aren’t you glad your husband’s name wasn’t Art? Do you realize how hard it is for Art Majors to find a job?
AHAHAHAHA!! He has a hard time with “art majors” because they have such a hard time finding jobs!!
It’s a tough call to make. On the one hand, a person’s name carries with it the pride of the family. The lineage. Proud parents knowing that friendsthey once knew might see the name and know that their child is doing well, maybe even better than their own. Taking a pseudonym takes away all that family pride and starts a coverup that lasts a lifetime.
On the other hand, it’s a business decision. My name is tough to pronounce right. I have a huge on-line presence, and my name’s distinctive enough that people will know it’s me, an I have a big mouth in politics, so I’d risk losing half my prospective customers if I use my name. Then there’s the crossing genres issue. I like sci-fi and romance. Not romantic sci-fi mind you, but polar opposites. One half of my brain writes one, and the other writes the other.
I haven’t decided for sure yet, but I’ll be querrying soon, so I may have to make a choice. Right now, I’m leaning toward using my name. Family trumps convenience.
Having a pen name does seem more complicated than it seems to be worth. I recall reading about Mark Twain’s daughters complaining that evrybody loved Mark Twain and greeted him as Mark Twain, but no one knew or loved him as Samuel Clemens, except his family. They wanted people to know and love the REAL man, not just some character that he created.
In this age of discoverability, really, how sustainable is a pen name? So there you are signing books as your alter ego or as noted above, at a conference where many if not most people know who you are, but you’re not you, you’re your other you…it just seems a bit odd.
As a branding issue to denote widely disparate lines, I like the ‘Ann Smith writing as Sue Jones.’
I’ve already got one book published under my real name, a non-fiction that I’ve got a well-established online persona built around. I’ve been planning to use a pseudonym for my (wildly dissimilar) fiction, if/when it’s published, if only so my fans in one area don’t have to wade through all the online content from my other area when searching for my stuff. It really doesn’t matter to me if the public knows the two names are the same person; I just want to make it easier for them to find what they’re looking for.
Interesting, the equating of pseudonym with branding. As I’ve watched some female friends marry and change their name, it’s seemed they were being branded. They didn’t just change the way they were identified, they changed their identity,
I’m one of those who writes in different genres using different names. I basically don’t have a choice– my publishers want it that way. It’s okay with me except that I sometimes wonder if people think I’m lying when I say I wrote such-and-such.
I’ve been writing under the name Carrie-Anne since May of ’93, when I was 13. I just thought I could use a pseudonym, particularly since my real forename is the next-most overused female name in history. If I were choosing a pen name as an adult, I’d doubtless choose something a little more unique, like Morwenna or Zenobia, but I’ve grown to think of my writing name as Carrie-Anne. It’s just who I am at this point, and I have been a Hollies’ fan for 19 years now. It helps that I’m still a fan of the band I got my name from.
I use a pseudonym, and the only time it gets tricky is when I’m talking to someone who knows both names, or if there’s something legal that I need to sign (though I’m strongly considering making “Noelle Pierce” a name under which I can do legal business).
Everything I do online (with the exception of my teaching) is as “Noelle.” My real name is one letter off from a famous actress, and people often give me that extra letter because the last name with an “s” is more common anyway. In addition, I work in academia as a psychology professor–not only is academia not always receptive to the genres I write, but there are potential psychology-related ethical issues if my students were to make the connection. If that weren’t enough reason to use a pseudonym, my real name is pretty boring. I have to say, though, I answer more readily to Noelle after three years being her.
Thank you for writing about this! It gives me more to think about. Since my husband and I own our own business, I first decided to use a somewhat silly last name so that my social media interactions wouldn’t be connected through internet searches to our professional work. But I have struggled with the authenticity aspect of writing/commenting under a pseudonym – “would I write this if other people could see that it’s ‘me’?” – and I have also struggled with what I might do if I try to take my writing beyond my little blog. Should I do all of my writing under my assumed name? What about speaking engagements, should I ever have the opportunity? I’m also not sure that people take me seriously with a clearly fake last name. So, I’ve been wondering about chucking it. I’m not sure.
Glad my name is transgender. I also have a pretty uncommon name, so thanks mom & dad. 🙂 I dominate google searches for my name. Glad I don’t have to worry about multiple personas, it’s hard enough just keep up with myself sometimes. Lol
I have a sort-of-pen name – for all writing and online purposes, I go by my first and middle rather than my last name. When/if I get published, I’d stick with that. It has nothing to do with privacy concerns, really; just that when I was a kid and started writing I was worried about what would happen when I got married and if my readers would remember I had a new last name. 😛
Nowadays I’ve decided I just like “Emily Rachelle” more than “Emily Russell.”
Stephanie Grace Whitson
The discussion shows us that we each have unique lives and the decision is going to be very individual. Personal security and privacy would be other valid reasons for making such a decision, IMHO. I don’t see that as a lack of authenticity. Yes, of course, privacy is going “by the way,” but if it is a valid concern, one can take pains to at least make it a little more difficult for the “not-nice” people in the world. I know I’m very glad that I have a pen name, because honestly the masses that would show up if word leaked out that I had checked in at the Waldorf would really get annoying after a while. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.
Laura K Curtis
I use a sort of pseudonym. Legally, I never took my husband’s name. But I fall into the “hard to spell, hard to pronounce” category, so for writing I use his last name. The problem for me is not that people don’t know who I am … it’s that I always assume they do. And I work with authors and PR folks and editors all day for my “day job” under my legal name. So frequently, the credentials that would help me in my writing life don’t get seen/known, because I am using a different name.
So, I agree. I would be very careful before beginning a career with a pen name.
I’ll stick with my legal name: Sue Harrison. It’s so easy to say and remember. In fact, the only problem I have is people who try to make it a little fancier by calling me Susan. I’m not a Susan. My mom named me Sue. Plain, ordinary and that’s perfect for me!!
P. J. Casselman
I recall a boy named Sue. Anyway…
I’ve thought about using a pen name, because there’s another author out there with the same name as me. She writes poetry, and I write romance, but it could lead to confusion. Although, she hasn’t taken the domain name yet…
My grandson calls me Mia. That might work. If anyone calls me that I’ll answer. Especially if they sound like a three-year-old boy.
Another thought: one of my cousins – Martha McHaney – didn’t take her husband’s name when they married. She’s a lawyer and did NOT want to become another Martha Stewart!
Nice topic. I picked a pen name because my name is shared with my husband’s cousin who is a published writer. Also her author bio is something along the lines of: lives in Michigan with her husband and two children, well five if you count her much loved dogs. Umm … that’s me too! Exactly!
Then I had a few people mention how great my name is for writing. And I write fantasy on top of it. SO I decided why not S D Grimm? It is my name after all. 🙂
I’ve wondered also about the security issue, as my name is quite unique and googling it pretty much just brings up me. I don’t have a pen name at this point–but neither am I yet published, except for magazines. My other question is, if I were to get married but be already published under my maiden name, I assume my maiden name would become my “pen name”?
Way back a whole few years ago when agents were still frequently talking about shelf placement in bookstores, I decided I wanted to use my real name because it would put me next to some well-known authors in my genre. However, my thought was always that if I got married, I would use my husband’s last name in normal life and my maiden name for writing in order to maintain a little bit of separation between the two (and because it would make distinguishing between personal and public social profiles a bit easier, although now you can at least make the private ones non-searchable).
This is still my ideal scenario. Using my maiden name would still feel authentic to me, and it wouldn’t be something I’d have to get used to being called. Even if I were to pick an entirely different pseudonym, I’d probably keep the same first name just to maintain that instantaneous response when someone calls to me. And I only plan to write in one genre, so I’ve never considered having more than one pseudonym.
Pen names aren’t for everyone and they can be a pain. I think I’ve got a pretty good reason for picking one though. You see, my real last name is Smith. Ever tried to build a presence around Smith? Not easy.
So I chose Wilder. It’s my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, has instant recognition, and I write historical romance. I don’t care that it puts me at the end of the alphabet. It’s easier to build a presence with.
My legal last name has also changed three times in the last four years. A pen name makes it easier for people to keep up with who I am.
I did something similar to Rachel. I knew I would need a pen name, so I left my first name as is (Naomi) and used my grandmother’s maiden name for the surname. That way I still feel like I’m not betraying my origins by using a pen name but honoring them. But I can go to conferences and answer to my give name, “Naomi.” It works out well for me.
But I’ve been very careful to only always use my pen name for anything and everything online. My name for ACFW and RWA is Naomi Rawlings, as is my blog, email, facebook, and everything else.
As for why I chose a pen name, I’ve got a bit of a unique situation. My husband is a pastor, and if I got published, I didn’t want people to read my books, pick out one thing a character said or did, and think that the fictional characters actions would be something my husband would condone or council someone to do in real life. There’s a pretty big distinction between advising real people to make good choices, and having your character make a few poor choices for the sake of conflict in a story.
And yes, my online pictures are different as well. 🙂
My name is shared by another author. Even though she writes in a very different genre, it has still caused some confusion. I’ve received fan e-mail intended for her, for example. So to distinguish between us, I’ve been adding my maiden name as a middle name to my magazine byline, but I think the three names together sound a little stiff for my style of fiction writing. Doesn’t seem to be any easy solution.
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
I agree that it is complicated. I’ve written short stories with male protagonists and my adult psychological novel has two male lead characters, so I was told that I should be “Chris” rather than “Christine” and that “Chris Dorman” was a flat name. Because of this, I adopted the pen name “Chris Breadlebane,” about the same time as I started my blog, so I used that name for the blog. But as you said, Rachelle, then things get complicated. Anyone who is familiar with me in this forum as Christine Dorman and then goes to check out my blog will find a blog by and comments from Chris Breadlebane. Then I began seriously working on my YA fantasy novel which has a female protaganist and Chris Breadlebane just seemed so masculine to me by that point, so I began writing under the name of Christine Fallon and after a few months changed the author name on my blog. Now things are more complex because there are still comments on the blog from Chris Breadlebane. I’m beginning to think that I should just go with my Twitter handle “Looney Filberts”! Just kidding, of course, but the pen name business really does complicate life.
P. J. Casselman
It confused me when I first saw it, so I just call you Looney. 😛
I understand too well the pain of having multiple social media accounts. For my day job I have three brands to promote. This means three Facebook pages, three Twitter accounts, and three Google+ accounts.
This is in addition to my personal social media presence.
The result is none of them receives adequate attention.
I’m in the same boat as you, Peter. I published under my married name, but didn’t want to mess up my “Faith-filled journeys for kids brand” with my secular projects, so I opted to publish my next two books under my maiden name. After setting up two Facebook and Twitter accounts, I realize how difficult it is to maintain–especially because I run several blogs, and some of them have their own Facebook and/or Twitter accounts too.
I still feel I’ve made the right choice in keeping them separate, but when my membership to SCBWI is in one name, can I actually state it in the bio for my pen name? And if I ever publish my women’s fiction work, do I need to choose another pen name? Ugh. I’m so confused. 🙂
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
Cheryl, I don’t know how you keep up with all of that.
In response to what you said about your SCBWI membership, since you certainly can’t be expected to take out two to three memberships–one for each pen name–it seems perfectly legitimate for you to put your membership in your bio. I have some favorite authors who write under two different pen names and they not only state that in their bios, they list the books they’ve written under each pen name. No matter what name is on your book, you do belong to the SCBWI, that is the truth, so own it.
About your women’s fiction novels, do you feel you would need another pen name because it’s another brand? (That’s the other reason I didn’t want to put use Chris Breadlebane for my fantasy novel; it’s a different genre). Would it be possible for you to use the pen name you use for your secular work? Is there any similar thread between the two? For example, someone who has been writing historical non-fiction about the Tudors might then write a historical fiction novel and announce to her already established fan base: I’m excited to announce my first novel about the Tudors!
For me privacy was my biggest concern. But, authenticity won out. My goal is to have real connections with people and I just didn’t think it was possible with a pen name. It felt fake to me.
But, I have given up some of myself by using my real name. (and caught some flak from family who doesn’t like me telling the truth.)
Janet Ann Collins
I once met a famous author under her real name at her other job. I promised not to tell anyone because it would have caused serious difficulties if the public knew she worked there. Sometimes pen names are necessary.
I’m someone who has to use a pseudonym, at least at the moment. I’m under eighteen, after all.
P. J. Casselman
P.J. is a pseudonym of sorts. I first saw it when I was teaching (Professor James). Later, I signed all my ministerial correspondence with PJC=Pastor Jim (not to be confused with Reverend Jim from Taxi). I could go with Jim Casselman, but now everyone online calls me P.J. At some point, I just started to wear it. (Get it? Wear? P.J.’s?…nevermind.)
Not *everyone*. Some people know you as Escaped Prisoner# 228973-B
I decided to use a pseudonym recently. My (married) last name is impossible to spell or pronounce. Everyone outside our friends & family get it wrong. I always knew I would change it. I’m just starting out, so I’m going to use that name on everything, across the board.
The person I’ve seen doing it best is Seanan McGuire, who writes fantasy under that name, but writes her sci-fi under “Mira Grant”. It works because she’s very transparent about it – she says outright on her website that it’s so readers know what they’re getting when they pick up one of her books. People who liked her fantasy can follow her over to her sci-fi easily, because she’s so open about it being her work, but no one picks up a Mira Grant and is disappointed that it’s not the fantasy they were expecting from Seanan McGuire.
I could see doing something similar if I were ever publishing fiction in two different genres. Anything that makes the experience more user-friendly to the reader makes sense to me!
I found the comments and this post to be most intriguing.
I started my blog at fourteen and didn’t feel comfortable using my last name on the internet, a path that my parents suggested.
I chose to brand myself with my real first name and my real middle name, “Danica Page.” It’s a unique name and I still feel like myself because it’s my name. I don’t feel like I have an identity crisis.
Now that I’m considering publishing I’d just stick with my established internet presence.
I can’t find the link now, but I recall reading an article a while ago about a woman who had a hard time finding a day job because employers would find out that she was an author and assume that she wasn’t serious about obtaining and keeping employment. After all, authors make a lot of money, right?
I can think of a few other reasons off the top of my head. If you have a rare name, it’s likely that your personal information–home address, birthdate, phone number–will be very easy to find because of those sites that offer it up (for a small fee), and I think that can support identity theft. It could also be a concern should you attract a stalker, or just an overly enthusiastic fan.
Personally, I don’t think ill of anyone who uses a pen name; authors deserve privacy as much as the next person, and privacy and authenticity don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Think of it like a stage name–just another piece of your brand!
I write for young people. I married a man with the last name of Tittaferrante. I can imagine a young person struggling with that name in a bookstore. The check out clerks in Safeway look at my name on the bill and then call me “Maam.” My stepson’s nickname in high school was “Tits”. Do I really want to go there? I write under the name of Ferrante.
“About your women’s fiction novels, do you feel you would need another pen name because it’s another brand? (That’s the other reason I didn’t want to put use Chris Breadlebane for my fantasy novel; it’s a different genre). Would it be possible for you to use the pen name you use for your secular work? Is there any similar thread between the two?”
Thanks for the great questions, Christine. Because my children’s books are so different from my women’s fiction work, I don’t see how I could combine the two in any way, shape or form. Perhaps I should have written all my children’s books under one name and just had some books that were faith-based and some that weren’t. I was afraid, however, that it would create confusion.
This is definitely a perplexing issue.
Carole Lehr Johnson
I can see why having various pen names would be a time consuming issue. Since my name is so extremely ordinary, I considered it for a millisecond. My maiden name is not all that common so I decided to use it as well. Hope that is enough to narrow down the ‘search.’
Very helpful post, Rachelle. The points you list make so much sense. Thanks!!
Igor Zap my alter ego has such a long history I thought I might need to consult a shrink about it. But then I thought, what the hell, I’m enjoying myself so much and some folks think it reflects my writing style more accurately than my birth name, (which I reveal in my website). I dumped my birth name after three novels failed to piggy back on the surname of an incredibly successful (deceased) romantic novelist whose fans would definitely not appreciate my work. Alas.
Arthur D Bardswell
Very thought provoking Rachelle. (Your real name, right?)
I’ve only scanned briefly through the comments, but as far as I’ve discovered so far, they’ve all (including yourself)given practical reasons for wearing/rejecting a pseudonym. I haven’t yet found anyone giving an artistically creative or aesthetic-based reason for taking on their psdnm. Am I being pretentious? I don’t think so. Am I being un-authentic? I could ask the same question about writing any fiction in the first place. Why not a name to match the style — purely for arts sake? I might even lose a few sales over it (“Who the hades IS Arthur D Bardswell anyway?”) whereas more people know me by my real name than my pen-name. It’d be nice if the situation’s reversed one day, but I guess I’m enjoying the journey more than stressing over the goal.
So why do I use my pseudo? Mainly ‘coz I like it. I feel it suits the book I’ve just published (“The Poor Preachers”.)
Yes, there’s a few underlying practical reasons, and apart from that bit about authenticity, what you’ve said is very good and helpful. It hasn’t shaken my preference, however. But each to his/her own taste. Thanks.
Hi Arthur, I am a screenwriter moving into novels. My birth name is Reginald Anthony Wessels (the ‘w’ is pronounced as a ‘v’). I have taken my second name and shortened my surname to create the pseudonym ‘Anthony Wesst’. Is that a valid reason do you think?
J. S. Bailey
I only use a “pseudonym” because my name is Jennifer Bailey, which is nearly the female equivalent of “John Smith.” My true initials are J. A. Bailey and I don’t like the way that sounded, so I took the “S” from my maiden name and became J. S. Bailey. Besides, it has a nice ring to it!
I am new to fiction writing, and I am scouring your blog to learn as much as possible. I recently returned to the States after serving for many years as a missionary, and I purposely avoided creating an online presence because the place I lived was dangerous for Christians. But, I’m quickly figuring out that social media is essential to marketing a book. I want to leave the door open to returning overseas someday, which means I want to write under a pseudonym. I have a basket load of questions. Would you justify it in my case? Do I start a blog, a Facebook page, etc. under my pseudonym now, before I have a published book? I’ve had numerous magazine and secular newspaper articles published under my own name, so would beginning to use a pseudonym for Christian fiction be awkward? Do I query under my real name or my pseudonym?
I am a book editor. First I was at McGraw-Hill, then Conde Nast — large publishing companies in New York. Since having a baby, I’ve been freelancing, editing manuscripts and helping authors get published.
I have a client who’s written a memoir so revealing and taboo, she’d like to use a pseudonym. I’d like to encourage her to stick with her real name, and bravely let the chips fall where they may.
How do authors using pen names do book tours? Your advice to inhabit the name is valuable.
Over 12+ years of experience, I have found that the people most inclined to use pseudonyms are afraid of repercussions from their families.
For the past several years, I’ve been blogging without being particularly circumspect about my last name. It’s pretty distinctive, i.e., as far as I know I’m the only one with my name in the US. This year, I got a couple of freelancing gigs, also mommy blogging under my name. This winter, I hope to self-publish my first novel, also under this name. It’s a dark fantasy novel with a fair number of sexy bits.
Here’s the thing; I also write middle-grade literature that I’m still trying to take on a traditional publishing route. Did anyone else, as a kid, go to the library to find out what else Judy Blume wrote and, at the tender age of 9, accidentally read Wifey? Yeah. I never want that to happen to me. So if I publish the middle-grade stuff, it will be with a pseudonym. Not because I think people CAN’T figure it out, but because I want them to have to look for the information, not just find it accidentally.
I write a blog with a friend using a pseudonym. I have done a lot of political writing and have found that these days folks look at your affiliations first and THEN decide whether to read your stuff or not (you might be one of *them* heaven forbid). The blog I write for is completely non-political, and I don’t want folks walking away because they can’t stand reading something written by a known libertarian (maybe racial bias is fading, but political bias is certainly growing by leaps and bounds).
Things were fine until I got an android phone (which is also google), because I had my gmail acct set up for the pseudonym and then all of a sudden it got linked up to my real name on the phone (with facebook apps getting completely confused and hanging up on me). All the linkages between social networks have created a nightmare (now I can’t even log into my blog with either name because I’ve probably triggered some overly sensitive security concern).
I’ve written to google about it and will wait to hear what they say, but will probably be forced to email my postings to my blog partner to post for me as long as I’m locked out.
I know security is important and companies online need to know who they are really talking to, but it seems they could put together a registry of folks and their alter egos that could keep it straight. Since I’m not a techie, I don’t know what that would require codewise, maybe it’s really difficult.
I do know I will lose readers if I use my real name, and I’d like to keep my pseudonym if at all possible.
Hello there, simply changed into alert to your blog through Google, and located that it is really informative. I’m going to watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate in case you proceed this in future. A lot of other folks will probably be benefited from your writing. Cheers!
My last name is unique; google it and you can find out a whole lot about me, including my address and the names of my children and doubtless their addresses, too. Now I am about to start a blog. I want very much to do it under my real name, because I have always believed that if you’re not willing to sign your name to something, you shouldn’t publish it. However, I don’t want anyone showing up on my doorstep, and I don’t want there to be any negative consequences for my family. I don’t think that I will be saying anything particularly inflammatory on my blog, but it’s a strange world….. I’d be grateful to know what others think on the security subject and find it interesting that it has not been mentioned so far. Thanks, Barbara
My problem is I wrote conservative political and pro-life articles for years under my real name. HUGE mistake. This has been a nightmare for me ever since I began applying for jobs online and trying to establish a career. My name comes up on every search engine with the political articles I wrote as far back as 12 years ago, and new business content that I wrote for the past 5 years does not replace it. One site even targets me for my contributions to the Bush campaign. Hey, that was way back in 2000 and the site shows up on page one of Google! Had I known the search engines track, target and follow a person’s ancient history I never would have used my real name in the first place. You can’t be yourself and have strong opinions because potential employers may not share your ideas.
No matter what they say in the “Terms and Conditions,” the search engines target political conservatives. I also know for a fact that I was turned down for jobs because of employers searching my name, and I lost clients in real estate transactions for the same reason. They came right out and said they don’t agree with my views. So, the web may be great for establishing businesses and an online presence, but if you ever write anything the “powers-that-be” don’t like, watch out.
How do I get past this dilemma without either legally changing my name (which I really don’t want to do) or using a pseudonym? Other than using a pen name, I see no other solution. I can’t afford Reputation Management programs or software. Another problem is that I’d like to be listed on Linked In, and their privacy terms indicate no pen names allowed. Any advice on how to handle this ongoing problem? Thanks!