To Pen Name or not to Pen Name; That is…a Dumb Question

Photo Credit: Kat Michels

This is another of those topics that I find myself reading way too many blog posts about. There are SO many questions that most writers will ask themselves at some point. I think I’ve written about several of these questions on here. Let me see. The question of whether to self publish or attempt to publish through an agent and traditional publisher. Coming up with the perfect title for the book you’ve just finished. Naming characters in your work. Whether or not to intentionally make your protagonist autobiographical. There are many more, but my point is that these are all valid issues that need to be figured out by the author.

The question of whether or not to use a pen name is not. It’s ridiculous. Seriously, who do you think you are? You haven’t done anything yet. So maybe you’ve written a book. Maybe you’ll clean it up in preparation to start sending out queries, but so what. Do you have any idea what the odds of that book ever making its way onto a store bookshelf? Yeah, I bet you didn’t. I’m getting off topic now.

I can only name a very small number of authors who I am aware use pen names. Lee Child. JK Rowling. Nora Roberts. Lee Child came up with his pen name because it would put him between crime writers Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie on bookshelves. Good idea. JK Rowling wrote a book as Robert Galbraith as something of an experiment to see if the book would make it on its own merits and not just her name. Another good idea. And Nora Roberts has written under several names because of the simple fact that she writes too many books to release under one name. I may be mistaken, but I think she’s written more than 200 books. Geez. I also know T. Jefferson Parker added the T in front of his name just because. It doesn’t stand for anything. And yes, I realize that a number of authors write in different genres under different pen names in an effort not to confuse their core readers, but again, these are established authors WITH readers. You’re no one.

The point I’m making by listing these few authors who write under pen names is that you are putting yourself in their company by thinking you should write under a pen name. No. Just stop.

Let’s say that you’re an unknown author who manages to secure a major publishing deal. They’re going to publish YOUR book. Why in the hell would you want a name on the cover besides your own? That’s a serious question I’m asking. If you have an answer I want you to write it in the comments because I don’t have one. Think about it. You’ll likely be telling every person who will give you two minutes to tell them about your book and they’ll ask the title so they can look it up. Then they’ll ask why the name is wrong. You’ll say you wrote it under a pen name. They’ll ask why and then think you’re just stupid.

If you’ve honestly asked yourself this question then tell me why and what you decided. I promise not to yell at you.

No offense was meant by this post to anyone. Please still like me. I still like you.

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52 thoughts on “To Pen Name or not to Pen Name; That is…a Dumb Question

  1. JK Rowling isn’t “really” a pen name. She added the K and used her first initial as the publisher was afraid that a female author would lose sales. JK could be male or female, and thus away she went.

    You left out the biggest pen name of em’ all. Stephen King > Richard Bachman. Same idea..to see if he could sell without his name.

    My own…I shortened my name to initials as my first and last name are both “first” names which can be confusing…plus it looks tighter and fits better on the cover. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I write under my real name – like you said, I enjoy seeing my name on the book cover. But I definitely considered using a pen name. The main reason being that my last name – Proulx – is stupidly difficult to remember how to spell. So I was considering a pen name to alleviate that problem. I believe people also consider using pen names if they are writing erotica. That way, when you’re trying to get hired for a new job, your prospective employer doesn’t Google your name and the first ten hits are smutty erotica books. Or some people just plain don’t like their name. Or they have a different personality — an “artsy” name — that they identify with when they’re writing. The reasons are endless 🙂 And while it’s true that the pen name may not matter right now, because you’re an unknown author with a tiny fan base … that may not always be the case in the future. And it never hurts to plan ahead, even if you’re just speculating on what might be.

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  3. I changed the name I write under for safety reasons. Don’t want the crazy abuser in my life to start interfering any more than he already does. I’m cool with the name on my work not being my real name if it means I can write and blog and tweet with a little more peace in my life.
    I think some people develop pen names because their names are really common or there’s an author with a similar name already. But I do agree, in a lot of instances it just seems like a confusing waste of time.

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    • Your reason is obviously a legitimate one. I’m talking the writer who just finished a first draft and thinks to himself, “Hmm. I bet I could write under a pen name.” For no reason at all.

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  4. I think any writer has this debate. I always think, “Do I want to answer to a different name all my life?” And the answer is no. I love my name (plus it’s an alliteration, easy to remember). I almost fear losing a sense of identity in my work by not being “proud” and “brave” enough to have my real name on it. No offense to anyone with other views. Great post and it really makes me think! 🙂

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  5. I’ve considered it. Firstly because my first name conjures up images of bad pop princesses, and secondly, my last name is kind of ridiculous.

    But, I’ve had several short stories published under my real name, and I don’t really want to start over.

    And, as I get closer to my wedding day, I realize I’m about to leave this name behind. The name I’ve known my whole life, and loathed for most of it. It’s only been the last few years that I’ve come to appreciate my crazy, slavic, UNIQUE name.

    So I finally decided to keep it, and to continue publishing under it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. When I do finally publish a book, I’m going to use “Emily Toynton” because I’ve already established that as my pen name. My original full name is extremely common in both the US and the UK. There are at least a thousand people with my name running around–I’ve decided to use this name as my published name because it’s short and fairly memorable. Also unique as well.
    That’s all there is to it. I’d prefer to have something with a bit of originality instead of a name that hundreds of other people have.

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  7. It’s a matter of personal preference. Some writers are really big on privacy. I write under a pen name, and it’s not really a hassle. I chose to do so for a variety of reasons. One, I don’t care for my given name. My first name is unisex and my last name is Gross. Yeah, imagine what I went through in elementary school. Two, I wanted to honor a deceased loved one. Three, my genres are women’s fiction and inspirational Christian fiction. Faith Simone just made sense to me on so many levels. I LOVE it, and will gladly answer to it as a writing professional for the rest of my life. It has a nice ring to it and I think of someone I love very much every time I hear it.

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  8. I’ve decided to work under a pen name. I’m doing it for privacy reasons. If an agent ever tells me to change it, I would, but for now I’m going with the pen name. The one I chose is my maiden name so it still feels like seeing my name on the cover. I don’t think people are hiding when they use a pen name, I think they’re keeping their lives separate. Then I can have a personal Facebook page that no one would associate with my author page. I can have a Twitter that isn’t associate with my author brand. It gives me my privacy.

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    • I’m sorry, but I don’t see it. It’s not like someone is going to read your book and then suddenly try to find you on all social media. Maybe a Facebook fan page and maybe on Twitter. Probably it. For example, Steve Hamilton, who has to have sold books in the millions by now and has won two Edgars, has a whopping 1300 followers on Twitter. So yeah.

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      • It’s a lot about branding, too. On my personal page, I might post something about my day job. As an author, my readers don’t need to know this. They would be more interested in something I read or a piece I’m working on. It helps to keep my personal brand and my author brand separate.

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      • That’s what fan pages are for. On Facebook. I know so many authors who aren’t even on Twitter and do just fine. A lot better, actually.

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  9. I had considered a pen name simply because I do not like who my last name ties me to. I love my dad, but his family is a bunch of loons that honestly hate me for no apparent reason. I didn’t want that side of the family to ride the coat tails of my popularity (obviously I have a huge ego). But I changed my mind because I wanted the people from high school to notice my name and regret not being nicer to me…I evidently have issues as well.

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    • A huge ego and personal issues? Haha sounds like you have some good stories in you.

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      • I’m a walking contradiction.

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      • Did you know there’s a country song by that name. Haha it’s by James Wesley. I like it.

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      • I did not. I usually hate country music, but I will have to look this up now.

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      • Um don’t ever speak ill of country music on my blog ever again. Your only warning. Hahaha

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      • LOL My bad. I won’t admit it often, but I have grown to enjoy some country music. And that is because I fell in love with Josh Turner and the fact that my friends used to drag me to a bar that played nothing but country music.

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      • And I hated it until I was 18. Don’t laugh at this, but then someone who I thought very highly of, I mean VERY highly, gave me a list of songs for me to make a CD. I did and listened to those 18 ish songs on repeat in my car for months. Now I’m obsessed with it.

        Josh Turner is okay. Not my favorite. But I don’t hate him. Has a couple good songs.

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      • I grew up listening to it because that’s what my dad listened to. I stopped listening to it when someone introduced me to Spice Girls. I started hating country music because everyone else loved it. I enjoy going against the crowd.

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      • Okay, rebellious you.

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  10. My birth name is “Michael Burnett”. I use “Misha Burnett” because it makes it sound more exotic. But it’s also the form of my first name I use in my daily life, for the same reason. I do have a pen name that I use for my writing in a particular subculture, which I use because I want to keep that part of my life separate. (Actually I don’t think I’ve written anything under that name in years, I’ve pretty much drifted away from that group.)

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  11. Hey John i can’t believe we just blogged about the same topic. Wrote it yesterday while my son was home sick, felt inspired. It’s an interesting topic though.

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  12. John is a stupid name. Ha ha ha. Obviously I’m kidding. But if you have a name like Womanhater Babypuncher you might want to use a pen name for marketing reasons. Joe Hill is a writer who also happens to be Stephen King’s son. He uses a pen name, I suspect, to attempt to get out from the shadow of a very famous man. He’ good. Really good. My name is great so I would not to use a pen name.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ll probably use a pen name so I won’t get sued.

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  14. People use pen names for various reasons and I don’t fault them for that. I used one for my first book for two reasons. One, I liked my pen name better than my real name (I used my real first name, changed the last) and two, I was writing romance and kind of wanting to remain incognito to certain people in my life. But now, I don’t care who knows I write romance novels so I’m writing under my real name. That being said, I still toy with the thought of using a different pen name in the future. It depends on the novel and the circumstance. But I will say that it gets confusing when your favorite author changes names and you have to figure out what books they wrote so you can read them.

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    • I don’t know. Erotica is the only genre I can say that I’d understand not wanting people to know you write it. Anything else, I don’t see why you should essentially be ashamed of your writing. And definitely not your name. Ever.

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  15. I really like this post and this topic is one I have juggled with. I thought about using the initials of my first and middle name followed by my full last name, because I wanted to have some anonymity but I may end up using my first name. I guess I will find out when (I believe when) I get my first story published 🙂

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  16. Pingback: Act I, Act II…I Don’t Know What to do | Write me a book, John!

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