Why I’m Considering Writing Under a Pen Name

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On my personal blog, I write a lot about the publishing industry and how books (especially by women) are marketed. It made me start to seriously wonder—should I use a pen name or pseudonym? Should you?

Let’s figure it out.

Pen Name

Use A Pen Name to Remain Gender Neutral (or to Change Your Gender)

If I used a pen name, this would be my primary motivation.

Jodi Picoult says her books are placed in the “women’s fiction” category not because of their content, but because of her “lady parts.”

J.K. Rowling was worried male readers wouldn’t pick up a book about wizard knowing it was written by a woman.

I learned very recently that J.J. Murray, who writes interracial romance novels, is a man (I can’t confirm he uses a pen name because he writes in the Romance category, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was his motivation).

I believe that if the same exact book is written by a man and a woman they will be pitched, marketed, and sold in two very different ways. A novel about family or relationships written by a man (e.g., The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen) most likely  will not be called chick-lit by anyone. It will probably have a different cover. It will probably attract more male readers.

It’s not necessarily fair or progressive, but the reality is that your work may not reach the audience you wrote it for. If this is a concern for you, try a pen name.

Use a Pen Name to Switch Genres or Professions

 Joanna Penn is a bestselling nonfiction writer. J.F. Penn is a bestselling fiction author. They are the same person.

Joanna talked about her decision to write under two names last year when she chatted with The Write Practice team.

It’s not just about ensuring that your uptight day job knows they won’t be affiliated with your racy books. Readers do a lot of Googling and searching on Amazon. If they loved your fantasy novel, it might confuse (or distract) them when they find all your nonfiction books about the homeless that you wrote during your journalist life.

Or, your novel may not pop up in books fantasy readers “might like” because your previous field still places you in the social science category—hurting your discoverability.

It also may make sense to use a pen name when switching genres within fiction. When you’ve made a name for yourself in one genre, it’s hard to cross over. Your historical fiction readers might think your paranormal romances are weird. Paranormal romance enthusiasts may decide not to pick up your book because they associate you with historical fiction. It’s worth thinking about.

Use a Pen Name if You Want a Different Name

Maybe you hate your name. Maybe you’re still embarrassed that your first novel didn’t sell and want to start over. Maybe you want to adopt the last name “King,” just in case people think you’re related to Stephen (or Martin Luther).

No one says that you have to use the name on your credit card bill on the cover of your novel. If you want to change it—change it!

Who else uses a pen name? Are you considering using one? Let us know in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Received feedback on a scene before? Posted on The Write Practice in the past? Try re-posting in the comments below with a different name and see if the feedback is any different!  Or just take a moment to provide feedback to the people who do share.

About Monica M. Clark

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

  • Helaine Grenova

    I actually use a pseudonym on this very cite. I find that I am less hesitant to post and write when people don’t know who I am and have no real way to find out. Pseudonyms are nice in that aspect. Call me paranoid, but I don’t want people reading my stuff just because of my name.

    Many days it is hard for me to write and hard to figure out which words to put on the page. Changing my name sometimes helps; instead of asking what would I put on the page and get stuck in the world of confusion and doubt, I can ask what would Helaine write? Would she be witty or logical? It is paradoxical but it helps sometimes.

    • Love it! This actually reminds me of Beyoncé’s alter ego “Sasha Fierce” lol. She says that to get on stage and be a performer she has to pretend she’s a different person (i.e., Sasha Fierce).

      • Patience

        lucky it isn’t Slasha lol.

    • That is very interesting, Helaine, how you use your pseudonym as a way to prompt creativity. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • EndlessExposition

    I plan to use a pen name simply because my real name is hard to pronounce. I don’t want to endure the mispronunciations any more than necessary 😀

    • Patience

      sometimes it works to help educate people to different cultures and that adds to the durability of a name. but I also appreciate on a personal and practical level of having to correct people until your work makes it worth their really knowing your name!
      In Australia the learning of indigenous names for musicians may seem like it stemmed from the popularity of their music. However a female poet actually made her name a household word even to those not particularly fond of the politics around the reclaiming of an almost wiped out culture! Her poetry became standard reading in English classes throughout the whole school system.

      • EndlessExposition

        My name isn’t especially ethnic (surname’s Irish, first name’s Greek though I’m not) it’s just that both are four letters long, the first letter being the only difference. And they’re pronounced two different ways. I just want to spare readers unnecessary confusion (and myself unnecessary headaches).

  • I use a pen name when I write. The main reason is because I work in an industry that doesn’t take too kindly to people actually having a life outside of work. (Sad but true.)

    Also, Monica, the link to your blog at the beginning of the post is wrong… Just thought I’d let you know so you don’t miss out on having people come over and visit your site. 🙂

    • Weird!! Thanks!

      • Beth

        Your readers may be interested in a middle grade and YA author I love to recommend. Cornelia Funke (pronounced the German way with emphasis on the ke) is so popular and easy to find in the children’s section of libraries. Just look for FIC for fiction and FUN for fun. Consider this story before you change your name for writing purposes. Her books are adventures, fantasies and some are for younger readers, too. German children are aware of more of her titles, because not all of her books have been translated into English for us.
        Hope you writers like a little advice from a reading/writing blogger @ http://www.BESTBOOKSBYBETH.com

  • Star Mosa

    Vixen Calix
    Starline Mosa
    Sophie Konson
    Darkfrost
    All pen names of mine.

  • Technically, mine is both a pen name, and my real name. I use my initials & last name because of how common my name really is. A quick search of New York City returns over 2,000 people with my exact name.

  • Monica, I hope you don’t use a fake name! People need to know that a smart woman writer is behind your story when your book comes out.

    • Thanks Etienne! I probably, but I was seriously considering it over the weekend lol.

  • Laura

    I’m a fan of pen names..especially if an author writes in different genres. Such as Jayne Ann Krentz..aka Jane Castle & Amanda Quick. I have yet to publish and am diligently working toward that goal. I’m a contemporary romance writer, as Laura Marie Baird, but have had ideas for young adult stories, and am considering penning them under L.M.Baird. Whatever gets you published and to the readers you solicite!

  • My last name is extremely common (and there’s already a writer with my name), so I use my first and middle name as a pseudonym–Joy Morgan. I mostly like it, but the only thing is that is sounds a bit too cutesy and short to me. The genre I write in is inspirational fiction. What do you think? I’ve thought about doing initials, but I love my first name too much. 🙂

    • Helaine Grenova

      If you are writing inspirational fiction, then Joy is a great name. When properly inspired joy is brought into a person’s life. I think using Joy is a great pseudonym, especially since it is the same as your actual name. If you want to make it longer and less cutesy maybe you should create a last name that is also slightly upbeat and inspirational

      • Thank you for your suggestions, Helaine! I’ll be considering an alternative last name…

        • Patience

          Joy Everword Reid

  • Miriam N

    I’ve been considering using a pen name myself because I put my actual name in my book. Not sure what it will be yet though I’ve so been playing with the idea of “Weave Ofwords” or at least that would make me feel very clever :). Any thoughts? I am open to any name suggestions though I have no perimeters on what I want. Thanks.

    • The first time I read “Weave Ofwords” I read “Offwords” and I liked the way it sounded (but thought you might like to know how it first sounded in my mind). What genre are you writing in? That might help us come up with some ideas well suited to your style. 🙂 Or…here’s one idea…What if you use a nickname like “Miri” and put some fancy last name with it…Here’s something totally random “Miri Brightwell.” It’s cheery and catchy….Anyway, I really don’t know… 🙂

      • Miriam N

        Well I’m writing Fantasy adventure books. I, however, really like my name so I may or may not use a pen name. I like my name because every name it it starts and ends with the same letter and are each three syllables. So if that sparks any ideas for you then there ya go.

  • Years ago when my pen touched the paper or fingers stroked the keyboard a thought came to mind for a pseudonym. I researched if this is something known writers do/ have done. I located many which was a resounding yes. But why? Different genres to write under. Anonymity from my professional connections. Unsure of my writing acceptance to fame. I have filed officially to use my pen name. As my writing deepens in style and entrenches in my comfort to be public I notice my thoughts to not use a pen name. When that final moment arrives to have my writing published I hope to ‘know’ which to use at that instant.

  • Bill Cook

    Joy Morgan sounds
    great to me. If you added an “S.” it would sound like” joyous,” which wouldn’t be
    a detriment, in my opinion. A double letter would make your name unique: Morrgan, Morggan or Morgann, and still sound the same.

    Your name doesn’t sound cutesy and short is not a drawback. You have 50% more
    syllables that I have.

    My name is Bill Cook. To me, that’s awful. I’m considering using a pen name.

    • Thank you, Bill! I like that idea of adding a letter (particularity the two n’s). I’ll think about that. 🙂

    • Anna Lauren

      How about Bill Cookson, William Cook, William Cookson. If you have a middle name, you could combine it with B or W and become B ? Cook/Cookson or W ? Cook/Cookson.

  • Patience

    There are as many reasons to use alternative names when writing as there are for allowing different groups or friends or family members to call you by different nick names.
    The part of your personality that is played up more strongly by this selective resonance seems to focus your energy even more effectively. I used to do numerology readings for people which made me realise just how different they felt about themselves in different settings because of this process. This blog has inspired me to look out an article I once wrote about it, and post on my own blog!

  • Sophie de Haas

    I’m thinking of using a pseudonym just for my last name. I’m Dutch, but I prefer writing in English. I’m afraid people will be judgmental about my use of language based solely on my last name, so I’m thinking of changing it to Harris 🙂 (de Haas means the Hare in Dutch, and Harris sounds kind of the same, only more fancy)

  • Pat

    My full-time job is populated with straight-laced, uptight, and highly judgmental folks. I need the paycheck, so i write under a different name. I also love the privacy it affords.

  • Pseutoname

    I once ran into a troll who objected to my criticism of his work (it had to do with grammar). He went on a crusade searching out my background, and posting diatribes on several sites. The attack was vicious and completely unwarranted. Two lessons here. Honest criticism can be dangerous, and a troll can ruin your life at least for a while. So, I write under another name just to be safe.

    • Anna Lauren

      If you ever come across him in real life, you can borrow my walking stick if you like. It comes in handy for all sorts of things apart from helping me walk – hockey stick, pick-up thingy, club for punishing drongos 😀

  • Sharon Burgess

    I use a pen name strictly for marketing purposes. My legal name is Czech and difficult for readers to remember and to be able to find since it is near the end of the alphbet. My pen name is English, much easier to remember, and it is near the beginning of the alphabet which results in much better placement on book store shelves.

    • Leslie

      Haha! That’s great

      • Leslie

        Sorry that was meant for pseutoname. Doing this on a phone doesn’t work very well

    • Oh I didn’t think of that! My Married name starts with a C and has way less letters than the name I am using (my maiden name). Too late now though. lol

  • Paige

    I use a pen name when I write erotica, because I usually write children’s stories. I don’t want them to get mixed up. good idea? I think so!

  • Beckasue

    Just finished reading all the comments and they all make great points. I am considering writing an anonymous blog, so this has given me some food for thought. Anybody have any comments on blogging anonymously?

  • Leslie

    There is a white crack in the sky then, not more than two or three seconds later a roaring, deafening, terrifying howl of thunder fills my timid studio apartment accompanied by and extra terrified howl from Daisy Miss Maisy, my two year-old golden retriever. We are huddled on the couch, which we pulled away from the window when it started to pour and the storm worsened. We both sit looking on, horrified by the sound of the rain beating on the roof and the ominous thunder crashes and the flashes of light that precede them. It was the sound, like boulders tumbling down the mountains to the east. It seemed to us that every time there was a storm the world was ending! My mom thought it might be autism or asburgers, but it is just another thing that Daisy and I have in common. When I decided to get a dog Scott, my boyfriend at the time, suggested that I go during a thunderstorm and pick the calmest dog so then I would have a dog to comfort me during the ever constant storms. Once we got to the shelter it was another story; completely concrete! The dogs could not tell if it was raining, hailing, snowing or windy unless they went outside! And even then they were not let out. A couple dogs looked like they were freaking out, but the man at the shelter said it was because they had a disease and they could not be let out so they developed claustrophobia. A few dogs wet themselves as I approached their kennels or even looked at them. But as I studied Daisy she looked back confidently and eagerly. I learned she shared the same fear of thundering thunder storms as me when we tried to get her to the car. She barely came out of the door when FLASH! BOOM! CRASH! Lightning and an earsplitting, drumming of thunder filled the air. She immediately turned for the now closed door. There was no turning back for either of us. Each time I successfully soothed her into walking towards the car another pounding of thunder would start and she would reel back. It took about twenty minutes as the storm moved away to get into the car. We all were soaked. We did not stop at the store to get dog food, instead we went straight to my apartment then Scott went and bought the dog food. He ended up staying for a couple of hours as three or four storms came together all erupting and shouting and screaming and pounding and flashing and cracking and booming all at random! Daisy and I sat in the middle of the small room I called home in terror as the storms clashed a pounded on our world. It is our ritual now. It was no comfort to have Scott there because he enjoyed jumping in puddles and once he left my apartment he never came back. I cannot move to another city or state because it is always raining so I will hug Daisy and fear the explosive lightning and roaring thunder.

  • Karla

    I’ve been considering using a penname for a while, my first and last names are very common (Karla Rivera), which is a problem when Googling myself, but I do like my name. Maybe I’ll go with my middle name like Joy? My middle name is Xioana (cee-oh-anna). Karla Xioana. What do you think? Most people have a hard time pronouncing it.

    • Four syllables might be too difficult for many to remember.

      • Karla

        Thank you for replying!!

    • Anna Lauren

      How about: Karla Rivers, K.E. Rivers, K.E. Rivera, E.K. Rivers. The “E” of course being E for Xioana.

    • disqus_ARmh0StcMX

      I love the X in their though even as just the initial – X. Rivera? K. Rivera. What if you reverse the two? R. Xioana? no one has to know the R is really for your last name. Xioana R. Karla?

  • I will have to use a pen name as my (planned) memoir might hurt certain people’s feelings if/when they see in print a description of their bad behavior. It makes sense when writing fiction to make it gender-neutral, considering how femaled continue to be treated differently.

  • Anna Lauren

    In 1901, Australian author, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, wrote the book, “My Brilliant Career.” It was self-published and written under the name Miles Franklin. Because of the name, most people assumed it was written by a man. When the truth came out, it caused a bit of stir, but these days, Australian writers vie for the honour of winning the “Miles Franklin Literary Award.” You’re in good company, Monica, if you want to use a pseudonym. I’m considering doing it because Anna Lauren has a much better ring than my real name.

  • Erin Ramsey

    I am actually thinking of keeping my original name because unless you know how to pronounce my name with the proper Irish inflection, you will think I am a female. I was named by my grandparents who were immigrants from Ireland and they were unfamiliar with the American use of “Erin” as a female name. Not saying that I intentionally want to be confused as a female, but I may think it may work for me. I have thought of an actual pseudonym but it may be a little too crazy for publishing.

  • I have decided to have a pen name… And not really for any of the reasons listed.
    If you want to know why just follow the link and read the first couple of chapters.
    Of course you can read more if you’re interested.
    http://www.dawncaval.com/dawn-caval

    Regards
    Dawn

  • Bill Cook

    Joy. I’m so glad you liked my suggestion. It feels good to be a help.

    You mentioned collaboration. I would like to try that. If you like, how
    could we make it happen?

  • Bill Cook

    Anna Lauren

    Thanks for your
    interest in my name. I’m still pondering.

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  • Stephanie Oplinger

    This is a great post! I’ve wondered why writers published under many names, and it makes a lot of sense. And, as a woman, I am very glad to read a brief writeup on the marketing differences and challenges that different genders may have. I totally agree that it should not be that way, but while we progress toward a better way, it’s great to know the current challenges and one way to handle them.

  • Colby Davidson

    “Colby Davidson” actually is my pen name. I write about stories that Colby and his best friend May Lakewater have in a town called Ayrelby, FL, but I also send the two to nearby Miami a lot to make it feel “real” or whatever. The reason I use this name is because it means exactly the same thing as my real name, but I hate my last name with a firey passion because of the man who gave it to me. I also write under the name of Leaf Green when I need people to think a girl wrote it, but the situation has not yet arisen, so Davidson I continue to use. I love this site, by the way!

    Sincerely yours,
    Colby Davidson, an author of Ayrelby.

  • Leaf Green

    A/N: I’ve never posted under this name before. God, it feels wrong posting under this name… Anyway, this is a story about what happens right after Colby Davidson and Eris May Lakewater discover the lost city of gold. Hope ya like it! (BTW the two are seventeen.)
    ====================================================================
    After that I didn’t see her again for a few days, maybe a week. I kept tossing that name around in my head she’d told me at the end of our adventure. “Scott Peterson,” she had said, before leaving the city of gold, and me in it to be hounded by the flashing lights and drowning inquiries of the press. She’d really just said it more to the air than to me, but either way I couldn’t get it out of my head. I was a pretty obsessive kid, to be honest.

    The next week I walked through the slumps of Miami on my way to Vicky’s house on the other side of town, just to see what she was up to. The projects were in between. I didn’t like going through the projects too much, mainly because I am afraid of gangs like a small dog is afraid of a hawk, but I’d left my wallet at home so I couldn’t drive or take the bus, so I just walked it. The area smelled exactly like pure carbon monoxide fresh out of a factory, as though the “project” in question was to cause global warming. I started to regret having come this way at all as I began to hear fading sirens coming from at least two or three different directions. Glad I did though, because that’s where I found her.

    “May?” I ask, walking up to the edge of a torn-down store that had, presumably, been built six-feet off the ground on concrete blocks to protect it from hurricane damage. You can see how that turned out. Two beams that supported the front wall of the shop remained upright and holding part of the destroyed nameplate of the building. I surveyed the inside and found no one besides my girlfriend, but definite evidence of previous tenants, including busted coolers, old blankets, and a number of used syringes. “What are you doing here?”

    “Oh, hey Colby,” she responded blankly, her gaze still fixed on the building opposite us. She was sitting on what used to be the floor, wearing the magic denim jacket she can’t seem to ever shake, a black ImagineDragons hoodie, jeans, and her green soccer cleats. She’d won a lot of games in those cleats, and she always told everyone it was due to the fact that they blended in with the grass, her cleats did, and the other team could never tell which way her feet were pointed when she had the ball. But it was winter now. She probably just wore them by accident; but then again when had I ever known May Lakewater to do something by accident?

    “What are you doing here?” I repeated. Her eyes were still locked on a project home across the street. It was almost rotting, the graffiti-ridden mess of brick and plaster, with just as many windows broken on it as not. “Where have you been?”

    “Shh…” she whispers, holding an index finger out. She’s staring intently. I can see it in her eyes, through her huge, nerdy glasses. They magnify the size and ferocity of her green irises, the exact green of the inexplicably worn cleats. I actually think those glasses are kind of adorable, but I never tell her this. I don’t know why.

    “I’m investigating a crime,” she said, her voice an accent just slightly Amerindian. She did that often, investigate crimes. The ironic thing is that she didn’t actually have a license to investigate crimes, so technically what she was doing was a crime itself, but she really couldn’t care less. “See that building?”

    “Yeah?”

    “That building is home to the largest gang of organized crime in the entire city of Miami, all suburbs and outskirts included. That building is home to one Dr. Michael Scott Peterson, the greatest criminal mastermind to ever live under the roof of government housing.”

    “What’s so special about him?” I ask.

    “Oh, nothing really,” she replies. She turns, breaking her stare, and looks down at me through her glasses. “He’s only a master of martial arts, a speaker of twenty-two languages, a doctor of mathematics, a pioneer in the genre of rap music known as, ‘gangstah,’ a man who feels the need to let the world know that he owns fifty different styles of underwear but not a single belt, a backstabbing Alexander the Great of burglary, robbery, and blackmail, and to top it all off, a semi-professional player.” She took not one breath in saying it all.

    “What the hell are we doing within a thousand miles of him then?!” I shout. I’m telling you, I am terrified of gangs. I don’t even know why, really, but I just am. They freak me out. The only thing I’m more scared of than gangs, though, is gang-members. And I know exactly why: I had a friend who was mugged by a few gang-members once, and that friend has never been able to walk straight since.

    “Well how else are we supposed to shut his empire down?” she answers back. I then realize what she is doing here, and that I am being pulled, once again, into one of her crazy plans.

    “May, we are children,” I reason. “Don’t you think this is a job for the police or something?”

    “We found the freaking city of gold, Colby!” she exclaims. “That took the police 600 years to do! We can’t wait that long on this!”

    “But we’re unarmed minors walking into an abandoned project building!” I protest in vain.

    “You mean you didn’t even bring your sword?” She says, hopping down with a finger on the ground as she lands. One of her cleats lands right on top of an empty old paper McDonald’s cup, releasing the expired smell of long-gone Coke into the air. “Honestly, Davidson, I’ve come to expect better of you.”

    “What, so you’re going to bring your sword into criminal-occupied territory?”

    Her glasses had fallen down her nose a bit as she fell, so she adjusted them back to where they were. “Of course not! I’m not an idiot, you know,” she says. “I brought yours.”

  • I’m using my maiden name – not a complete change, but still one never the less. I’m doing it mainly because I don’t want my children bothered if anything comes back to me and I also attribute my motivation to my deceased mother, so I like to remind myself that it’s all for her.

  • Katie Lyers

    I always disliked my name because of its tie to an emotion. I don’t want kids to drop a book back to the shelf because it was written by someone name Joy.

  • I use a pseudonym to separate my personal blogging and parenting writing from my historical writing.

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  • T Lorraine Ingalls

    I generally go by “Tammy,” but I use this as my “pen name” because it’s the least awkward way of using my given name. When born, I was promptly dubbed “Tammari Lorraine Addison” by a mother under the influence of natal narcotics and who couldn’t spell anyway. Yes, that is an “I” on the end of my first name, hence it is only the rare individual who pronounces it correctly on the first attempt. (Just like Tamara, rhymes with camera.) Don’t get me wrong, I love my name because it is so unusual and has a nice ring. I feel that I can’t put “Tammy” on a book cover because now that I am married — and prefer to use my husband’s name — when spoken, it all runs together: Tammy Ingalls or Tammeeengalls. Besides, I refuse to carry my maiden name (reasons spelled out in forthcoming memoir). Oh, and Ingalls? No deception here. My husband’s family is indeed related that beloved author of children’s tales: Laura Ingalls Wilder. Will I try to bank on that connection? Doubtful. My middle name is the one I have always cherished most, but seldom have I been able to honor. So there you have it. The contorted tale of how I arrived at my own “nom de plume.” And Monica, I really love your posts! Continue with the great work. 🙂

  • Anyamar Rolet

    Interesting article and discussion. I write under the pen name you see here for the purpose of creating a new persona since my given name (like Karla Rivera posted below) is quite common and I’ve had my identity stolen repeatedly. Initially, I meant
    to have my name legally changed but ended up getting married, which helped
    some.

    Like Katie Lyers mentioned, neither did I want my pen name to carry any sort of
    racial or emotional associations that might create bias, nor did I want it to
    prevent me from being unrestricted in my writing.

    Ultimately, my pen name is based off a matronymic surname and a variation of my middle name. I haven’t been operating under this name for a very long time but it has
    been difficult to create and establish this new persona on social media and in
    my blog, but I’m working hard at it every day. If any of you who write under a
    pen name have any tips you could share about this, I would appreciate them.

  • Bridget Chicoine

    I publish as J. B. Chicoine because of the gender issue. I wrote my first novel in first person POV as a male. Personally, when I see a female name on the cover, I tend to assume the POV (especially if it’s in first person) will also be female, and it throws me off if it’s not. I didn’t want to disorient my reader.

    As a private person, I also like the relative anonymity—or illusion of it—that a pen name provides.

  • Hannah J

    This helps clear up so much for me in this area. I have a very feminine name with its own stigma. I will probably go the boring route and change it up just a tiny bit… H J Carter?