You wrote a book, great! Now comes a big decision: what is your author name going to be? Are you one of the many writers wondering, “Should I use a pen name?”
What’s In a Pen Name?
The Write Practice did a couple interviews that can help you understand pen names and whether or not you’d like to use one.
First up is Carole Wolfe. She just released the latest book in her women’s fiction series. She also lives a double life. (Dun, dun, duuunnn!)
Carole writes under a pseudonym. She’s here to talk about the whys, whens, and hows of using a pen name (and she also squeezed in some self-publishing tips).
Read Carole Wolfe’s latest novel for yourself.Click here to get your copy of My Best Decision.
Before we get to Carole’s interview, however, let’s explore some of the reasons authors might use a pen name instead of their real name. Later, Carole will share her personal reasons for deciding to use a pen name.
What IS a Pen Name?
A pen name is a fictitious name used in place of your legal name in your professional writing career.
There are several reasons to consider one. Privacy and writing in different genres are the top reasons.
I’ve also heard of writers using them if their real name is hard to pronounce, if it’s too close to another author’s, or if they think their name doesn’t “fit” with their genre.
Escaping prejudices of various forms is unfortunately still one of the most common reasons to use a pen name. Some female authors, like me, even considered using a pen name because they are writing in a “male” genre. Ultimately, I decided everyone can just deal with that fact and I use my real name.
Changing Your Name and Building Your Brand
Changing your name, or coming up with a fake name for your author brand, is a personal choice. There isn’t really a right or wrong to this—unless you share a name with a well known author, and coming up with a new name will avoid confusing your ideal readership.
If you do decide to use a pen name for your book publishing career, it might be because your name is a common name, you’d like to keep your true identity private, you’d like to separate you writing life from your day job, or maybe you want to try writing in a different genre after a successful career publishing another genre (like J.K. Rowling when she wants to write beyond the Harry Potter series).
Regardless of if you choose to write under a pen name or not, one thing is certain: it’s very important that you build your author brand around that name.
In today’s digital age, this means accomplishing tasks like acquiring and maintaining a domain name related to your pen name.
And while publishing under a pen name won’t necessarily mean that your readers won’t figure out your real identity, it will probably give you space between the two.
For instance, Stephen King has published several books outside the horror genre as Richard Bachman. People know Bachman is King, but not every reader does. And even if people do know Bachman’s real identity, the horror genre expectations in KIng’s books aren’t expected in Bachman’s.
Ultimately, if you never want anyone to use your real name, use your pen name in all professional circumstances, including book signings or podcast interviews. If you don’t mind having your real name used in some situations, you can consider using your real name in these situations.
It’s really up to you and how much space you want between your professional and personal life.
Now that we’re on the same page, let’s chat with Carole about her books and her decision to use a pen name.
Meet Carole Wolfe
Carole Wolfe started telling stories in the third grade and hasn’t stopped since. While she no longer illustrates her stories with crayon, Carole still uses her words to help readers escape the daily hiccups of life. Her debut novella, The Best Mistake, follows a single mom as she stumbles through one mishap after another.
When Carole isn’t writing, she is a stay-at-home mom to three busy kiddos, a traveling husband, and a dog who thinks she is a cat. Carole enjoys running at a leisurely pace, crocheting baby blankets for charity, and drinking wine when she can find the time. She and her family live in Texas.
She’s ALL OVER social media, but you can connect with her profiles (and get a free story!) via her website.
Get to Know Carole’s Work
So happy to be here! I’ve been hanging around The Write Practice for more than four years and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned.
My Best Decision follows Sara Shaw, a dependable attorney who excels at her job, but tends to let her family stress her out. Her OCD tendencies get the better of her when the floozy who stole her sister’s husband stirs up trouble. Sara jeopardizes her stable reputation by leaping before looking, then has to figure out how to redeem herself to a handsome new attorney who shows up in town. She has to decide if she’s going to strike out on her own, or stick around playing the loyal hometown girl.
The My Best series is women’s fiction that will make you smile. The light-hearted books are meant to be quick reads that let the reader escape from the daily grind. It’s the journey of how the characters deal with the daily hiccups in life with a little bit of romance and some laughs thrown in along the way.
Why use a pen name?
You use a pseudonym in your writing. I often get questions from authors about using pen names. Some newer writers think it’s a requirement to be a writer, which isn’t true. Though there are plenty of reasons to go with one. Why did you decide to write under a pseudonym?
While it’s not a requirement, there are lots of good reasons to use a pseudonym. I chose to use one for several reasons.
My real name is pretty common and there are already a few writers with the same name. The pseudonym offers some separation between my real life and my writing life. I have the flexibility to add a pen name if I decide to change genres.
And quite frankly, it’s fun to become someone else!
Choosing a pen name takes some thought
How did you go about choosing your pen name?
My pen name is in memory of my grandmother. She died long before I published anything, but she was always telling people I would be famous someday. Not sure I need to be famous, but I appreciate her support and belief in me!
Side note: It’s good to think about a pen name for a while before you select one. Consider the genre you are writing in and how easy the name is to spell.
While I love my pen name, I didn’t consider that Wolfe might not be the best name for women’s fiction. It isn’t as upbeat of a name like Goodwin or Sweet. And I selected names that can be spelled different ways. I’m always telling people it is Carole with an e!
On living a “double life”
I think the biggest issue surrounding pen names is how much to use the name itself. Here at The Write Practice, we normally tell folks to use their pen name in everything they do publicly. Basically, live under your pen name. Do you do that? Do you mind if people know your real name? Is it hard keeping your real name and your pen name separate?
That is great advice, and I wish I had done that from the beginning. I didn’t choose a pen name until after I started with The Write Practice so you will find me by my real name in the Pro workshops.
Outside of The Write Practice, I do “live under my pen name.” I have a separate email address and social media accounts for my pen name, and obviously my author website reflects my pen name. I keep my real self out of my pen name’s way as much as possible. I don’t mind people knowing my real name, but for marketing purposes, it is important to keep consistent.
It takes some planning to keep things separate, but it isn’t that hard. It took me a month or two to get used to signing emails with my pen name, but after that, it was pretty normal.
Things get slightly more complicated if you have multiple pen names and maintain the websites and social media accounts that go along with each name. Before you set up multiple pen names, make sure you consider why you are doing it. It is possible to use the same pen name in different, related genres like action and thrillers, but if you branch out from romance to write horror, then a second pen name is warranted.
Carole’s self-publishing journey
You’ve self-published two books now and have a free short story up on your website. Can you tell me a bit about your self-publishing journey? Why did you decide to go with self-publishing and how has it been for you so far?
I’ve always wanted to be a published author and originally thought traditional publishing was the only way to go. I quickly realized I didn’t have the patience or inclination to wait for someone to pick me. So I followed Seth Godin’s advice and picked myself.
Once I made the decision to self-publish, it has been a slow, but steady journey. Just like everyone else, I have a family and other obligations so I don’t get to spend as much time on writing as I would like. I do make sure I do something writing-related every day, even if it is only for a few minutes.
One key thing for me has been to set annual writing goals and revisit them regularly, at least once a month. I don’t accomplish everything I set out to do, but they give me focus and something to work toward daily, weekly, and monthly.
What’s your top self-publishing tip?
Keep good notes. I have a master document that contains things like ISBN numbers, pricing information, keywords, and print format sizes. You won’t remember all of this stuff and you need it more often than you realize. So write it down, print it out and back it up!
On the balancing act of the self-published writer
How much time do you devote to marketing, website maintenance, etc. (all the things that go with self-publishing)? How do you balance that with writing?
I write before I do anything else. Whatever my goal is for the day (a specific word count, a draft of a chapter, etc.), I make sure that gets done prior to any other self-publishing activities. Not only do I prefer to write, I know that I don’t have anything to market if the words don’t get written. Writing time varies from thirty minutes to a couple of hours on a good day!
As far as all the things that go into self-publishing, I designate specific blocks for my activities. I spend a couple of hours on Sundays creating and monitoring ads as well as writing blog posts and newsletters. On Thursdays, I take an hour to post and reply to social media. I reserve thirty minutes on Fridays for financial matters (i.e. paying bills).
Unless I am launching a book or changing out content on my website, I spend an hour or so a month on website maintenance. That being said, I spent eight hours this last weekend adding new forms and changing out books and files for a new email automation series.
Other things—like working with a designer for a book cover, a narrator on the audiobook, or an editor on developmental or copy editing—take time, but that time is usually spread out over the course of a few weeks.
Around launch time, I spend a lot of time formatting and uploading the books for publication. I use Vellum, which is simple to use, but it does take time to check and double-check formatting.
Then it takes time to upload all of the different files to the various retailers. I am wide and I use Draft2Digital as an aggregator, but I still spend the better part of a workday uploading covers and files to Amazon, Kobo, Ingram Spark, and Google. A soothing music soundtrack playing in the background is key for that!
Final writing tips
Any other writing tips you’d like to share?
First, keep writing, even on days when nothing seems to work.
Second, cultivate friendships with other writers. The writers here in The Write Practice are amazing and I am fortunate to call many of them friends. I trust them to give me feedback and tell me when I mess up—which I do with regularity.
Writing is an individual activity, but it is much more fun and far easier when you have friends who can help you.
Choose Your Pen Name Wisely
Should you use a pen name? If you’re seriously considering a pen name, take your time to think it over. Choosing a pseudonym isn’t something to be taken lightly.
Once you have your professional name established it’s going to be really hard to switch to a different name if you suddenly decide you don’t like it anymore. And remember, as Carole said, you have to “live” under that name a lot of the time, so you’d better like it!
Have you ever considered a pen name? What name would you choose and why? Let me know in the comments!
For today’s practice, set a timer for fifteen minutes and write on the following prompt:
The name of a coworker you’ve been working with for years isn’t actually their name. How do you find out? How do you feel about it? Why is this person going by a different identity?
Don’t forget to share your writing in the comments. And give some love to your fellow writers by commenting on their writing!