Today we are going to talk about a somewhat touchy subject. The pen name. Before anyone gets in a fluff, understand two things. First, I’m on your side. Secondly, this is only a decision you can make. My goal here is to make sure you guys are making educated business decisions. Thus, I won’t stop anyone from having a pen name, but about 95% of the time? It’s unnecessary.
In my opinion? Pen names are more hassle than they are worth and they’re a fast way to land in Crazyville. Pen names used to offer benefits, but most of those benefits have evaporated because the world is digital and connected. In fact, pen names can actually hurt book sales and stall a platform and brand.
Let’s look at some of the advantages pen names used to offer that no longer exist.
I Need a Pen Name for PRIVACY
Here’s the thing. We are in The Digital Age. Privacy is an illusion. In fact, be too private and we fail to connect emotionally with others and thus the platform and brand never gain traction. Social media is social and being social requires a certain level of vulnerability and openness.
One of my bugaboos is when writers tell me they just want to write or they just want to sell books. They don’t want to *shivers* talk to anyone. This is a personal choice. I can’t require anyone to be sociable, but in a world where readers are being deluged with a gazillion choices, they are going to gravitate to who they know and who they like.
And, to be blunt, we are expecting people to part with money and precious time they don’t have to read our books. It takes an average of 12-15 hours to read a novel. We are asking a lot of others. The very least we can do is talk to them and have a good attitude about it.
Being open and vulnerable doesn’t mean we post our Social Security Number and the names of all our kids. It can be something as simple as, “Hey, I totally dig Star Wars” or “I like to crochet weapons of mass destruction.”
But some writers don’t want to do social media at all or they want to hide behind a pen name and only post “writerly things” or “BUY MY BOOK!” because, yeah, that is SUPER creative and we don’t already get enough of that *rolls eyes*. They don’t want to share anything personal and the pen name is there to help them gain emotional distance and keep their “lives separate.”
The problem with this thinking is that, in The Digital Age, WE ARE THE BRAND.
Before The Digital Age, gatekeepers stemmed the number of books that came to market. Readers only could buy what they discovered browsing a bookstore. Now that there are millions of titles and more being added every day? Those habits and hobbies no one cared about in 1995 are what’s going to help us cultivate our readership.
When we try to separate our personal persona from our writing persona, we create layers of friction and a lot of extra work for those trying to discover our books. This means we can inadvertently undermine our own success seeking the illusion of anonymity/privacy.
A lot of writers complain to me that they don’t want to post things everyone else can see. Problem with that is it is TOO EASY to lose control of information posted on the Internet. Thus, my personal rule? If my mom can’t see it, I don’t post it.
I Need a Pen Name to HIDE
Erotica authors generally run into this problem. If what you write might cost you your job? Then yes, I agree a pen name is probably a good idea. It will be extra work, but y’all probably already knew that. What I DON’T like is often writers believe that just using another name is enough.
First, if you require a pen name for safety, security, etc. hire a pro. I recommend The Digital Dark Knight Jay Donovan at Tech Surgeons. Tell him I sent you and he will give you special rates. If we are just creating social sites under a made up name and thinking this keeps us “safe”? This is akin to locking the screen door to keep out serial killers.
If someone is motivated to find us, they can (unless you hire a pro like Jay).
You will probably have to look into the legal aspects of using another name and will likely require a DBA (Doing Business As) because, if you have any amount of success, you will need to be able to cash the check under another name, do taxes, etc.
It does me no good to use the pen name Fifi Fluffernutter because I want to hide that I write erotica, but then someone goes to buy a book and can only make out the check to Kristen Lamb 😉 .
Also, I will say that having to hide an identity is very stressful. Sites like Facebook use facial recognition software for tagging photos and then those photos are searchable. All it takes is a friend carelessly posting a photo and tagging with the wrong name to implode a carefully crafted alter ego.
There are rumors that Google is wanting to acquire Twitter, meaning every tweet would be cached and searchable. As more social networks communicate across platforms and search engines become more ingrained and more advanced, hiding will get harder and harder.
I Need a Pen Name for Each Genre
NO! For the love of all that is chocolate, NO!
Remember, WE ARE THE BRAND. You guys come to my blog and trust I will work hard and deliver enjoyable content. This means when I have a book out, there is less work or thinking on your part. You know me, hopefully like me and you trust my work.
My name holds a lot of power because it promises to deliver content you enjoy. I write social media books, but I also…wait for it…write fiction.
Did anyone’s reality just fracture?
People “get” we do more than one thing. In fact, those who like my blogs or social media books, might just decide to read my fiction simply because they already trust my non-fiction. With SO many choices out there, we find a writer we like and stick like glue. We don’t want the hassle of trying and testing an unknown.
Readers don’t only read one genre. In fact, I think that is probably fairly rare. When I look at my bookshelves, I have almost every genre. If nothing else, we will at least enjoy the kissing cousins. Suspense readers will also dip into thrillers or mysteries.
When we use a pen name for another genre, we are back at Ground Zero. We have to build another name without any help from the already existing platform. Right now, I’m finishing a sci-fi trilogy. When that sucker goes to market? I am NOT motivated enough to start ALL OVER. If my followers don’t like science fiction? Don’t buy it. Simple. But, there may be people who might just try a science fiction because it is written by me 😉 .
It Doesn’t Take Much to Implode an Identity
A couple days ago, I had an author whose agent recommended that he use a pen name for his new books that are General Fiction and not Christian Fiction. My argument is that many Christians do read outside of Christian Fiction and thus the pen name would cost him the following he already had for four other books.
He countered that they didn’t want the haters who would be upset that this wasn’t Christian Fiction and that these stories were grittier. But my problem is this.
It only takes ONE.
It only takes one troll putting two and two together to dismantle all that work to craft a new identity. Thus, he could potentially cost himself a LOT of readers who are smart enough to realize that General Fiction is NOT religious and who would have read the books anyway to make a small group of people happy (people who are likely never going to be happy anyway).
In the end, it is the author’s decision and this might be a good case for a pen name, but note that it WILL be extra work with almost no support from the existing fan base structure.
Another writer was using a pen name because her family is less than supportive and they trolled her other sites when she tried to use her real name. Again, the problem is this. What if she becomes successful and crazy family member figures out the pen name and starts trolling the site? Eventually this writer will have to put down a boundary.
Troll my site one more time and you will die in a tragic blow-up doll accident in my next novel.
She is costing herself a TON of extra work to cater to a handful of bullies. She’s losing all those close connections–schoolmates, college friends, colleagues, etc.—who actually will be her best word of mouth sales. I have people who didn’t say three words to me in high school who are now avid fans because I’m the writer they KNOW.
I Need a Pen Name Because My Name is Too Hard to Pronounce or Spell
NO! That name no one has gotten right since you were a kid is now your digital BFF. If you don’t believe me? Google Janet Evonnivich.
I see authors with AWESOME names for the Digital Age change it to something utterly forgettable. If your name is Skjolsvik, I don’t have to know how to pronounce it, I just have to be able to recognize it in a lineup. Also, all I have to remember is it starts with Skj—. Search engines will correct me if I goof it.
I Need a Pen Name Because There is Another Person With My Name
Again, search engines can help with this. Do y’all really think I am the ONLY Kristen Lamb? When I decided to set aside fiction to become the social media expert for writers, I began by googling my name. There was another Kristen Lamb who happens to be a media mogul. I called her and told her, “There could be only one.”
She thought I was kidding 😀 .
Actually, I DID call and I DID say that because I’m a nut, but she IS a Kristen Lamb and ergo super fun and cool and we actually talked for about an hour.
But by producing a LOT of content and properly tagging that content, I now dominate the search for my name. And, even if I didn’t? If someone knows they are searching my name for social media and they get Kristen Lamb the Cake Decorator, all they have to do is add the words “social media” to narrow the search.
I Need a Pen Name Because Using My Name is Pretentious
I hear new writers say this a lot. Why would anyone care what I have to say? They don’t. When I was new, they didn’t care what I had to say, either. Being a writer is fundamentally pretentious and even narcissistic. We have to believe we have something to say that is worth not only reading, but PAYING to read.
Just own it.
And if we pan back, this entire argument is more than a tad ridiculous. So no one would care what Kristen Lamb has to say, but they WILL care what Kristen Lamb writing as an imaginary person and figment of my own imagination has to say? And that isn’t pretentious?
It is YOUR Decision
In the end, all I can do is give you branding and social media advice. Multiple names and pen names are a lot of work that is very often unnecessary. I see writers do this same thing with multiple blogs.
I blog about writing but I also blog movie reviews and funny anecdotes. What if my followers who like my writing posts don’t like kitten stories?
Um, they don’t read your post that day?
I write thrillers, but I also write cozy romance. What if my readers don’t like cozy romance?
Um, they don’t buy them?
If you require a pen name for safety issues, legal issues or even because it could endanger your job? TALK TO JAY. The rest of us? Our time is better spent writing more books 😉 .
What are your thoughts? Questions? Experiences? Do you have a pen name and love it? How do you manage that pen name without going cray-cray? Did you start out with a pen name and now you regret it? Do you have multiple names you now need to merge? I can actually blog about ways to do that another time.
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.
I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form 😀 .
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.
#1 by Elissaveta on April 9, 2015 - 12:51 pm
Fantastic post! I have sometimes wondered if it was worth considering a pen name but all my worries are now gone. I am not ashamed or afraid of what I have to say and don’t feel the need to hide behind a made-up name. Heck, I’m actually quite proud of what I’ve achieved (or rather working towards), why would I not give myself the credit?
Thanks again for your insight, I shall be back for more great advice and tips 🙂
#2 by KC Grifant on April 9, 2015 - 12:51 pm
Thanks for your blog post. I use a sort of half pen name (much shorter version of my full name) to distinguish my recently emerging fiction from my long history of nonfiction journal and magazine articles because I don’t want potential new clients to get confused. What are your thoughts on this?
#3 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:13 pm
I think people are smart. Give them credit. Would this confuse you? Really? People know we do more than one thing. They can modify the search terms to accommodate. You are costing yourself a LOT of extra work to brain-hold a digital generation that really isn’t all that easily confused.
#4 by Daven Anderson on April 9, 2015 - 12:53 pm
As much as some might wish to romanticize the days of J.D. Salinger (ie. “I write it, you read it, now leave me alone.”), you really nailed it here about WHY pen names are useless in today’s world. Except, of course, when I’ll write pseudonymous fan fiction for my own books, just to have everyone say I’m wrong…. 😈
#5 by Marlena H. on April 16, 2015 - 5:39 pm
That cracks me up. Sometimes I want to write fanfics of my stories, because I want to play with ideas that are counter to what I have decided I am going to do with them. I am currently working on urban fantasy, so we’re talking counter to the laws of the (series) universe type stories. Of course if I did that, I’d have to invent an entirely different user name for fanfiction.net (you know at some point after the main series is published and I convince fanfiction.net to put my series up as an option, because I would love to see fanfiction of my works . . . of course I’m not sure if I’d be allowed to read it or not, but even just knowing it exists would be awesome), because it’s easy to connect my user name with my real name. Most likely what I’ll do is any of that type of story I use as opt-ins for my mailing list or have as free downloads to an “alternate version” of the universe.
#6 by Andrew on April 9, 2015 - 12:53 pm
I barely remember my own name. If I created a pen name, I’d likely forget it in a few days and start wondering why I am getting email for someone named, “Fifi Fluffernutter”
#7 by Darke Conteur on April 9, 2015 - 12:54 pm
I use a pen name for a reason you didn’t mention; marketabiltiy (wait…is that a word?). When people read my books and want to look me up, all they have to do is type in my name and BANG all links that appear in the search can be linked back to me. Yes, my real name was shared with an actress and a bridal boutique, but I don’t want people having to scroll through pages to find me. I want their search to be as easy as pie. (Mmmmmmm…..pie…..)
#8 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:11 pm
But again, they can add author or writer to the search. I’m not in the business of too much brain-holding. But in the end, it is more work. If you are up for it? Rock on! Me? I am lazy 🙂
#9 by Darke Conteur on April 9, 2015 - 2:12 pm
I love a challenge. 😀
#10 by Melinda Primrose on April 9, 2015 - 12:56 pm
Love the advice. I do have a question. In the mystery genre, it has been my experience that grittier mysteries are written more by men and cozy mysteries more by women. I prefer the grittier mysteries for reading and writing. Would I be better off writing under a male pen name so readers won’t think my gritties are really cozies and get upset? Also, again, my experience is that women mystery writers are more likely to include a romance. I don’t plan on including a romance.
Please don’t all point out the authors that disprove my statements. I am well aware that not all mysteries are written down gender lines. These are just generalizations based off of my own personal experience.
Any thoughts on whether or not to use a pen name would be greatly appreciated however!
#11 by Lanette Kauten on April 9, 2015 - 1:00 pm
I’m sure you’ve thought of this already, but it would be a simple thing to call yourself Mel.
#12 by Matt Black on April 9, 2015 - 1:07 pm
Being a big mystery reader, unless I am already familiar with the author, I don’t really even take the name/gender into account when I decide whether or not to purchase the book. I’d say you don’t really need to use one. (but, as Kristen said, it’s your decision 🙂
#13 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:09 pm
I think it is pretty hard to hide our gender using social media. It’s a pain. If they get upset because they were too dumb to read the book jacket and merely assumed your book with have romance and kittens because you are a girl? Really. Use your name. It actually can work in your favor because you are an anomaly.
#14 by Lanette Kauten on April 9, 2015 - 12:59 pm
I have a pen name, but I think you already know that. 🙂 My grandpa emigrated from Hungary before WWI, which was not a good time to be from Hungary, so he changed his last name. I use his original surname as my pen name as a way of connecting with my family’s origins. Besides, Kauten is more memorable than Harris.
I have also branded myself with that name. My book (soon to be books) and all social media, except FaceBook, is under my pen name.
#15 by Susan Delaney on April 9, 2015 - 1:02 pm
It worked for J. K. Rowling and P. D. James to use their real names in initial form to make it unclear as to whether they were male or female writer.
#16 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:05 pm
That doesn’t really matter anymore. But even then. I could use K.R. Lamb and I am still no reinventing an entirely new identity. I’m lazy 🙂
#17 by Marlena H. on April 16, 2015 - 5:45 pm
I hear you. Harris is not the most memorable last name, which is why my first name is a lot less common. When I was thinking of using a pen name (I have since discarded the idea, because I simply love my name). I considered using some of the last names in my family tree. Kauten is a cool sounding last name and its an awesome way to honor your grandpa.
#18 by Susan Delaney on April 9, 2015 - 1:00 pm
My first novel was traditionally published and my publisher ASSIGNED me a pen name (I had SO much wanted to see my own name on my book’s cover!). I have stayed with it to bring any fans of that book along to my next book. My real name was on the copyright page for my first novel and is also on the copyright page for my second (self-published) novel (so much for secrecy, right?). I wish I had had the option of using my own name, but I’m stuck now with a pen name not of my own choosing.
#19 by Matt Black on April 9, 2015 - 1:10 pm
Wow that would have made me so mad!
#20 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:16 pm
Well, it is a pretty name. And in this instance, you didn’t make the decision. But you can probably attest to the extra workload and confusion.
#21 by Susan Delaney on April 9, 2015 - 1:32 pm
Agreed. Your advice to just use your own name is terrific!
#22 by Susan Delaney on April 9, 2015 - 1:35 pm
Do you think I should change over to my own name? I have one Penguin-published novel and one self-published novel out there now, with two more novels in the editing stage. The secondhand copies of my first novel would still be out there on amazon, so it might be confusing to have both versions/authors for the same book. Of course, Penguin made me change the title, too, so I suppose I could reissue Novel #1 under its original title (I have gotten the rights back), but that seems even MORE confusing/more work!
#23 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:38 pm
You won’t get royalties off secondhand books so just change everything over to your name. I’d just reissue it under the name you want to use. Make life easier, LOL.
#24 by Susan Delaney on April 9, 2015 - 2:13 pm
#25 by Marlena H. on April 16, 2015 - 5:57 pm
I’ve seen the authors of some of the books I have copies of change the names on the cover. I haven’t looked into it, but I assume they went from pen name under their big name publisher to real name under self publishing. That didn’t mess with my head so much as the ones that changed the book title. Of course the ones that changed the author name and the book title really messed with me. The specific series I am thinking of (and there are several I’ve come across) was initially published under Zebra Ballads (which as a lover of series, the promise of every book having at least one other connecting to it was very welcome) and is called “The Hope Chest Series.” There are five books in the series. All five have new titles (the new titles work, but make for problems if you are looking for them) and two of the five authors are using different names than those initially used. The only reason I found them at all, was because I was going through my list of authors who wrote for Zebra Ballads and ran into one of them that hadn’t changed her name and thus found the series. I love the series and in my opinion it is one book short, but I don’t expect to ever see that book written.
Anyway, my point is go ahead and change you name on your first two books, but please, for your readers sake, don’t change the title. Or if you do, make it a big deal. Make a blog post saying, “I have a reissue coming out. It was originally titled Book A, but the title Book fits it even better.”
#26 by fireofnorea on April 9, 2015 - 1:00 pm
Thanks for this. There was a point when I considered a pen name, concerned about “trolls” and my family’s anonymity…then I decided I’m not important enough to have trolls and never will be unless I’m brave enough to stand by what I think is important.
#27 by Susan Delaney on April 9, 2015 - 1:48 pm
#28 by Susan Delaney on April 9, 2015 - 2:13 pm
Posted in the wrong place. Sorry!
#29 by Matt Black on April 9, 2015 - 1:04 pm
Excellent article, Kristen, thank you. Just to add my two cents, I use a pen name for the *hiding* purposes. Not so much to be hidden, but so a search for my real name for professional purposes doesn’t immediately pull up several stories with violence and harsh language. This was at the request of my employer when I first began posting my stories online. I don’t find it too difficult to deal with, especially since there is no “alternate identity” just a few less filters on all accounts under my pen name (at this point, twitter, gmail, ello, blogger, tumblr are all under my penname).
P.S. what is the “gold level” for the antagonist class?
#30 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:15 pm
Gold Level is one-on-one time/consulting with me. It is WAY more cost and time-effective than a full copy edit. We just make sure your plot and story are sound, fix any problems, plot if you need it.
And yes, like I said, if you need a pen name because of your JOB? Then sure. Pen name. But too many writers make a LOT of extra work for no real good reason.
#31 by Matt Black on April 9, 2015 - 1:37 pm
Wow that sounds excellent. Unfortunately, I don’t have a completed manuscript, and at this point the whole thing will need substantial rewrites once I have finished my draft. Will you be offering this again in the future?
#32 by Desiree on April 12, 2015 - 7:42 am
I chose to use my middle name as my pen name for basically the same reason. I’m well known in my professional circles, and I’m not really hiding behind a pen name but by using my middle name I’m creating a distinction between my work Life in quotations and my fiction world. Great post.
#33 by Mike Billington on April 9, 2015 - 1:06 pm
Hi – there once was a time when I thought my name was unique but then I learned there was a British actor (since deceased), a noted British theater critic and a guy who once worked for an off-the-wall presidential candidate with it… that was something of a dilemma for a minute or two but then I figured, as you correctly pointed out, in this anti-privacy age folks will figure it out. Thanks for posting this.
#34 by Russell J. Fellows on April 9, 2015 - 1:09 pm
More good advice. I had thought about a Pen Name – more for the privacy side (not as drastic as you had mentioned, but some level). I thought it would be too much of a hassle, though. Now that I read over your thoughts on it, I’m glad I didn’t. It’s true, if someone really wanted to find out things about me, they’d find it.
#35 by annerallen on April 9, 2015 - 1:14 pm
Preach it, Kristen! Pen names mean you have to work a lot harder. You can brand your books with your cover art and blurbs. You don’t have to do it with multiple pen names. The only time it’s necessary is if you write erotica and something wildly different like Christian YA. Thanks for this post! Sharing.
#36 by stephenandrewbooks on April 9, 2015 - 1:14 pm
Reblogged this on Stephen Andrew and commented:
this is some thought-provoking stuff no matter where you’re at in the writing game
#37 by dkbunnell on April 9, 2015 - 1:17 pm
i happen to have potentially legal issues with my writing, but on the advice of legal counsel, for my original hardback, I created all fictional characters, a fictional setting of the story, and kept my real name. Just a couple weeks ago, I released an e-book version of the original “novel inspired by – not based on – a true story,” and have reclassified it as fictional memoir, a legitimate genre with the likes of Hemingway’s True at First Light included.
Knock on wood, no backlash yet – except at one book store reading in an unnamed city, several of the attendees who were associated with my real life nemesis called my book wicked and evil and pressured the bookstore owner to take it off the shelf. Of course the bookstore refused. An attempt at banning my book – ha! I felt like I was right up there with the literary greats! Plus, it got me a reading gig the following fall at a “Banned Books Week” event that a local library hosted.
#38 by Glynis Jolly on April 10, 2015 - 8:19 am
This is what I’m worried about. Although I change the names and places in the story I’m writing, parts of the story are reflecting real life of people I know. I don’t want the “backslash” effect. How I’m going to get past this is still unknown, especially after reading this post.
#39 by smwelles on April 9, 2015 - 1:20 pm
Okay, you’ve convinced me to ditch the pen name, but what do I do if I’ve been using a pen name for years? (My real name is Angela Macala-Guajardo, and yes no one can spell or pronounce it). Can I just change it on my preexisting books, or do I start fresh on the new stuff?
#40 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:24 pm
Change the covers. And your real name is WAY better for selling books. MUCH more memorable. Is your social media all built under the pen name? If it is, then you can ease people over. Just change the name and not the pic for a while. You can also put your new name and then in brackets an AKA for a spell.
#41 by smwelles on April 9, 2015 - 2:41 pm
Alright, thank you! Will do!
#42 by Niina on April 9, 2015 - 1:22 pm
Way before I began writing the story that I eventually published, I thought about using a pen name. I’m Finnish but write in English, and I wondered if people would be more likely to buy the book if the name sounded like someone who actually knew English. I did create a pen name but never used it anywhere. It was an easy decision in the end. I realized I wanted people to know they were reading my words, my stories. I wanted to be able to give my book to someone without having to explain them that yes, I wrote it even though it doesn’t have my name on it. And I have to admit it’s nice to hear about friends or relatives who tell me they found my book on their own just by using my name.
#43 by Graeme Smith on April 9, 2015 - 1:25 pm
Greetings, wise one and fair :-). Yes – sorry, it’s me again (blush).
I pondered this a lot before I put my name on the cover. Not because of any desire for anonimin… annomam…animan… er, not because I wanted to hide (blushes again). More because I wanted to, um, um, stop hiding. For example, I’ve never had an ex-directory phone number just because I feel anyone who wants to wade through all the G Smiths in the phone book and actually manages to find me probably deserves a medal :-). No, rather the opposite. I did more than one web search before I decided, and even with my (the Scottish) spelling of my first name I managed to come up with:
Graeme Smith: Then Captain of the South African cricket team – try and optimise your web page past _that_ one :-).
Graeme Smith: Soccer player, formerly for Rangers.
Graeme Smith: Then war correspondent for the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper, now award winning author (he wrote ‘The dogs are eating them now’ about his time in Afghanistan. Now _there’s_ a title 🙂 ).
Graeme Smith: The author of books about the history of Theatre in Glasgow.
There were more – but those were bad enough (for me – they are all very talented in their own right).
I finally decided to keep life easy. I’ve spent far too long in IT to think that establishing a second identity is anything like simple. and I have enough trouble remembering my own name sometimes, never mind other ones (I ain’t sayin’ I’se old, but there’s rocks round here called me granfer when they was mountains). Besides, to quote Mark Twain, ‘If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.’ So the only time I have a pen name is when I write the one I have with, um, a pen :-), and I don’t have to remember who I am when I get an email from a reader.
Of course, I’m an Idiot (blushes for the last time for this post – probably 🙂 ). I probably made the wrong call. If i may be so bold, both Lady Kristen and others here, what would you have done :-)?
#44 by maryblackhill on April 9, 2015 - 2:44 pm
Dear Graeme – I think I’m in love. You’re the only writer I’ve come across who uses as many parentheses as I and as many nested loops (there possibly aren’t any in here but I feel several could pop up without warning). Looking at this piece I see I need to up my charm ratio by using more smiley faces (turns round to face angry crowd: “you may hate ’em but some of us adore them!”). So – just thanks for posting your own warmth onto Kristen’s wonderful blog today and brightening my evening just a little.
#45 by Graeme Smith on April 9, 2015 - 5:34 pm
Greetings, wise one and fair :-)!
The good Lady Kristen is long in patience and great of heart, and has kindly tolerated my blether here from time to time – and so far she hasn’t set any hellhounds on my tail. Well, there was that thing at the Rickenbacker Falls, but it turned out neither of us could play the guitar (blush). So she let me off :-). In fact, after we got back to the hospital, and she’d dug the bullets out of me, we had some more tea in ER, and then we went Holmes!
Hmmm. I think I’m blethering even less sanely than usual – I’d apologise, but I probably wouldn’t mean it (blush 🙂 ).
And if I may, my greetings to St Neots also – ’tis a pretty place indeed! 🙂
#46 by MonaKarel on April 9, 2015 - 1:33 pm
When my first book came out I used a pen name for all sorts of silly reasons including nastiness in one of my other “lives” (nasty people in my dog show world…what a surprise!) Now I’m having to do some double duty to show people Monica writes as Mona. It is fun to talk about Mona in third persons (I’ll ask Mona what she’s working on)
At this point I can’t see going back to my ‘real’ name for writing.
#47 by Kait Nolan on April 9, 2015 - 1:34 pm
In my case, there is already another WRITER out there with my real name and she had snatched up all the digital real estate associated with it. Plus it was finally the chance to give myself the name I always wanted 😀 It does keep a thin veil between real life and writer life, and I like that. I’m not deluded enough to think that someone determined couldn’t figure it out and my world won’t stop if people from work eventually find out I write romance (though, I work in academia, so that feels very weird when it happens because…there are a lot of romance haters in the pretentiousness of academia, which is awkward because I’m a helluva lot prouder of the romance than the research).
#48 by sknicholls on April 9, 2015 - 1:42 pm
I agree with most everything you have said. I’m not concerned about anonymity, but I would like to make it easier for readers to associate a variation of my name in order to better identify with their preferred reading. I used S.K. Nicholls for a literary fiction historical novel. I’ve been writing crime novels that are not yet published and I’m thinking, when I’m ready, I might use Susan Nicholls, my middle name Carol (or C.K. Nicholls), or even my husband’s middle name, Dymas, to publish these titles. I don’t want readers expecting historical stories to purchase a crime novel or a psycho thriller and be disappointed. I’ve read lots of Amazon reviews and see that as a common complaint against people who publish under the same name for a variety of genre. I simply want to avoid confusion.
#49 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:48 pm
People are GOING TO COMPLAIN. If people can’t tell what genre a book is by the cover, title, book description AND sample pages? They are TOO DUMB TO LIVE. Why make a crapload of extra work for yourself to cater to people with the intellect of a garden slug? If they can’t follow instructions or use their brains, that isn’t our fault. Just pick the name you want to use. People will gripe. They will gripe they were confused or that you had three typos or that they don’t like the color of the cover. So just roll with it 😉
You are using all these different names to NOT confuse a handful of people who don’t want to use their heads for something other than a hatrack, while at the same time having ALL these other names that WILL confuse people who can pay attention. If I LIKE your historical and see a literary? I might try it. Every time we switch up the name that is a potentially lost sale. But that’s my two cents.
#50 by AndreaJWenger on April 10, 2015 - 1:41 pm
It’s not your job to make life easier for people who don’t want to read your books. It’s good marketing to make life easier for people who DO want to read your books.
#51 by Elle Knowles on April 9, 2015 - 1:42 pm
I kinda-sorta use a pen name. I spell out the first letter of my first name – L – and use my maiden name as my pen’s last name. Why? I don’t know. I just decided that is what I wanted to do and so far, so good. I also do all my social media pertaining to my writing as Elle Knowles – Twitter, Facebook, google, etc. I did notice a few comments up in the que you suggested easing people over to a new name. So, now you have me re-thinking things Kristin ~Elle
#52 by Icy Sedgwick (@IcySedgwick) on April 9, 2015 - 1:47 pm
It doesn’t take a massive stretch of the imagination to realise my real first name isn’t Icy 😉 That said, it is a nickname that stuck in about 2003, so when I started submitting short stories, I used it because I thought it sounded cooler. When they started getting accepted, I just ran with it. Being a bit weird anyway means I can get away with it and no one thinks twice about calling me Icy in real life, so I suppose it isn’t really a hassle – plus I have no issues signing contracts and so on with my real first name so it’s not that big of a deal for me. I can see why pen names aren’t always the best idea, but I suppose if you use a name you go by anyway then there’s not much of an issue. Then again, like Kait, I write academically as well and it is easier to have fiction under my nickname, and academic work under my real first name. Either way, no one can spell my surname right >.<
#53 by lynettemirie on April 9, 2015 - 1:50 pm
I decided to use my own first and middle name with any last name. Do you anticipate any problems with that?
#54 by lynettemirie on April 9, 2015 - 1:51 pm
I mean without any last name.
#55 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 1:59 pm
It will be extra work but maybe not as bad a load as a wholly new name. Most people remember us with surnames, so you might lose out on those close contacts.
#56 by lynettemirie on April 9, 2015 - 2:05 pm
I’m okay with that. I’m starting from scratch with social media anyway – I got a late start.
#57 by kawaneehamilton on April 9, 2015 - 1:53 pm
Great article, great points…. but I have a Pen name… for a few reasons: how do they rank?
1) it’s been my user name online since I got on line soooooo long ago. (1998) I have made lots of contacts using it.
2) I prefer and identify with my chosen Pen name and use it in real life many times. I have even considered changing my name legally.
3) I have strong political/religious/family views/discussions posted on my FB wall that FB now makes me use my real name on so I created a page for my writing where I still show my personality just without all the family/political/religious discussions.
4) I had a stalker and it is a security blanket
Can I keep it? 😛
#58 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 2:01 pm
I’d stay away from political/religious/social discussions unless you really like shutting down trolls ;). If you’ve already built it, should be okay. But a pen name is ALWAYS fine, it is just extra work. You now have two identities to maintain and hope your one won’t tank the other. You get big enough as an author and someone realizes (via images) that the “other you” is ranting? That could be bad juju.
#59 by kawaneehamilton on April 9, 2015 - 4:28 pm
Thank you for taking the time to answer 😀
True! I think… I’d delete my personal Facebook page first lol. Then maybe get a “pen name” for my real family…. LOL.
I keep in touch with family members I haven’t seen in years via facebook and sometimes… things have gotten heated. I only rant on family/friends pages… as I’m more open minded than they are.
#60 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 5:15 pm
I work to put NOTHING in writing that can be used against me, LOL. I scroll down FB and see something that gets my temperature up and have to tell myself, “You are NOT the Jackass Whisperer. You are NOT the Jackass Whisperer.”
#61 by newfsull on April 9, 2015 - 1:57 pm
I am a certified public accountant in addition to being a Fantasy writer. I was concerned that my clients would find it somewhat strange that their CPA was a Fantasy writer. What I have learned, which is perhaps a tad tainted by irony, is that my Fantasy readers might have trouble believing a CPA can write Fantasy.
I have decided let the gods figure it out. I am proud of my name, and I well prepared to take the good and the bad that comes from being who I am.
#62 by maryblackhill on April 9, 2015 - 2:49 pm
I was a chartered accountant. I write erotic romance. I do one a lot better than the other (guess which one) but it doesn’t yet pay as well. If I were still an accountant I wouldn’t dare use my real name!
#63 by newfsull on April 9, 2015 - 4:50 pm
Chartered accountant , ah Canada – yes, I am one too. If you passed that exam you are special. It is a bitch.
#64 by nancybrophy on April 9, 2015 - 2:10 pm
Kristen â Love this blog, would like to repost it on http://www.nancybrophy.com , but would prefer to have your permission first.
Plotting Your Story Arc, Workbook for Fiction Writers, Plotters and Pantsers
Shadow Men, book 1 â Hell On The Heart
The Wrong Brother
The Wrong Hero
#65 by stephenandrewbooks on April 9, 2015 - 2:14 pm
Awesome post, that’s really got me thinking about how best to build a writer’s platform for myself. I think when I first started writing, a pen name just seemed more cool or writerly or something. But you make some great points about why it is really over-complicating it, and perhaps even shooting oneself in the foot. Thanks for another great post!
#66 by Lilith Darville on April 9, 2015 - 2:30 pm
Thanks for the tip about Jay; much appreciated!
#67 by Jay Donovan on April 9, 2015 - 2:59 pm
*Waves hi.* 🙂
#68 by Lilith Darville on April 10, 2015 - 12:19 pm
Hey Jay – I’ve sent you two emails using the email address on your site. I’d like to chat with you. Could you contact me via my website: lilith.darville.com?
#69 by sharonhughson on April 9, 2015 - 2:34 pm
I didn’t really want to write romance, but I submitted a short story to an anthology on a whim and it was published. I used my initials rather than my name and yes, Goodreads high jacked my profile when I claimed my book. So my website is under my full stinking name and my only published work under S.L.
NOW I’m releasing an independently published Biblical fictionalization novella using the name you see on the screen. A short YA fantasy story is being considered for publication in an anthology, and I wanted to use Sharon Lee for my YA or fantasy titles. So it’s all my name – but not good, huh? I even read your advice about this name thing before and still went down this road.
Yep, I’d love to interact with my readers – assuming I have any and they can find S.L. I have been tagging my blog posts with that name since I was published, hoping it would help the search engines.
Thanks for reminding me I should just shave my head now so I won’t have to endure the pain of pulling my hair out by the roots.
#70 by Jay Donovan on April 9, 2015 - 2:57 pm
Hey Sharon, we can add other domains to your website – slhughson . com is available.
#71 by Jeanie Martin on April 9, 2015 - 2:46 pm
Before I published my first book, I asked others what they thought I should use as my official “author” name. Most said just to keep my own, but a few brought up the idea that male authors are taken more seriously than female, so I should just keep my first initial and last name. Or even change my name to Gene. But I write romantic thrillers, so…. I decided just to keep my real name. I’m glad I did. I’d like people who may be doubters from my past to be able to find me easily on the web. You know, from your last post–Yes, I’m a writer. No, really, here’s my info. 🙂
#72 by Henrietta Handy on April 9, 2015 - 2:51 pm
Thank you so much for this article! I am reblogging it on my site because I’ve been toying with a pen name for an occult piece because family members get up when they discover I write things other than fantasy or romance. I didn’t want to use a pen name, and now I am dead set against using one. Again, thanks.
#73 by gracebranniganauthor on April 9, 2015 - 2:51 pm
Excellent article. I use a pen name and all my books romance, YA and children’s books (shortly) are associated with it, plus All social media. Like it better than my real name and don’t intend to ditch it. Never tried to hide it either, my real name is on the copyright page. Only extra work really was DBA, a ten minute deal and $30 at local clerk’s office. 🙂
#74 by Henrietta Handy on April 9, 2015 - 2:52 pm
Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News and commented:
KMGN: As many of you know, I’ve been toying with the idea of a pen name. After reading this article I know I won’t be using one anytime soon. Hope this is helpful to you if you are in the throws of deciding on using one.
#75 by smwelles on April 9, 2015 - 2:52 pm
Reblogged this on Chronicles of a Nerd and commented:
Great advice I’m putting to immediate use!
#76 by gracebranniganauthor on April 9, 2015 - 2:53 pm
LOL, I also don’t have a problem answering to Grace. 🙂
#77 by drakes1 on April 9, 2015 - 2:56 pm
I personally think that if writing was going to rob me of my true identity then I would rather not write at all. Half the fun of writing is being able to express yourself for who you are. Share your thoughts and creative side and be proud of it. Great post Kristen! Thank you. Mark
#78 by maryblackhill on April 9, 2015 - 3:01 pm
Hi Mark: yes, agreed. To begin with I thought I would be ashamed of what I write (erotic romance) but now my attitude is “This is me: this is what I write. take it or leave it.” No masks, no pretence, no dark hidden alleyways. Bring on those trolls!
#79 by drakes1 on April 9, 2015 - 3:32 pm
And fair play to you too. Good for you. I am just starting out as an author so all this is relatively new to me but I won’t be hiding behind any pen name. Bring them on I agree! 🙂
#80 by maryblackhill on April 9, 2015 - 2:58 pm
Great post and it’s really got me thinking. As a pre-published writer I still have all my options open. Already I work in my day job under my maiden name while my passport/driving licence/health cards are in my married name and – yes – this causes problems sometimes. My mother requested that I use a pen name – I write erotic romance you see – (and even offered her own middle name for it – sweet of her), but I am already creating writing relationships on FB and Twitter using my married/real name – and quite frankly, I’m too lazy and disorganised to run two identities… Mind you – even this name is a mix of my maiden and married one as Blackhurst Hill is too damn long for most e-forms! So thank you Kristen – I think you may have just made my future life simpler.
#81 by Amy L Sauder on April 9, 2015 - 2:58 pm
When I started my blog, I discovered there’s an “Amy Sauder” in the same town as me who’s a photographer – with a decent, not world-famous or anything, but solid media presence. I didn’t want to go to the trouble of changing my actual name, but wanted to distinguish myself in some way for immediate recognition, so added my middle initial. Like you said, googlers can add “author” or “photographer” to find the right Amy Sauder, but I also wanted to have some distinct aspect when seen in the original search.
#82 by Elizabeth Hein on April 9, 2015 - 3:01 pm
Great discussion, Kristen. I’ve toyed with writing my mysteries under a pen name. The more I learn, the less I think I need to do so. If my women’s fiction readers aren’t interested in reading my other books, that’s okay. I will be clear in my marketing what the books are about.
#83 by annfoweraker on April 9, 2015 - 3:01 pm
Tricky one … I wanted to be me for my creative works and not a pen name, but my married name happens to be Murphy and I had already found that there were others in the poetry world, for instance, in which I also write, with whom I was getting confused when using that name. So I quickly moved to my maiden name Foweraker – which is both ‘me’ and much more recognisable and ‘unique’ as an author name (yes, people cannot always pronounce it correctly – but as long as they recognise it that’s all that matters) Explaining and linking my two names has also not been too difficult, even spreading the reach back to those who knew me way before I wed!
#84 by pontiuscominius on April 9, 2015 - 3:13 pm
(hides head with shame) I’m not really Pontius. But you all knew that.
No, wait, you all didn’t know that. You’re probably all saying, “Who is Pontius Cominius and why should I care?” Um, a guy commenting on here, obviously.
Fine, fine, I’ll go change it, Kristin, but only because you keep hammering “Your name is your brand” blah blah blah. *Sigh* I’m changing my name to James Patterson. Wonder if that’ll affect my sales? 😉
#85 by Matt Bowes on April 9, 2015 - 3:57 pm
There. Are you happy now? Yeah, it’s me. All along, it’s been me. https://pontiuscominius.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/stupid-kristin-grr-made-me-durn-it/
Now I can’t throw any more anonymous bombs into blog comments.
#86 by ccdenham on April 9, 2015 - 3:27 pm
Yeah, I use a pen name only because I am also self-employed as my “day job,” and I would hate for some Bible-belt potential piano tuning client to google my work name and find a bunch of erotica and snark. That’s the only reason for the separation. I am fairly transparent about that fact on my social media sites, though, with the exception that I avoid actually naming my day-job “real” name, because again: google searches.
I think also, though, it’s not *that* hard to juggle two different online personas. A lot of non-writer people I know do it, just to avoid flagging their work or family members with personal views that might be considered inappropriate for work and parental viewing. Of course someone could poke around and “uncover their secrets,” but I don’t know anyone who isn’t aware of that possibility. It’s just the difference between bitching to your friends and ranting out loud in front of your boss or parents.
#87 by Stephanie Scott on April 9, 2015 - 3:45 pm
Thank you! thank you thank you. I was just discussing the dilemma this very week. I was only considering using a pen name because of other writers with my name, but after reaching out to one, I found she is pulling those books and rebranding under her current pub name (unsure if it’s pen name or married name). I was stressing trying to figure out every other permutation of using my middle name, initials, and running into alternate domain names that were already taken. My husband talked me through it and helped me determine I want to publish as me, not another name. It’s very personal, I agree.
#88 by Matt Bowes on April 9, 2015 - 4:02 pm
I think “Stephanie Scott” would look splendid on a cover. In gold letters. With a red background, and then it’d be a romance novel… Scratch that. “Stephanie Scott” in bold, chiseled black letters with a sunrise behind a planet with a large looming ship on it. No…
It’d help if I knew the genre. But it’s a nice name for an author.
#89 by locustbean on April 9, 2015 - 3:45 pm
“So no one would care what Kristen Lamb has to say, but they WILL care what Kristen Lamb writing as an imaginary person and figment of my own imagination has to say?”
This tickled me, probably more than it should have. This never occurred to me, but is completely true. I haven’t published (other than poetry, several years ago), but have a person I send my drafts to for editing and feedback. She’s honest and gives her fairly unedited opinion and is grammar crazy. Even if I drive her crazy, she’s fairly attached the my imaginary friends 😉
#90 by Nichole McGhie on April 9, 2015 - 3:55 pm
What are your thoughts on someone using their initials with a last name? Is that actually a pen name?
#91 by Matt Bowes on April 9, 2015 - 4:07 pm
I don’t know Kristin’s thoughts, obviously, but I did a quick search and these came up:
E.B. White – Elwyn Brooks.
A.A. Milne – Alan Alexander Milne
C.S. Lewis – Clive Staples Lewis
H.G. Wells – Herbert George Wells
H.P. Lovecraft – Howard Phillips Lovecraft
J.D. Salinger – Jerome David Salinger
F. Scott Fitzgerald – Francis Scott Fitzgerald
S.E. Hinton – Susan Eloise Hinton
J.K. Rowling – Joanne Katherine Rowling
J.R.R. Tolkien – John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
Some of those, Hinton and Rowling, were done as initials so readers wouldn’t be biased to not choose the books due to the gender of the author.
#92 by elizasarahgraham on April 9, 2015 - 4:23 pm
How timely. I’ve written eight novels under a pen name, which I took in order to free me up creatively. It actually worked. Like wearing a mask, I was able to sit behind it and write freely. That was before I learned the importance of social media and it’s gotten me all tangled up since. Facebook, for instance. If I’m trying to reach old friends and acquaintances, they won’t know me by my pen name. If I reach out as my real name, they won’t know me as as my pen name. Round and round we go. Twitter. Ditto. I’ve just completed my ninth novel and I’d like to promote it under my real name, which essentially makes it my first novel, as far as readership goes.
So, I agree with you. Better to just stand up, own our work, and be who we are.
#93 by Jami Gold on April 9, 2015 - 4:33 pm
Whether we use a pen name or not is entirely up to us. I see lots of comments here essentially *asking* for Kristen’s permission to use a pen name, and I don’t like seeing that self-doubt. If using a pen name works for you, use it. You don’t need anyone’s permission.
If you’re on the fence, absolutely listen to what Kristen says about the pain-in-the-butt factor. But if you want one, even if just because using another name helps you step out of your introverted shell, then use one. 🙂
The point is to think through your author name with care because that’s going to be the basis of your brand.
#94 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 5:14 pm
Nope, if they want one? Get one! But I WILL say if they get wild and have a bunch of pen names they will have to ask me to help clean up the mess, LOL. Y’all can HAVE a pen name…just don’t get crazy 😀 .
#95 by Jami Gold on April 9, 2015 - 6:23 pm
Yep, and often that mess is because they didn’t think it through. 🙂
I can think of 100 good reasons to have a pen name. I can’t think of more than a handful of good reasons to have more than *one* pen name. LOL!
#96 by Brandon Rucker on April 9, 2015 - 4:55 pm
Excellent work on this subject, Kristen. So good it should be quite difficult for anyone to argue against it. For my own situation I may still build my romance/erotica pen name, but I’m now giving serious consideration to ditching my plan to use a YA pen name.
#97 by Solothefirst on April 9, 2015 - 5:18 pm
Reblogged this on Rambles, writing and amusing musings and commented:
Provokes thought, a terrific article you should read!
#98 by Heather on April 9, 2015 - 5:43 pm
Not so much pen name but married names. People can find me either way, so I’m not hiding, but it just distinguishes job me from writer me.
#99 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 9:39 pm
And in this case, it is not such a HUGE deviation that it causes too much hassle.
#100 by Matt Bowes on April 9, 2015 - 5:51 pm
I just want to point out for the record, Mrs. Lamb has a secret all her own. Take a look at her comments. Go ahead. There’s one above. See that? “Author Kristen Lamb”. Yep. I’m willing to bet you a bag of nickels that “Author” is NOT her first name!!!! THE PLOT THICKENS! We have discovered fraud! Call the authenticity police! Hysteria!
That’s actually pretty clever. Gets it out there from the get go. Maybe I’ll change my name to Author, too.
It’s inspiring! I’m going to go draft a dull work document, now.
#101 by Ann B Harrison on April 9, 2015 - 6:19 pm
My (then) publisher made me choose a pen name for my YA because my western books had sex in then. What a lot of work that was! When I attended a meeting with another publisher in 2012 she insisted all of her authors do as you are saying here, use the one name because of the same reasons. We are our brand. The way I get around the different genres is having them listed on separate pages on my web site so readers can clearly see what books are appropriate for younger readers. Readers are a lot cleverer than we give them credit for. Funny that.
#102 by Krysten Lindsay Hager on April 9, 2015 - 6:27 pm
Love this post. I had to include my middle name with my author name (Krysten Lindsay Hager) because there’s an actress named Kristen Hager and that got confusing on Twitter!
#103 by Eli Hinze on April 9, 2015 - 6:46 pm
Great post! And I agree with all of the above points. I myself use a pen name, but that’s simply because I HATE my given name. Hannah. Ugh. I’ve known 15 Hannahs in my life, one with even my exact same birthday! My pen name is derived from my middle name, and I might just change my name to Eli or Elise outright. That’d be funny to change one’s name to their pen name, now wouldn’t it? Haha
#104 by Lisanne Harrington on April 9, 2015 - 6:58 pm
I plan on using a sort of pen name. I always wanted to see my name on a published book, from the time I was little, so I’m using my maiden name (Lisanne Harrington) instead of my married name (Lisanne Cooper). But now I’m wondering if that will be a problem…Sigh. Too much stress!
#105 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 9:38 pm
Maiden name should be fine and less of a hassle than a created name. I just want y’all to sell lots of books and have time to write more 😉 .
#106 by Deborah Makarios on April 9, 2015 - 7:07 pm
What never fails to amaze me is that there is an American author named Jennifer Armentrout, and another American author named Jennifer Armintrout. Seriously! I mean, yes, memorable name, but not so handy if your potential reader goes home with the other Jennifer’s book, yes?
#107 by Jami Gold on April 9, 2015 - 7:30 pm
One writes YA and one writes adult. The adult one recently legally changed her name to Jenny Trout because it was such a pain to deal with.
#108 by Deborah Makarios on April 9, 2015 - 7:41 pm
I can imagine! I just hope there isn’t a Deborah Makarius lurking somewhere waiting to spring her writing upon the world!
#109 by bkraine on April 9, 2015 - 7:14 pm
I went the pen name route. While I am not overly concerned about clients and colleagues putting two and two together and coming up with my real name, I don’t want to market it for professional reasons. Agreed, it is a drag creating a whole new person digitally with a life and personality beyond “I write!” and “I have a book coming out soon!”
#110 by TamrahJo on April 9, 2015 - 8:06 pm
From the ‘background of day-job-in-law-enforcement’ I have to agree – who wants to waste all that time filling out the space located below every passport, tax return, background check?, labeled:
“Please disclose all aliases you have used in the past.”
#111 by timelessromantic1 on April 9, 2015 - 8:17 pm
Kristen, I found your points very interesting and tend to agree. I have one you didn’t cover, though. I am a retired elementary school teacher who writes adult historical romance and ALSO children’s interactive adventure. While the romances are not erotica, they are quite steamy. I thought it would be better to use a pen name so that parents don’t see one name on both and automatically go bonkers that I also write children’s books. I realize if anyone wanted to, they could figure out the two author names belong to the same person, but felt the parents would be more comfortable buying children’s books written under a different name. Your thoughts?
#112 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 9, 2015 - 9:36 pm
That is fine, but in this instance, you pretty much are aware that you will need two brands. I just try to make this writing thing easy as it can be on you guys, so if we DO have a pen name, we just need to know what we are in for. Also if we need that pen name for SAFETY or SECURITY, just using a different name alone is not enough.
#113 by Collette Cameron on April 9, 2015 - 8:54 pm
I had to grin a this post, Kristen.
I use a pen name, because I live in a small town and teach elementary school. Well, I only substitute now. Anyway, I was worried about parents’ reaction to their student’s teacher writing romance, so I opted to use my middle name and a family name.
Pretty much a waste of time because not only does everyone know the real me, my students go to the public library looking for my books. The librarian tells them the can’t check the books out.
My poor teacher friends are so confused, today one called me Collette at school.
#114 by lalouziane on April 9, 2015 - 9:44 pm
Another great article ! Actually I have a pen name so my husband won’t divorce me. 🙂
#115 by Author Mandy White on April 9, 2015 - 10:26 pm
I do have a pen name I use for erotica, but it’s not a huge secret. Anyone who knows me knows about my alter-ego, and it’s no danger to my job or anything else. I use the pen name to keep the x-rated stuff separate because naturally those books attract a different audience.
#116 by shegyes on April 9, 2015 - 10:43 pm
This is actually something I’ve been thinking about lately – a lot… I write YA/NA novels and have actually sent queries out for a couple of middle grade novels. However, I also write erotica. I’ve been wondering if maybe it would be good to publish the erotica under a pen name. I have noticed that there are a couple of parents who just buy every little thing their kid asks for. The last thing I need is an irate mother posting harsh reviews because their eight-year-old “accidentally” read my erotica… I’ve heard horror stories about such in the past.
Beyond that fact, I actually agree with your points. They are pretty much the reason I haven’t decided to go that route yet. 🙂
#117 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 10, 2015 - 8:47 am
But I DO recommend a pen name in that case, but make sure to do it properly to truly keep your identities separate.
#118 by Tymber Dalton on April 9, 2015 - 10:43 pm
Kristen, I love you…
In the romance/erotica genre, yes, it’s absolutely necessary for many writers to take a pen name. Teachers have lost jobs (as have others) because it was discovered what they wrote on the side, even though it had nothing to do with what they did in the classroom. It’s not as much of an issue for other genre fiction/non-fiction, but when you write romance or erotica, you definitely need that level of separation. And, actually, you can get your domain name registered with a privacy feature (costs a little more) and it doesn’t matter how you’re getting paid by the Zon, or Kobo, or B&N, or your publisher, because that info isn’t available to the general public. Yes, you can make the argument of piercing the corporate veil of an LLC and DBA, etc, but for the average person who is simply trying to evade basic detection because of a job situation, that’s usually enough. You can buy a cash pre-paid phone for the “business” number that’s not traceable back to you.
Obviously, creepy-town stalkers are a different matter.
And if someone wants to write romance/erotica, and then write mainstream, or even YA, yeah, they really do need another pen name. Especially in the case of YA books/
I started writing as Tymber because, at the time, Hubby was employed by a local county government and we weren’t sure if they’d have a problem with the “spicier” stuff Tymber wrote as opposed to “Lesli” (my real name). By the time we realized no, they didn’t care what I wrote, I’d already been published as both names. I do branch off with my self-pubbed stuff as Lesli (tamer and more mainstream) versus the erotica as Tymber.
It used to be (pre-KUapocalypse) that it helped a romance/erotica writer who was prolific to have different pen names. MM readers don’t always want to read MF, and MF readers don’t always want to read menage, and non-BDSM readers don’t always want to read BDSM, and people who don’t like paranormal…
It used to be a fairly standard piece of advice to writers who wrote in several different genres to keep them separate. I’m lucky that my readers were used to Tymber bouncing around erotica genres like a hypreactive squirrel on Red Bull.
But I know quite a few writers who became well-known for one thing, such as MM, and then when they tried to write something else, like MF or menage, it tanked. Because their brand had been cemented as MM.
Now, the more common advice post-KU is that yes, pick a name and stick with it, if you haven’t already established a “brand” for one thing. But there are quite a few established writers out there who do have separate and ongoing pen names based on romantic pairing or genre or whatever in romance/erotica.
Romance and erotica, frankly, are their own beast of a different color, The “rules” that apply to other genres (and I agree, if someone is writing more mainstream genre fiction they don’t need to juggle multiple pen names) don’t always translate over into Romlandia rules for writers. They just don’t. It’s how the industry evolved.
So there are still a lot of writers out there who do need to keep the “brands” separate because they’re firmly established. But the advice to newer writers to use one pen name and stick to it (unless you need to write YA and you write erotica) is now more applicable to romance writers than it used to be even a couple of years ago. Juggling pen names is hard work.
I’m fortunate that, in my case, I don’t keep it a secret that I am Lesli. Heck, it’s on my blog header logo, and the url dumps into my Tymber site. (I also have two other pen names that I only wrote a total of 3 books, but they were special collections my publisher invited me to write for and they were themed, and supposed to be different pen names. But even then, after a while, the publisher revealed who the authors really were.)
So, yes, if someone NEEDS a pen name for whatever reason, they should take one. It’s not hard, as long as a person keeps the social media accounts straight, to do it. BUT, caveat, be aware that Facebook is REALLY cracking down on “real names”. So use a Facebook PAGE and not a profile, claim the custom url for that, use a group, also. And have your private account as an admin for the page. (You can’t see the page admins unless you set them to be visible.) That way, Fb won’t lock you out of your account and you lose access to your page. (And have backup admins you trust as admins on your page as well, just in case.) You can create alternate accounts as group admins, and again, have trusted backup admins for groups.
If you have a critical reason to keep your writing identty separate, make SURE to spend the time and money to do it right. And another helpful hint? Create a new “user” on your computer for that pen name. ONLY log into social media accounts, etc. from that user account on your computer, so you don’t “oopsie” post as the wrong person.
#119 by Tymber Dalton on April 9, 2015 - 10:48 pm
Oh, and also, since most of my kinky friends know me as Tymber anyway, it’s really…weird going somewhere and being talked to as Lesli. LOL I have to remember to intoduce myself by my real name and not my pen name. LOL
#120 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 10, 2015 - 8:45 am
But, I hope I CLEARLY established that YES there ARE times you need a pen name, like it could cost you your job. And I think it is assumed that if the genres you write are conflicting (Erotica and Kids Literature) yes, you need a pen name. The problem is that a lot of writers dive into pen names without realizing that it is a lot of extra work and when they get down to it, they really didn’t need one to begin with.
I have had writers with FABULOUS names for the Digital Age, along the lines of an “Evanovich” CHANGE it to Smith or Green or something “easier” when they are actually HURTING themselves. They are going by what was the norm in the 90s when booksellers had to be able to pronounce a name. They aren’t appreciating that search engines LOVE weird names and this actually HELPS them.
Also, I’ve had people who had situations of genuine danger who thought that just signing up on accounts under a different name was enough. That false sense of security is a good way to end up hurt. As I said, there ARE good reasons to have a pen name, but we have to realize that it will take extra steps and extra work to do it properly.
#121 by TymberDalton on April 10, 2015 - 1:30 pm
My reply to that is I have people misspell my real name AND my pen name all the time. LOL I simply registered the urls for those as well. LOL (“It’s Lesli-no-E, and Tymber-with-a-Y”).
Leave it to me to make up a pen name that’s easily misspelled. LOL
#122 by lauraboon2014 on April 9, 2015 - 10:45 pm
Hi Kirsten, Janet Evanovich is a good example to use. I am a great fan of her Stephanie Plum books and buy every one but the others I can take or leave. However, I haven’t lost respect for her or gone off her books or anything like that just because she writes a couple of slightly different series.
#123 by MELewis on April 10, 2015 - 12:51 am
Oh, what a tangled web…thanks for this very helpful post, Kristin. It ties in with and supports other advice I’ve received from different professional sources. Starting with rule numero uno: “Good writing tells the truth.” I have not published anything yet but have struggled with the question as I work through my memoir, feeling that somehow a pen name would help me feel more ‘free’. But for all the reasons you cite, and especially that of authenticity, I’m sticking with my moniker. Cheers!
#124 by MELewis on April 10, 2015 - 12:52 am
#125 by Kayla Lords on April 10, 2015 - 4:34 am
I use a pen name but I created it when I went into sex blogging and didn’t need potential employers googling my real name only to find what I write about BDSM and sex. I’d been blogging for a year before I decided to publish, so I already had the brand. That being said, I check my site periodically to make sure I’m locked down – although I’m sure if someone really wanted to figure me out, they probably could but they’d have to work hard at it.
Social media has been the scariest thing to venture into with my pen name. I have several versions of my author picture and (so far) it’s been different enough that facial recognition hasn’t kicked in.
With a pen name, as a blogger first, I feel like I live two lives and I haven’t figured out yet how to make those lives mesh. But, in my case, I think it works because of how I began. I created the audience first and then wrote the books. But it’s not for everyone, and I watch authors struggle all the time – especially when all they want to write about is their books.
#126 by Rachel Thompson on April 10, 2015 - 6:03 am
Here is why I will use a pen name for my next set of books. My name is too long and won’t fit a book cover nicely. I do sci-fi and fantasy but traditionally male writers are expected thus I’ll use a masculine-like but ambiguous name utilizing my initials–kind of a hyphenation. Short and punchy based on my real name doesn’t lie, equates to reality and looks good in block letters.( typical for the stuff I do) Book cover space is better used with a stark, hard name that better represents what’s inside. R. C.Tom is better than Rachel C. Thompson any day– it’s the same name but truncated.
#127 by Donna Fasano on April 10, 2015 - 6:29 am
There IS another person with my name. And she is known for having been artificially inseminated at a sperm bank and having 2 babies, one white, one black. I kid you not…Google it. 🙂 I’ve had readers ask me how the children are doing. I have other “Crazyville” stories involving the pen name I used when I wrote for Harlequin, but my siblings are involved so I really shouldn’t go there. 🙂 Great article. Thanks!
#128 by R. A. Meenan on April 10, 2015 - 7:52 am
I use a sort of pen name because I use my first and middle name initials. I do it mainly because I like it. =P
I don’t think it has as many problems as some of the other problems listed here since it’s still MY name, but you do have some excellent points.
#129 by mitziflyte on April 10, 2015 - 8:55 am
I became Mary Catherine (Mitzi) Reinbold almost three years ago when, at the young age of 64, I married The Love of My Life, my equally young (70) husband. However,I’d been “Mitzi Flyte” for most of my life, keeping my ex-husband’s name after our divorce. It was easier when I was raising our daughter, That became the name I used when I started getting published (except for the erotic romance for the reasons you mentioned). I’m continuing to use “Mitzi Flyte” as my writing name. I have a FB site as Mitzi Reinbold and a FB Author site as Mitzi Flyte. My Twitter handle is mitziflyte.
Mitzi Reinbold w/a Mitzi Flyte
#130 by mitziflyte on April 10, 2015 - 8:56 am
Reblogged this on Mitzi Flyte and commented:
As a writer using her “old” name for publishing, I found this Kristen Lamb blog informative.
#131 by conniecockrell on April 10, 2015 - 10:10 am
When I first decided to go ahead and put my first book up for sale I had read a lot of discussion about pen name or not. I believe your blog was one place I looked for advice four years ago. At any rate, I decided to to use my own name.
It was a little scary, putting my name out there like that but I took the leap and did it. So far, I’ve had the random strange emails and blog comments. On the other hand, it’s really easy to tell friends, family and acquaintances to just search my name on Amazon. It makes it very easy.
And yes, there is another Connie Cockrell (Kaplan) out there writing non-fiction. Like you, my blog posting, books, and other things cause my name to come up over hers.
So thanks for such a thorough discussion. I was very helpful for me.
#132 by Kat on April 10, 2015 - 11:28 am
I love this article! So funny and true. 🙂
#133 by Richard E. J. Burke on April 10, 2015 - 11:45 am
My first thought about creating a pen name wasn’t for anonymity or emotional reasons. There is a Richard E. Burke author out there, whose work I don’t want to be misidentified with. Moreover, I wanted an exclusive name for marketing reasons. Also, my formal name seemed too long in the header of book pages. So, I took the initials of my first three given names and kept my last name. It is a precise identity. It worked for J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Frankly, I’d be comfortable with what people call me: Rick Burke. However, when I google Rick Burke, the first page is full of different faces. When I google R. E. J. Burke, I get just me and my books on page one. I am by no means a popular author, but I have a unique handle and I an appropriate avatar for my stories.
#134 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 10, 2015 - 11:51 am
When we keep the surname it’s less of a hassle than a TOTALLY new identity. But the instance of being misidentified comes down to search engines.
#135 by Lise McClendon on April 10, 2015 - 12:49 pm
I used a pen name when publishing a couple thrillers, thinking they were different from my mystery and suspense novels. It is a huge PITA for all the reasons you state, Kristen. It’s not really a discoverability problem anymore, with Amazon letting you add “authors” but it has somehow made the two thrillers — which really should have more readers, dammit — somehow ghettoized. I used that old ’90s philosophy and it came back to bite me. Wish I hadn’t.
#136 by kawaneehamilton on April 10, 2015 - 12:55 pm
Reblogged this on Kawanee's Korner and commented:
Really good advice here and in the follow up post today.
#137 by Ann on April 10, 2015 - 1:59 pm
I have been on the fence about this. I write romance and erotic romance and part of me worries that my family (or more importantly my husband’s family) will find the erotic romance and freak out. Somedays I think who cares? And other days I’m hiding behind the pillow worrying about it. FWIW my husband is the one encouraging me to publish the erotica because he thinks it’s that good. LOL
#138 by Jenna Harris on April 10, 2015 - 2:48 pm
I waffled for a long time on whether to use a pen name for my first novel. I do freelance nonfiction work under my real name, and wanted to keep the two separate (as I see you have said NOT to do, haha). But what really made the decision for me was that I was facing constant negative self-talk while writing. What will people think? What if my friends are embarrassed for me? What if I’m not any good at fiction? It was hindering the process. As soon as I made the decision to use a pen name, the words started to flow. For me, it made all the difference. But now I am facing the dilemma you mention: I’m unable to use my existing social network to promote my work without revealing my pen name. So while it helped my work immensely, it is negatively affecting the marketing. But if I connect the dots for my friends, I lose that sense of safety and anonymity. It’s a double-edged sword. I’m keeping the pen name for now, because I like it, but it’s not without drawbacks.
P.S. I had the same problem as one of your commenters earlier in this thread. In order to claim my book on Goodreads, I would have had to make my personal profile my author profile. That solidified my decision to create a whole new profile for my pen name, because my personal profile has brutally honest reviews–hundreds of them–and I didn’t want to have them connected with my pen name. As a reader, I feel like I can praise and critique without fear. As an author, I would feel the need to play nice, not offend fellow writers, not come off as jealous or critical. So I like having that separation.
#139 by gilliansnotebook on April 10, 2015 - 2:56 pm
Hi Kristen 🙂 LOVE the post. My online name is a Nom De Plum. My last name was borrowed from my first artistic mentor and I stumbled on the first. I keep my home town address because…it’s a big enough city. At the same time, I get to keep enough stuff private. I tell Facebook friends as much as I want them to know, unless they’re close friends. Those are the people I email personally.
I also have personal reasons for my Pen name. Plus, I like the way it looks.
Anyone wondering about the uniqueness of their pen name might consider the Nom De Plum of Daniel Handler, who has written a series of books, about three orphaned kids, who are shunted from relative to relative, with weird problems tailing them at every locale. Of course, I speak of Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events. I’ve started to read them and they’re really well written. But the handle Daniel Handler might not have gotten him too far with such a surreal collection of stories. So the pen name was a stroke of genius!
So, for whatever reason…even if it means keeping a little personal cubby hole of privacy, I like pen names. But, then, like you said, if you are going to go that route, choose carefully.
#140 by wendy on April 10, 2015 - 3:43 pm
I am so glad for this post. I was worried about having to use a pen name. I’m writing young adult and adult stories. Would that be a problem? Some of my adult stuff is, well, very adult. Then again, I think it’s just a way of procrastinating and not writing or finishing anything at all.
#141 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 10, 2015 - 3:56 pm
I dunno. Mayberry’s adult genre fiction is pretty intense, but I think that adults who love his books can share that love with their kids with his YA books and they can grow to love the same author.
#142 by Angela Lancaster on April 10, 2015 - 10:06 pm
This is very thought provoking. You have hit a lot of ‘nails’ on the head. Well worth thinking about.
#143 by Skeletor on April 10, 2015 - 11:27 pm
Facebook. Social Evil that thing for people wanting to be authors! Well, for ME at least. Because what would Timmy, who I’ve seen 20 years ago at school, think about the Lesbian themed fiction I now write?
Seriously though: When I did the erotica writing, I found the one thing that counted against me was my gender. Because men supposedly only write porn scripts.
So I took up a pen name, changed my gender online and et voila boom and all that, suddenly I had readers.
Even you followed my blog, which is how I got introduced to you and the great work you are doing with this blog. And all for free!
Thanks for this!
#144 by Kaine Andrews on April 10, 2015 - 11:59 pm
Interesting statements, here; the comments were even more entertaining. But one thing I didn’t see is the reason I use a pen name; figured I might share it.
I hate my given name – all of them. There’s some confusion over what my “real” name is, depending on who you ask, which documents you have, and the alignment of the stars in the House of Leo. (I’m not kidding. Fun having a naval mother who was indecisive and sleeping around, followed by abandonment, Anglicization, adoption and Catholicism, eh?)
That hatred is just an extension of an intense self-loathing – probably instilled in me by family and “friends” – and a general despair of anything to do with my past and its baggage. When I first started writing, I was throwing out a life preserver, saving myself… and creating myself. The name I chose – despite some bizarre biblical associations which echo the self-loathing and resentment attached to my “real” name – is me. It’s what I chose to be.
I’m not concerned if someone knows I’m me, or use a “fake” name. I don’t hide much of anything. But the non-writer me, the one who answers to my “real” name, is someone somebody else made. It’s someone I don’t like. Someone I don’t want to be, most days, and don’t enjoy being nearly every day. My “writer” self, on the other hand, is my own creation, not subject to the past or entanglements associated with that other name. He has the same likes, opinions, dislikes and hobbies as that other me, and shares them; he’s not just a mouthpiece for “buy my book” sentiments. He’s not hiding from potential or present employers, or crazy stalkers or psychotic family members. He’s just being him. The him I want to be, the him I made for myself.
Probably should see a shrink about that… anyway. That’s why I use a pen name. Have since I was about 7 or 8. Don’t foresee changing it any time soon.
#145 by Kaine Andrews on April 11, 2015 - 12:01 am
Oh, and one other addendum: I have a second pen name who sometimes creeps out – generally in romance-themed websites. She was “born” after a manuscript I had was rejected for inclusion in a group discussion because “men can’t understand real emotion” (or so one of the moderators told me.) As a social experiment, I created an entire fake online persona and resubmitted the manuscript (with the only change being the author photo and name). It was suddenly lauded and acclaimed for two weeks. After which I told them who I really was, and pointed out the same thing they were swooning over now would have been in their hands sooner if they hand’t been stupid about danglers or the lack thereof, and was promptly ousted from the group, which I found hilarious. Still, I keep “her” e-mail and web addresses around, just in case I ever need them.
#146 by CC Duvale on April 11, 2015 - 8:58 am
Great post. I’m blogging under a pen name because I blog about a sensitive subject that I didn’t want everyone I know to know about…yet.
Not so easy to build followers, but great as a new writer to get some practice in.
#147 by chickinwhite on April 11, 2015 - 12:29 pm
Okay, so here´s another thought:
When I started writing (read: fangirl-flailing) in a strange language (which is english for me) for a certain tv-show, I was just using a pen name that stood in a direct connection to this show. It was just fun, -…and sort of femslash.
Now I´m working on my own fiction – AND my fanfiction. For my international readers I am known as “chickinwhite” – and OH! If I´m googling it, it´s ALL about me 🙂 So, I wouldn´t want to lose those who “know” me as chickinwhite, just because I´m now writing real fiction, in my own language (german), and there will be probably one or two years until I´m ready to think about publishing.
I feel connected to them. So, how will I be able to connect to my roots of writing, when I will start thinking about publishing my own fiction? Is there a … smooth way to have my own name bound to the original “brand” chickinwhite???
Okay, nothing worldshaking, I see…. But still… 😉
In other words:
love your blog, cause it always gives me food for thought. Thanks! And stay awesome! 😉
#148 by Marlena H. on April 16, 2015 - 7:46 pm
You’re user name makes me think of Supernatural. I am also a fanfic writer, although my user name that I post under is not connected to any fandom that I write under (although it does connect to one, but mostly because I just liked it). Like you, if I Google it, it is all about me and uncommon as my first name is, my last name is super common and I’m not the only person with my name out there. I think I’m the only writer.
Since there is no hiding the connection between my real name and my user name (my personal twitter account uses it as a handle for one thing), I plan to capitalize on that. My plan is, once I have a website (soon, three days if all goes well), I will start connecting the two. I’ll put my website address in my user profiles, add it at the bottom of signatures. I have one place where it says “StoryGirl83 ~ Marlena” as the user name. One of the other members asked if I wanted to be called by my real name . . . she now calls me something completely unconnected to either.
If I were you, I’d do what I could to connect the two. Let your fans know who you really are. Don’t shove it in their faces, but find ways to put it out where they can find it. As you get further along, start changing it a little more until your name is out in focus. Of course, all I can tell you is what I plan to do, but that’s my plan. If you think it will work for you, awesome. If you don’t, then don’t use it.
#149 by chickinwhite on April 17, 2015 - 1:18 pm
Well, thanks Marlena! I think your advice gets all the points. I´ve already started a blog (under my chickinwhite-name), though, I´m too busy for now to write on a regular base. But I´m planning to make a better use of it soon. I´ll think about a way to integrate my real name more and more. You´re right: slow-connecting might be the magic word… Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts!
(oohh, and just to say:
I´m a flailing fangirl of Kahlan Amnell and Cara Mason, the two badass ladies from”Legend of the Seeker”…
#150 by Diane Tibert on April 12, 2015 - 6:59 am
I use two pen names plus my real name. And I love it. Diane Tibert is for non-fiction (my genealogy column, magazine articles and writing advice), Diane Lynn McGyver for all adult fiction and Candy McMudd for my children books.
It just happened that way. I didn’t want to use my real name for fiction. Since the digital world came upon us, many people see Tilbert instead of Tibert. It’s a pain. Even the doctor’s office messed it up and couldn’t find my test results. And don’t get me started on how many search result pages you might have to sift through to get past Tibet (not every reader is great with search engines and won’t know to add extra keywords). McGyver connects me with my Scottish heritage, and I might even change my legal name to it some day. For women, surnames are fluid. We grew up thinking our names would change.
I use two pen names for fiction because I want to eliminate the possibility of a child picking up one of my novels thinking, “I like this author”, only to find adult content. That’s worth any extra work involved.
I use my pen names like company names. Buyers (readers) know the type of product the names produce, so it makes it easier to choose. I am not hiding behind the name; I openly state on my website that I use them. I also don’t get payment with cheques. I sell at markets in cash only, or online through Smashwords, Amazon and CreateSpace which sends me money regardless of what author name I put on the book.
I can understand why some won’t use pen names, but the best reason to use a pen name is simply because you want to.
#151 by Linda M Au on April 12, 2015 - 8:34 am
Great post! I decided as a CHILD to use my real name (Linda Au) for writing. It’s short, easy to remember, and awesome (au-some?). None of my schoolteachers ever forgot my name. I knew I had something special even back then.
But I didn’t really start writing seriously until I was married and my last name was Parker. Yeah, I know, I know: Dorothy Parker, Robert B. Parker, yada yada yada. But… too common. Nobody remembered my name anymore. God bless my husband for being cool with me writing under Linda Au instead of Linda Parker. (Then again, maybe HE’S the one who wants the anonymity! “I don’t know that woman…”)
Another added bonus has been that friends from my formative years can find me and my work because I write under the name they know. The only thing I’ve had to do is keep my marriage license handy for those trips to the bank to deposit checks made out to Linda Au instead of Linda Parker. There are worse problems to have. 😉
#152 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 12, 2015 - 9:36 am
I run into almost the same thing. Lamb is actually my maiden name. I use it because I was a branded author before I married, but what a PAIN sometimes. I love Au…it’s GOLD!
#153 by Linda M Au on April 12, 2015 - 11:37 am
Precisely! It’s gold! And that’s the only element on the periodic table that I ever remembered from chemistry class. 🙂
#154 by Kimberly Jayne on April 12, 2015 - 12:33 pm
What a great post. I struggled with this for a while, but only because I didn’t like my last name (getting beat up about your name in grade school is not something that goes away. Ever.). So I went with my first and middle name. Kimberly Jayne. I like it and it’s the real me. And I plan to use it for different genres. No pen names that aren’t me. You convinced me. Thank you!
#155 by bardconstantine on April 12, 2015 - 5:25 pm
Hello Kristen. I found this article interesting. I obviously wasn’t born Bard Constantine, but I stuck with the pen name because Google told me to. At the beginning of my writing journey I wrote stories under my legal name and poetry under my pen name. I Google myself on occasion, and found that my legal name rarely appeared, while page after page of Bard Constantine instantly surfaced. I figured Bard was the brand, so I ran with it. A few years later I have no regrets. Because Bard Writes Books. 🙂
#156 by Shelley Frost on April 12, 2015 - 10:23 pm
Thanks for an excellent blog that warns against the negative pressures that push people into using pen names. It was also great to see that you’re open minded about creating a pseudonym. I write with my daughter and rather than trying to cram both our names onto the cover in a tiny font, we combined our middle names. However, when you use our pen name to reach our website you’ll see both of us smiling back. It works well and we’re very happy with it. It probably also ties into another aspect of pen names which I didn’t see overtly addressed. They’re a fun form of dress-up, offering the thrill and excitement of a masked ball. Perhaps some authors just enjoy the chance to play with an alter-ego?
#157 by Cathy Shouse on April 12, 2015 - 10:49 pm
I’ve wrestled with this for awhile and hope you will take a moment because I would value your opinion. I’ve written freelance journalism pieces for 15 years as Cathy Shouse, my married name. In 2010 I traditionally published one of those photo history books about my hometown where my family has been for more than a century, using Cathy Duling Shouse. Now as I’m starting fiction, Cathy Shouse doesn’t seem memorable. Cathy Duling Shouse is too long for some things like twitter. Should I drop back to my maiden name Cathy Duling? Everything I have so far is Cathy Shouse except FB uses all three names. Run together I look like Cathys House.
#158 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 13, 2015 - 11:08 am
But it looking like Cathy’s House is a shortcut for people to remember it. A Mnemonic so to speak. I would just stick with Cathy Shouse. YPOU make the name memorable. Your writ in makes it memorable. There is nothing particularly memorable about the NAME J.K. Rowling. It is the BOOKS that make the name, not the other way around. I hope that helps 😀 .
#159 by Cathy Shouse on April 13, 2015 - 11:36 am
Yes! Thank you for this and for all that you do. I normally lurk but I read all of your wisdom.
#160 by blablablaandgabbler on April 13, 2015 - 2:15 pm
Reblogged this on Further Annotations and commented:
[As someone who technically uses two pen names for one book, I bought my tickets to Crazyville a long-ass time ago. In fact, I’m probably the mayor of it. But I also had hopes that pinning the extra word “Anonymous” to the cover would let the readership automatically know what craziness they dealt with. For this series, the contrived anonymity of it all is half the fun. — The Author, from Crazyville].
#161 by karenleehallam on April 14, 2015 - 1:34 pm
I just signed a contract for a YA, e-novella, written in the male POV. I used my first initials, as K.L. Hallam. Is this considered a pen name? I thought boys would be more willing to read about a male protagonist — if it wasn’t so clear of the writer’s gender. Hm?
#162 by E. A. Barker on April 16, 2015 - 12:59 pm
I just described myself to my nephew this very morning: I am uncle BATMAN. I have a secret identity. It is a necessity for anyone that writes a “tell-all”.
#163 by anigrafxllc on April 16, 2015 - 7:59 pm
The “Other Person With My Name” part of this column is close to my heart. I googled my name before deciding if I should use my name. With a name a ‘unique’ as mine, or so I thought, what could go wrong!? After already seeing there was ALREADY an author named Christopher Ochs, I differentiated myself by adding my middle initial D. I still chuckle when people ask me if my real name is a pen name!
#164 by densielwebb on April 17, 2015 - 8:00 am
Kristin, Thanks for this. I’ve had the opposite advice from authors and agents, but it never felt right. I’ve got one published novel, under my real name, but working on two more. The first was romantic suspense, the second is paranormal romance and the third is women’s fiction (family drama). I was advised that for the women’s fiction I should use a pen name so as not to disappoint my “legions of fans.” (Maybe one day.) But I fall into the nobody-else-has-my-name category. It’s Densie, not Denise. Never met another one in my life. Usually, once someone gets it right, they don’t forget.
So, if Kristin Lamb says I can keep my name, then by God, I will. 🙂
#165 by Hans Maerker on April 17, 2015 - 1:51 pm
Hi Kristin, Thanks for this eye-opening report. I mulled for quite a while—and still do—to get a pen name for writing fiction. Not really for the reason to hide behind it, but rather to separate my core business as a freelance copy editor and proofreader from the fiction writing I have in mind. These are two completely opposite sides of the self-publishing business, and I thought to keep them separate with a pen name. 🙂
Yet, your report made me think about it, and I’m not so sure anymore whether this is a good idea. Being in the digital world for quite a while, I certainly know about the illusion of Internet privacy. You just rubbed it in and woke me up again. 🙂 I’d love to hear if you have an idea of how to separate the [future] author from a copy editor’s business, when both sides of the fence are part of the very same person. 🙂
#166 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 17, 2015 - 2:46 pm
I wouldn’t separate them. One can feed the other. I think they end up muddied anyway and so you waste a lot of energy. Even if you DO keep them separate, as I said, ONE can be feeding the other so you don’t have to work as hard.
#167 by Linda M Au on April 17, 2015 - 3:41 pm
I definitely agree. I’m a writer but also have been a proofreader and typesetter for decades. I consider my prepress experience a definite plus when it comes to my writing. It’s credibility in the behind-the-scenes operation of the publishing industry.
#168 by Anita Howitt on April 21, 2015 - 9:46 am
Thanks for shedding some light on this. I’ve thought about pen names a bit over the past few years, and I never reached a decision. I guess that’s in part because of my reasons–privacy would best sum them up, I suppose. Basically, I feared the content of my rather gritty and dramatic stories might somehow come off as personal therapy in a way? I wanted to make sure the elements I chose for my characters (things like parent-child relationships) didn’t resonate with readers (or my family) as my own personal issues because…they’re um…fictional. Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with those questions if they come up? I mean, just because my character has daddy issues or thinks her mother is a complete moron, doesn’t mean I think that about my parents, right? SO confusing as an unpublished writer. I wish I knew the answers before diving in the pool.
#169 by gilliansnotebook on April 22, 2015 - 9:15 am
Hi Anita 🙂
I’m kinda in the same boat, which is my reason for using a pen name. On one hand, I don’t want people to know I’m the one writing about screwed up relatives, so I hide myself behind another name and give them fictional names as well. On the other hand, there’s just enough of my attitude coming through that it would be difficult for relatives NOT to see.
It’s been said, “Write what you know.” so I’m not sure that even fiction writers can utterly divorce themselves from ‘real life’. Even if the smallest kernel of what they write is based on something from personal experience. Either what they’ve experienced or what they’ve learned.
i.e. V.C. Andrews wrote the Flowers in the Attic series based on something she learned from or about her real life doctor, who was the ‘Chris’ in her story. Apparently such a situation did exist; though not as grizzly as Ms. Andrews put on display.
I’m not even sure I want to know where Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) got the idea for the Series of Unfortunate Events inspiration from.
Also, I kinda think there HAS to be a theraputic aspect to writing, as a form of self-expression. Unless one is writing instructional manuals for computers, that is.
#170 by Anita Howitt on April 22, 2015 - 3:59 pm
Yeah and see, I am not writing anything I “know” personally. My characters are as far from real people as can be, but I fear things will be read into my stories that might suggest I’m drawing from a real life people think I may have led. Tough, that one.
Is this even a real concern for writers? I’d imagine GRRM’s friends and family don’t think they are murderous, conniving characters in his stories, but at what point is that line drawn? I worry that my characters who have difficult relationships with their parents or spouses will somehow indicate I’ve had those same issues, and I haven’t. I’d hate to offend my father by showing a girl who blames her father for all that’s gone wrong in her life, when that isn’t at all how I feel or my experience. In that kind of case, is there a protocol? Like, “Hi dad, I’m publishing a book about a girl who hates her father. It’s just fiction, so don’t take it personally.” HAHA that sounds silly, but I’m seriously concerned.
#171 by gilliansnotebook on April 22, 2015 - 4:22 pm
Ooops. Sorry about that. Hmmm….yeah, I guess that would be an issue. Hmmm…. maybe if you reversed the genders of the antagonist and lead character? That way it can be a son/mother thing. Or even have a father/son conflict, that will remove ‘you’ entirely from suspicion.
Sorry for the misunderstanding.
#172 by Anita Howitt on April 22, 2015 - 4:42 pm
I hear you, but I’m not going to be able to change characters. This is one story of a dozen I’ve written and most of them have difficult relationships between friends or family or whatever, and unless I write all male characters or something…and even then, the veil would be only that thin. I’ve got plenty of male characters, middle-aged characters, etc. that aren’t anything like me, and my female characters aren’t like me either, but I just wonder whether people will read in what they want to.
I’m concerned more for how I could handle the issue if it ever cropped up, or whether I should just call my parents and tell them I’m publishing a book, and it’s fiction, and never say more than that, to assume they know it isn’t any indicator of anything personal. I’ve just worried about this more than a little in the past years and it was my only reason for considering a pen name–that I wanted to conceal my drama behind a fake name, so it could never look personal. I think there’s a sort of question in people’s minds sometimes about whether a writer’s dramatic characters are inspired by real life events.
#173 by gilliansnotebook on April 22, 2015 - 5:03 pm
If you are concerned about unintentionally offending anyone, then a pen name is your best bet. Gives a sense of distance. If you don’t already have a pen name, get inventive and have fun with it. Use your fave Celebs names. Tom Hanks/ Jim Carrey = Tom Carrey Something like that. And there’s always disclaimer at the beginning of novels, that protects the publisher in case someone tries to accuse said author of libel. 😮
#174 by Anita Howitt on April 22, 2015 - 5:38 pm
I appreciate that its a valid concern and might necessitate a pen name. I know so many people who choose a pen name because of their long last names or whatever, but I didn’t know whether my concern even had merit. Thanks!
#175 by gilliansnotebook on April 23, 2015 - 7:22 pm
If you’re the least bit antsy about causing unintended offense, it’s best to prevent it ahead of time by giving yourself a cool literary name. That way, there’s a level of protection as well as privacy. 🙂
#176 by Alison Juste on April 21, 2015 - 3:12 pm
Hi Kristen. I feel like I previously commented on a similar post… meaning I’m still conflicted.
I decided to use a pen name to indeed keep my “lives” separate, mostly because I’m a teacher (although theoretically not after this summer) and I didn’t want my students finding my work. I don’t know why, but that was a concern at the time.
Now though, I do feel it might be beneficial to be able to link my friends freely without worrying about anyone using my name if they ever comment. I guess I’ll put that worry aside and really confront it when (if ever) I finish my first draft and am ready to send queries.
#177 by patriciaruthsusan on April 27, 2015 - 2:48 am
Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
This is good advice.
#178 by Adrian Middleton on June 9, 2015 - 8:56 am
Hi Kristen. Great article! For some time now, I’ve been under the impression that adopting a pen name is (or was) a good idea, in terms of creating something much more unique and relevant to the genre I want to write in. But after reading your post (and others like this), I’m having serious second thoughts. I think I need to learn to simply appreicate my own, real name and stick with it.
And as you said, creating and maintaining a pen name is a fair amount of work, and if I did so, I wouldn’t ever be able to be turly proud of my work in the future due to ‘hiding’ behind a fake name.
So thanks for convincing me to abandon the idea 🙂
#179 by briancranelifts on September 15, 2015 - 8:09 pm
Reblogged this on briancranelifts.