The New World of Publishing: Pen Names

NOTE: This is a complete reprint of the pen name post I did back in January because I am getting so many questions about pen names lately. About one per day, honestly. So time to put this out again.)

I get the “pen name” question more than any other question. Period. And that’s because I am very open about writing under different names and I have varied reasons for doing so. And weirdly enough, I have written under pen names since I started writing.

So after a few more varied questions this last week about pen names in indie publishing, I figured it’s about time I give a full and complete opinion on the topic. But let me be clear here once again.  Ready?

NO WRITER IS THE SAME AS ANOTHER WRITER.

Or as a sign in our workshops say, “You are responsible for your own career.”

Take my opinion on this topic as opinion. Nothing more. Then do what you damn well please because… well, because you can. And should.

History

Pen names have been with fiction writing since the beginning. And the reasons for writers to take pen names is as varied as the writers doing the writing. I’m sure some of you English majors out there could even tell me a bunch of pen names of major literary writers through the centuries. But honestly, please don’t. (grin)

The pulp era of popular fiction brought in thousands and thousands of pen names. There are entire books that have been done trying to track the pen names of the pulp writers, from Max Brand to Kenneth Robison to all the hundreds of pen names of Edward Stratemeyer and his “Syndicate” of writers. (You remember Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and so on.)

Many of today’s major writers wrote under pen names, sometimes many, many pen names over their careers. And almost always for different reasons. I don’t think Robert Silverberg can even count all his pen names. Lawrence Block wrote under many, many names as well, sometimes in the erotic markets of their day. I was at Harlan Ellison’s house one day and asked him off-handedly that if next trip I brought down a copy of Adam Magazine that he had a story in, would he sign it. He laughed and said sure, and he would sign two of the articles in the same issue as well, since he had written those under pen names. I was impressed he remembered.

In fact, in the high peak of science fiction magazines, there were often only one or two writers per issue, even though the magazine showed six or seven authors.

So pen names are nothing new. And the reasons for using a pen name or not using one are varied depending on the author, the time, the publication location, and so much more.

Major Reasons to Use Pen Names

Again, there are thousands of reasons to use pen names, each depending on the author’s situation at the moment.  But let me give you a few of the main ones that have lasted over history.

Top Reason: Writer is too “fast” for traditional publishing.

In other words, the writer has a work ethic and has trained himself to sit at a typewriter or computer for more hours per day. And by doing that, the writer will just produce more work than someone who spends two years writing a novel. Just nature of the beast.

In the pulp era, it was fine to write fast and hard and long under one name. The writers had other reasons to switch names back then that I will get to in a moment.

But with the advent of the influence of the university system and editors coming out of that university myth-filled system, the belief started to sink into the traditional publishing offices that writing more than one or two books per year was a bad thing (except in a few genres like romance). And besides, the big machines of modern traditional publishing just couldn’t keep up with a fast writer. In fact, fast writers just scare hell out of them.

So those of us who have a work ethic and can sit at a computer for a regular work day, we flat had to have more outlets. So instead of putting novels into drawers, we came up with pen names and started many writing careers, often with numbers of them going at once.

At one point, Kris and I were joking around at a conference and actually counted the career income streams coming into our home at that moment in time. We had nine writers’ incomes coming into the house. That was more than we had cats at that point.

Today we have about that many, maybe a few more, but some are not making much, at least not enough to live on. Luckily the pen-name writers don’t eat much.

The key is the same with all aspects of the publishing industry: Diversity and a lot of product. If you have three or four writer’s incomes hitting your house, it’s a ton better and safer than only one. And nine or ten incomes just makes things much easier.

The idea of multiple income streams from different names is not something most writers think of until they happen into it by overwhelming their own publisher and deciding to not slow down (meaning spend less time at the computer or playing Angry Birds) as their agent wants them to do.

However, now with indie publishing, fast writers have far, far more outlets and the idea of being a “fast” writer, meaning spending more hours writing, is once again becoming a good thing. At least outside of traditional publishing. Inside of traditional publishing being fast still scares hell out of people and they will do everything in their power to get you to spend less time being a writer and more time being an author.

Second Major Reason: Help Your Readers While Writing What You Want To Write

This also has been basic from the early days of fiction writing. Readers identify certain types of books by the name of the author. You pick up a Max Brand these days and you expect to get an old-style western. (Max Brand was a pen name of a failed poet.) A Max Brand reader would be very angry if they started to read a Max Brand novel and discovered an old vampire lusting after young girls.

In the pulp era, authors often changed their names when moving to another genre magazine. Only a few major writers that jumped around (such as L. Ron. Hubbard) did not change names much. Writers of that level sold magazines in almost all genres, so editors didn’t want the writer to change the name.

However, the basic reason is that authors get bored easily and want to try new things, new genres, new plots. It’s the rare writer who can write the same story over and over as traditional publishers want them to do. Most of us would rather have teeth pulled than do that. So we write around like a wayward husband and change names on publishers to stay out of their contract traps.

But really, it’s the readers that matter on this one.

My wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes under some major names. Her name is known as a science fiction and fantasy writer. And her fantasy series, The Fey, is a dark, high fantasy with lots of blood and death. So when she came up with a light, warm, humorous fantasy series set here and now using fairy tales, she didn’t want to confuse her readers and make the readers that liked one kind of fantasy and not the other angry. So Kristine Grayson, the bestselling paranormal romance writer, was born for the funny fantasy books.

Then Kris came up with a dark mystery series set in the late 1960s that dealt with race and politics of the time. Again, not something her normal science fiction readers would enjoy, so multiple-Edgar-nominated Kris Nelscott was born. And now in romance this next year she has a wonderful science fiction romance series starting out of Sourcebooks under the name Kris DeLake. Pure space opera with a romance touch. But again the readers that love Recovering Apollo 8 or the gritty Diving into the Wreck series would not be very happy. Thus the new author is born.

You want a more major example than my wife? How about Evan Hunter, which was a pen name. Evan Hunter wrote a book called The Blackboard Jungle that won some major awards such as the Pulitzer Prize. But he was a writer, and wanted to write other stuff.  He got an offer to write a new series for a paperback house that needed short novels fast. So he created a new name and wrote police procedural novels for decades under the name Ed McBain.  Also, Evan Hunter, to help pay for a girlfriend or some such thing now lost in publishing lore, wrote soft-core erotica quickly, often finishing a book in a day or so, to help pay dating costs. Of course, those books were also under other names.

So writers, help your readers find a book they will enjoy because they read an earlier one like it. I know it’s alien for writers to think about helping out readers, but the more you do, the more fans you get and the more readers over time. It really is that simple.

Also, I suppose I should say something right here about “branding” your books and name or pen name. In other words, indie publishers, if you have a pen name, make all the stories and pen names under that name seem similar in covers and look, yet be different enough from book to book. That also helps readers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, go study branding because it will help you in publishing.

I’ll talk in a minute about keeping pen names secret or not. 99% of the time there is no reason to, so if the reader of your fun fantasy wants to read a blood-and-guts fantasy and you are clear you write that under that other name, let them be able to find it on your main web site.

Third Major Reason: You Have A Difficult Day Job

This reason is just obvious. You are an MD and you are writing medical thrillers. Really good plan to do that under a pen name to save legal problems with some patient believing you took their personal information and put it in your book, even though you didn’t.

And yes I know about Michael Crichton writing his way through medical school. Under pen names. He wrote under the names John Lange and Jeffrey Hudson and one of the books under one of those names won the Edgar Award for best novel.  He wrote numbers of novels per year all the way through med school, all under pen names, and got his MD the year he wrote three novels. (Yeah, you don’t have enough time to write.) By the way, his real first name was John.

Another example: James Tiptree Jr. was a long-term spy in the Second World War and in the Cold War, a CIA agent, and an experimental psychologist, so she came up with a very hidden pen name to write under. Her real name was Alice Sheldon, but everyone swore Tiptree was a man for a very long time.

Some Other Smaller Reasons to Change Your Writing Name

– Sales Record Goes Bad.

In traditional publishing, your sales record is tracked by your name. You write a book and something goes wrong along the way, often through no fault of your own, and your sales numbers go down and you can’t sell another book under that name.

Smart writers change their name and keep writing. Authors, on the other hand, sit in bars at conventions and complain they can’t sell a book.

So bad sales record in traditional publishing is one reason. That makes no difference at all in indie publishing. In indie publishing, writers publish the book and let the numbers of readers grow slowly over time.  In traditional publishing, they have to gamble that your book will sell a certain number in a certain amount of time. Remember the produce model? In traditional publishing, your books spoil, so if they paid you too much in comparison to your sales numbers, you can’t sell another book UNDER THAT NAME.

Change your name and move on. Or move to indie publishing.

– Family Issues.

Sometimes some writers just don’t want their mother stumbling across that erotic book they wrote. Do that under a pen name if you have that issue. Or if you hate your parents and don’t want to give them credit for anything.

– Future Divorce

Women, caution on using your husband’s name as your writing name. Writing careers often outlast marriages. Just saying…

– Your Real Name is Stephen King

Let me think… Oh, yeah, write under a pen name. That name is taken.

– You Think Your Story Sucks

Writers are the worst judges of their own work, but alas, we all still have strong opinions of our work when finished. So when you write a story that sucks in your belief as a writer and you wouldn’t want anyone to see it under your main name, sell it under a pen name. This is becoming very easy in indie publishing. And has been a standard practice since the beginning of publishing. You might be surprised how well your bad story sells. Let the readers decide.

– You are writing a Work-For-Hire Series.

Fine to do some under your main writing name, but caution on writing too many and getting know for doing them only. I am still known as a Star Trek writer even though I haven’t written one Star Trek book in almost a decade. Do you know I wrote Star Trek under seven different names? I’ll give you Dean Wesley Smith and Sandy Schofield. The other five you Trek buffs can figure out if you want to waste time for a trivia contest.

Better to just do work-for-hire or media under a pen name from the start. Trust me on this one.

As I said, there are thousands and thousands of reasons for writers to write under pen names. Most make great sense to the writer. But now let me talk about the elephant in the room with this topic. Ready?

Ego

So many writers deep down are out to be famous. And they want their own name to be the famous name. So the idea of changing their name is just alien for any reason, no matter how much it makes business sense to do so. I’ve seen many, many, many writers just give up writing completely because they would not change their name and something stopped their books from selling.

This issue seems to be much, much worse for men than women. Women are raised to think they might change their name at some point in the future in a wedding. But men have this ego-thing about their name. Men, get over it.

For some reason I’ve never had that problem. No idea why not.  For me, when I walk into a store and see a book I wrote, either under this name or one I wrote for a major bestseller as a ghost novel, I know it’s my book. And that’s all that matters to me.

I walked into Safeway grocery store one night and saw three of my books there on the rack. One a media book with this name on it, one a ghost novel, and one a western under a series author name.  Fantastic fun. I didn’t need to show anyone or run up-and-down-the-aisles shouting what I had just done.  I just stood there for a moment staring at the three books, smiling.

Then I went home and went back to writing.

So before you start writing under other names, check the ego at the door. Evan Hunter is a pen name. At an Edgar Awards ceremony a number of years back he was the keynote speaker. In front of his plate was a name-tag that read “Evan Hunter.”  When the person doing the announcements called his name to come and speak, he introduced him as Ed McBain. Salvator Albert Lombino still stood up.

If you have ego issues, just stay with one name. And never ghost-write a book.

Indie Publishing Issues

Indie writers who are in a great hurry are usually the ones that ask me about pen names.  One of the truths of indie publishing is that if you have more products under one name, readers can find you easier and if they like a story they buy, they will buy more. And thus having more books and stories published leads to more sales. That is one fact most of us agree on about indie publishing.

But….  All those stories and books need to be in the same general area. If you write a vampire novel followed by a romance with rabbit-sex followed by a private detective novel, all under the same name, you are going to lose readers, not find more. So if you are moving across genres like that in your writing, you are going to need to realize that it’s going to take more time to build an audience. Because you are going to be building more than one career. Of course that takes more time. Duh.

That means as a beginning writer you are going to have to do what seems almost impossible to do. You are going to have to take the long view, meaning not just six months, but six years or more. (Please don’t scream at me. I’m being nice suggesting only six years. More than likely it’s ten years or more, just as it was in the old traditional-publishing-only days.)

I have no issue with a writer telling their readers they also write other kinds of novels under other names. I just told you about four of my wife’s names she writes in different genres. And sometimes readers will follow across genre lines. Give them the chance on a main web site under a main name.

Some Answers to Basic Questions

How do you create a pen name?

Simple. Put it under the title and put it in the author slots on the different sites. Have all the money go to your real banking name. In traditional publishing, on your manuscript, you put your real name where the check is sent in the upper left-hand corner of the manuscript with your address. You put your pen name under the title. It really is that simple. No need to set up any kind of legal anything.

How about copyright under a pen name?

If you ask this question you need to buy a copy of The Copyright Handbook at once. It’s from NoLo Press. Go buy it now.

But the short answer is copyright protection vests in the words as you commit them to a form, meaning as you write them down or type them onto a screen. The form of everything you write automatically has copyright protection and does not matter what name you publish it under. If you are worried, spend the extra money to get your copyright registered. But for heaven’s sake, go learn copyright.

Do I have to keep my pen name secret?

Up to you. I wouldn’t unless you have issues with your family or are a medical professional. Or unless you signed a legal document agreeing to not disclose the name. (I have signed many, many of those documents.) But if you are just starting a new name to help readers stay clear on which genre they are reading, I can see no reason to keep a pen name secret.

Should I have a web site for each pen name?

Of course. Author name is the most important selling tool you have over time. So before you invent a new name, make sure no one else is writing under that name and then go get the domain. When you go in search of the domain, don’t hesitate, just spend the ten bucks and buy it. Otherwise someone will grab it because it has interest in the search engines.

But at the same time don’t be silly and think you have to blog on the site and work it all the time. Just use it as a static web site where readers can get to your books or back to your main web site. That’s all you use it for. It’s an advertising site.

You want to see an example of a static web site for my Dee W. Schofield pen name?  Go to http://www.deewschofield.com/. There’s even a free story there. And notice the bio and picture. That’s a picture of me about two years old standing on a hood of a car.

Should I make up a fake bio for my pen name?

No need unless it’s going to be very secret, but then be careful. Better to say less or nothing about the author.

Do you need to do some branding of each pen name?

I would certainly try. Use the same font on the covers, use the same basic design, same type of art, that sort of thing. Anything to give the reader a feeling that you are sort of paying attention to stories being similar. I would do this more for novels than short stories. If you can’t or don’t understand branding, don’t worry about it. Minor at first.

There are many other minor questions about pen names, many I’m sure will get answered in the comments section.

Summary

Again, there are thousands of reasons to use a pen name. None are wrong.

For me, I’ve used pen names for business because I was writing someone else’s novel for them. I’ve used pen names on work-for-hire novels, I’ve used pen names in different genres. I’ve used pen names to write erotica. I’ve used pen names when my wife and I wrote together. And sometimes I used a pen name just for fun.  Why? Because I could, that’s why.

As a beginning writer, I had the silly idea that “Smith” was a bad name to write under, so I wrote stories under Wesley Dean. One very long day at Damon Knight’s house, he spent the entire day going out of his way to call me all the variations of “Wes” and “Wesley” and “Wesser” and so on. By the end of the day, even though the name was fine, I had decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life answering to that name. It just didn’t fit in my mind as a name for me. I went back to my real name after that day, but I had already sold four or five stories under that name. I got a couple of them changed before they were published.

And now when I pick a pen name, I imagine being called that name for the rest of my life.

So basically what I am saying about pen names is this:

There are no rules. Do what you want.

But if your ego stops you from starting a new name when you should for business reasons, then there are repercussions. As I said before, the simple desire to stick with a certain name has killed many, many writing careers. But those people, in my opinion, were not writers. They were authors.

Writers are people who write and don’t much care which name their writing appears under. They only care that they can keep writing and that readers in one fashion or another get a chance to read what they write.

And trust me, it was great fun to walk into that Safeway grocery store and see three of my books on the same paperback rack. Great fun. But if I had been so wrapped up in my own ego that I couldn’t write under another name, that moment would have never have happened.

So when deciding about which name to publish a book or story under, think first of your readers.

Then think about your readers some more.

And then decide which name would be best for them. And which name you can live with the rest of your life.

And then have fun.

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Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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39 Responses to The New World of Publishing: Pen Names

  1. Sarah Wynde says:

    Another good reason to use a pen name these days is findability. I looked at the results of a google search on my real name and decided that it would take me a lot of really hard work to break into the first page. Picking a pen name that had hardly any search results seemed a whole lot easier. I know google search results vary, but I’m pretty sure about 80 of the top 100 results on the name “Sarah Wynde” now refer to me. I have no idea how much work it would have taken me to achieve the same results with my real name, if it was even possible, but I suspect years, hours of hard work, proabably some financial investments in search engine optimization. Same deal with Amazon. My real name has well over a hundred books listed under it, but my pen name has only me. Using a pen name makes it easier for readers to find me.

    • dwsmith says:

      Really, really good point, Sarah. Thanks!!

      • Mark Jones says:

        Sarah makes a very good point. With a name like mine, I’m going to be lost in the crowd on any website of any size. Fortunately, my first (and most prolific) pen name, Gail Roarke, just coincidentally turned out to be almost unknown. My stuff shows up at the top of any search for that name now. I didn’t plan it that way, I was just lucky. But you can sure that I check out new pen names before I start using them now.

    • Yup. That’s why the pen name I picked for my erotica/romance novels starts with one of the first four letters of the alphabet. Easier for search engines to find, displays first on a Google/Amazon search, and gets shelved in a bookstore higher than “Stegall”.

      No, I won’t tell you what the pen name is. My kids read the interwebz. :)

    • Mercy Loomis says:

      I did the same thing with my pen name. The only hits for individuals named Mercy Loomis besides me are all people on genealogical pages who’ve been dead for 100+ years. Whereas there is a very well-advertised (or at least well-SEO’d) lawyer with my real name, and a couple other people besides. And I was able to make sure I could get the name for my website and all the social media sites.

  2. Tracey says:

    If you have already started writing under one author name for different genres (I’m writing dystopian thrillers and sexy romances), is it then worth it to go back and republish one of the genre’s under a different name, or should you not worry? How easy is it to do this anyway?

    • dwsmith says:

      No right answer on that, Tracey. And honestly, I would have no idea how you would change the name on those. I think you would be better served to just move forward with new stuff, to be honest. But again, don’t know and have no opinion of any value. (grin)

    • J.A. Marlow says:

      I faced this situation recently. One little series with three books released just didn’t fit in with the rest of what I write under my main name. And then I started getting other ideas that sorta fit with it, with some of them branching off into a completely different genre. The more the ideas came, the more uncomfortable I grew about having it all under one name.

      Now, my sales are not huge. They chug along at a minimum but consistent rate, but I still worried about putting off any readers I did have. In the end, the realization I just needed to do this descended on me. So, this is what I did:

      1. Researched the types of names in the subgenre. Then started looking for a short name (to make it easier to fit on a cover) that I could brand for this other genre and subgenre. I also checked to see if the domain name was available and once the decision on the name was finalized I grabbed it.

      2. Redid all the covers and branded them to a specific design to make them stand out as their own and not look like anything under my main penname.

      3. Redid the back-matter of all the ebooks and started promoting the series within itself with the listings of “Other Books From This Author” portion.

      4. Rechecked the book descriptions and ended up rewriting all of them.

      5. Changed the penname, files, and covers at all the retailers. This was painless to do other than taking time.

      6. Contacted Amazon to help me create a new penname author page and on request, they were kind enough to move the book listings from my old penname to the new one.

      7. Posted to my blog about the rebranding as it’s an open penname.

      I’m now several months in from the change, and the interesting thing is that sales have increased. I’m sure it’s a combination of all the things I did to prepare for the re-branding and not one specific thing, but it’s still a great surprise.

      It’s odd that sometimes once you make a decision and just do it, everything in your mind and body tells you it is either the wrong or right thing to do. For me, this was the right thing to do. I don’t regret it at all, and now all these other story ideas off to the side have a penname home.

      My suggestion would be to make the decision now and not put it off to later. Then stick with that decision, whichever way you choose to go.

      • dwsmith says:

        Tracy, what J.A. said. Great advice.

      • Tracey says:

        Thanks JA, I might do exactly this. Glad to hear it wasn’t too hard to change. Mucho appreciated. :)

      • I changed my name too and it was easy. On Smashwords, click the Change Author that’s next to each book on the dashboard. On Amazon, edit the books but change the name before you resubmit. I emailed Amazon through Author Central and the books were taken off my old name within a day.

        Obviously do other stuff like announcing it on your website, change the copyright page, bio, and cover. In the announcement, I mentioned it’s all for the readers’ benefit. Now it’s much clearer which genre they’re getting. I thought changing it would be hard, but it wasn’t.

  3. Sawyer Grey says:

    I’ll give you another big reason. Privacy. The truly dedicated *might* be able to track you back to your real identity from a pen name if you aren’t careful covering your tracks, but there’s no point in making it easy for them if you don’t want to be found.

    • dwsmith says:

      Sawyer, I have heard of very few needing to do pen names for that reason. For writers, luckily, most fans don’t care much and writers, even using their real names, are hard to find in the real world.

      • Angie says:

        It’s more likely to be necessary in sexy romance, and of course erotica. One of of the more popular writers with my publisher has been sent (through the publisher, since the writer keeps personal info very private) many letters and gifts from readers who were obsessed, either positively or negatively. Gifts have run the gamut from very nice and expensive (bracelet, concert tickets) to the extremely creepy (a dead cat). Even the nice ones are creepy, if you think about it — way too familiar for someone you’ve never met nor spoken with. :/

        In sexy romance and erotica, readers on the edge are more likely to decide you’re their soulmate and start creating psycho-fantasies about you than in other genres, even sweet romance. In that area, staying completely private and unfindable can save you a lot of grief.

        Angie

      • Mercy Loomis says:

        I work for a conservative elected official. I would be very nervous about losing my day job if he knew I wrote GLBT and BDSM erotica (among other things).

      • Mac says:

        I wonder/worry about this very much, maybe more than I should. My real name, especially my last name, is pretty rare — so much so that anyone who has it is probably a relative. If I piss off a reader, Google could probably lead them right to my house.

  4. Some people see pen names as something they need to develop for each name, etc. I don’t. I see pen names exclusively as a way to divide up my work into genres. There is a certain expectation of a “Krista D Ball” novel. However, when “John Reynolds” writes a story, my readers know that is going to be a different one. Likewise, when “K B Galore” writes a story, everyone *knows* what I’m writing then, etc etc.

    My readership is small, but loyal, and I didn’t want to peeve them by writing everything under my name. When I divided things up, they have been able to quickly look and make decisions. Many have branched into my pen names, whereas some have not. And that’s all OK.

  5. Christian K says:

    Use a pen name. It’s like being a freaking superhero.

  6. Zelah Meyer says:

    A quick question – Do you think that contemporary alternate universe fantasy/fantasy romance (with magic) can share a name with historical fantasy/fantasy romance (fairy tale or epic fantasy type settings, only, mostly without magic)?

    I already think I’m going to eventually need half a dozen names or more – so I’m trying to merge them where possible!

    • dwsmith says:

      Zelah, heaven’s no. Those are fine under the same name. It’s only when a reader will be angry that you need to change names, like writing erotica under one name and sweet romance under the other, or romance under one name and blood and guts horror under another. Moving between slight subgenres is not an issue.

  7. J.J.Foxe says:

    Hey Dean

    My reason for choosing a pen name is associated with your second reason – I’ve already got non-fiction books (self) published under my real name. And it would just be ultra confusing to then publish some fiction under than name as well.

    So I went with the pen name JJ Foxe (which someone else actually chose for me as I had no idea what to use).

    Good post (as always).

    James

  8. Lee McAulay says:

    Thanks for reposting this, it’s one of my favourites!
    The trouble I find with pen names is that with all the fun of thinking about the sort of stories a pen name might write, before you know it you’ve spent a week wasting your creativity on playing around with just the pen name without doing any writing whatsoever. It gets worse once you start designing book covers, typesetting, etc.
    Hard, sometimes, to leave that fun alone and actually start the stories…
    :-)

  9. Rob says:

    One reason for a pen name you didn’t mention was the very reason Stephen King wrote under the name Richard Bachman.

    He wanted to see if he could repeat the success he had with “Carrie” without anyone knowing he was Stephen King. I suppose if you write a book that sells an enormous amount of books, and it gets to the point where people buy those books based entirely on your name, it would be a great challenge to achieve the same success with a different name.

  10. Larry says:

    I’ve been planning to epublish a series of 6 (to start) short LGBT erotic/romance stories (8K words) at the end of the month. I will be using a pen name, to keep a wall between my long form genres (YA and humor). It’s also helped to free me up creatively. I can write things that I would have worried about under my real name.

    BTW what do people think of the name Mars Landings? Too cute? Too porn-ish? I do like the name Mars for a guy. Mars I. Pann?

  11. Alex Hajicek says:

    Quick Questions

    1. Do you think that using initials in a pen name. I.E … J.K. Rowling, R.A. Salvatore ect truly has any real benefit of not putting of men or women from reading your work where bias is concerned?

    2. Do you think that you should use a pen name if your name is spelled weird/complicated (Hajicek)? Or is it minutia and nothing to worry about.

    Thanks

    • dwsmith says:

      Initials seldom make a difference in my opinion. Maybe in women’s fiction or men’s action adventure novels, might be a good idea. But seldom an issue. Some writers do it because their first and middle names are too long. As far as spelling of a name, unless it is really off the charts and impossible to pronounce, I don’t see much of an issue. The key is that readers remember names, so you want your name to be clear and something a reader can remember and pronounce well or at least close. Just my opinion. No right answer.

      • My real name is long, hard to pronounce, and harder to spell (although, honestly, it’s *just* a bunch of consonants and makes a killer triple-word-score in Scrabble, but hey…), so I went with a Nom de Pixel.

        My erotica pen name starts with an “X” and seems to get a lot of hits because of that, so I ran with it.

        I wish I could say I wrote too fast for one name, but I don’t write well as fast as I would like to.

    • I write fantasy, mostly YA, some not.

      I choose to go by J.M. instead of Jessica Michele.

      It might not make any difference in the end, but Jessica Michele seemed just too “girly” to me!

      Since some of my stories are inspired by fairy tales, the Grimm in Ney-Grimm seemed apt. Makes me laugh that I really am Ney-Grimm. I bet some folks will it is a pen name.

  12. Robin Breyer says:

    A long time ago I joined a re-enactment group and picked up the nickname Robin. I like it, but it has no connection to my real name. Also, in my time with that re-enactment group, plus some other organizations I’ve belonged to, plus my day job, I am entirely too easy to find. If you know my name and what city I live in, you will have my address. I chose to use a pen name to break from that old online presence, both for privacy and to distance my SF writing from decidedly non-sf activities. Then, because I have ideas for different genres, I picked 3 names. I have yet to write anything as Robin Breyer (a variant spelling of my real last name), but I have 4 SF books out under Scott Seldon, with two more in the works, and three fantasy novels I’ll be publishing as Robert Courtland. It’s kind of daunting to create a presence for each of these names online, but I just started publishing this year. I’ve had the advice of Isaac Asimov in my ear for a long time – ten years to break in and ten years to start making money at it. I figure I’m at the halfway mark. I have no problem with people connecting my pen names, but I also am not advertising it everywhere.

  13. Phil Giunta says:

    Funny, I just stumbled across this article tonight while reading a recent post by Kristen Lamb: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/why-pen-names-suck-can-make-us-crazy/

    Being a new writer, I haven’t given much thought to pen names…yet…

  14. I use an open pen name because I always fancied having one. Also having a different name allows me to think of myself as a business rather than personal when publishing my work (when I finally get round to publishing my work).

  15. Pauie says:

    Hi Dean,

    Thank you so much for this!

    I hope you can help me: I have a work-for-hire contract and my boss is just about to publish the first two books in the series. He has a pen name ready and I’ve just been emailed a list of all the social platforms and passwords and was told to personalize those pages with my picture and myself. Twitter, Facebook, Google +, I’ll be posting as myself, no acting, haha. No alternate personality, just moi, MY face, except I’m supposed to be the pen name, not my real name.

    This is a ghostwriting job– I’ve already been paid for those two books and I only get royalties for a year. No credit, no rights. So why is it my picture to be attached to the pen name? I do have ambition of getting published traditionally later and I rather want my face to be on a book with my own name. I don’t mind much, I’m just confused. It’s not supposed to be me. My face is me. What was the point of ghostwriting if my face is going to be attached to the pen name and the books?

    Thank you!

    • dwsmith says:

      Paule, never heard of anything like that, and honestly, I would be careful with that. Make sure the pictures are not recognizably you. Very strange and if you didn’t sign a contract stating you would do that, I would never do such a thing. Just say no.

  16. Katy A. says:

    Watching the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s “Misery” was all it took to convince me, plus history so chaotic it could have come from a suspense novel. And yeah, it only takes one doozy to kill a name’s career…

  17. John Sliz says:

    This piece made sense and I don’t really have anything to add the discussion other than it gave me food for thought.
    Look for me under a pen name… ; )

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