Yes, you heard me correctly. Pen names suck 50%….no 67%…no….okay, 99% of the time. Oh, don’t start whining. Don’t you think I would have like to have been something a tad more glamorous than Kristen Lamb? When I was 5 my father convinced me that he had legally changed my name to Mary Hannah. Get it? Mary Hannah Lamb? Yeah, I didn’t find it funny either.
I actually am on your side. When we are about to make a decision that is going to cost extra work, we need to make sure we are doing it for business purposes. Yet, in my five years experience with social media, most of the time, people want pen names for the wrong reasons. We will talk more on that in a moment.
Pen names can suck. They are old paradigm. Before you disagree, let me explain.
Novelists, historically, have had a staggering failure rate. It was actually statistically EASIER to be elected to Congress than to make the NY Times best-seller list.
Why? Because writers only had control over the book. Marketing and platform was handled by other people.
Note: I use the term “handled” very loosely, because even now, if you aren’t a heavy hitter, you can expect little to no marketing support. Is it because NY is evil and sitting up all night thinking of ways to sabotage the dreams of new writers? No. They are a business and have overhead and payroll. New writers are an untested commodity, thus money, time and effort gets sunk into proven players. Makes total business sense.
Unless you’re the new kid.
But, until now novelists had ZERO control over building a platform of people who knew them and supported them even before the book went to print. These days? Totally different story. There are unagented self-published writers now becoming millionaires because of their PLATFORM…but that’s another discussion for another day.
In the old days, an author had ONE way to build a platform….LOVE for their books.
Ahhh, but there is the sticky wicket. If I write a book and no one knows about it, then it is likely to fail because no one knew about it. So the only way to help a book succeed is to have fans, but if no one knows about my book, how do I get fans?
It’s like we need experience to get a job, but if we don’t get a job, how can we get experience? We need credit to get a credit card but how do we get credit if no one will give us a credit card?
Social media has changed everything. Our following now supports US. People liked and supported Kristen Lamb before I ever even had a finished book (THANKS, btw :D). Now I have fans of me and my book. How? I built a social media platform.
Unlike writers in the past, I do have control over writing a darn good book AND building a platform. It is double the work, but now I actually exercise some control over my future. It is already DOUBLE the work, why make even MORE?
We already have a full time day job and kids and pets and needy houseplants, why balance multiple identities when you don’t have to? Why make the marketing side an even BIGGER chore?
This is part of why pen names can suck. But let’s look into traditional reasons to have a pen name and why most of the time they are no longer valid.
Privacy—Okay, um privacy is an illusion. Unless we only use cash and live as a wandering hobo on the fringes of society, there is no such thing. Everything is electronic.
That grocery store card on our keychain that saves us money is recording everything we buy and how often. We are on camera everywhere we go. Nothing about our life is private…period. Believing that a pen name is somehow going to give us this magical anonymity is like thinking that hiding under a blanket makes us invisible.
Whooooo…you can’t see me.
If we are wanting to build an entirely new identity for marketing purposes, that is great. But we cannot suffer any illusions that we can hide. It is a pen name, not witness protection. Yes, historically, the nom de plume was a safe haven. That is ancient history.
Say I write kid’s books under one name and hardcore bondage erotica under a pen name. Stop laughing.
All it takes is someone taking my picture at an event or a book signing then posting that on their Facebook page for everything I have spent years building to crumble. Someone surfing recognizes me as the same lady who read her new kid’s book at the mall.
Now I potentially have a huge problem. I tried to use my pen name to hide what I was doing.
I have friends who write erotica and they are fun and wild and carefree…and often like hanging around a bunch of 8th grade boys. But these women feel very confident in their work and their sexuality, and if they are using a pen name it is to make their writing sell more copies because their name sounds sexier. Their motivation is not to hide from the world what they are doing.
Any 10 year old with basic computer skills can find out our real name. As search engines get faster and better and more and more people are contributing content? The problem only grows larger. It is a Brave New World. There are blessings…but they come at a price.
People at work will find out—This is the same scenario. Privacy is an illusion. And, like I said on Wednesday’s blog, the good news is that most normal people don’t spend their free time googling coworkers to see what they are up to when they leave the employee parking lot. That’s just weird…and kind of creepy.
Just write. If you become a best-selling author you won’t be working there anymore anyway. Why care?
I have a difficult last name—On social media we get to see people’s names over and over and over. We don’t have to be able to pronounce your last name in order to recognize it. In fact, that name you have hated since grade school actually can help you stand apart from all the other writers. Don’t take my word for it; ask Janet Evanovich.
If my name is Inga Skjold, all someone needs to remember is my name begins with “Skj…” and the Amazon search engines will deliver them right to my books.
Google has red slanty letters to correct people who misspell your name. Go type in “Author Janet Ewanoviche” and see what happens. Google will be right there with red slanty letters asking “Did you mean Author Janet Evanovich?”
My name is boring—Okay, our name is only half of the brand. NAME + CONTENT = BRAND.
Stephen King was a boring name shared by thousands of other young men. Then, the name was associated so many times with horror writing, that the name Stephen King is now synonymous with horror, and I really feel sorry for King’s male peers who share his name.
Our name only sells books because people recognize it, not because it is fancy. How many of you have ever said, “Wow, that author has a really snazzy name. I think I will buy her book.” We buy books because the title of the book sounds cool or the story sounds interesting. Dan Brown, Sandra Brown, Stephen King are not terribly exotic names.
The pen name is not the place to be glamorous. Earning fat royalty checks that let us go spend a weekend at a spa is the real place to get glamorous. If we don’t have time left over to write great books, then who cares what our name is?
I write more than one genre—For now? Yes, that might be necessary. My opinion? This practice is going extinct and will be dead before the end of the decade. I give it five years max.
Historically, publishing houses made authors use different names if they switched genre. Why? Because the only platform a novelist could grow was a platform of people who loved the writer’s books.
We were trapped under a traditional marketing paradigm. The general public wasn’t on-line interacting real time with their favorite authors. We needed multiple names to keep readers from getting confused.
I have a confession. Are you sitting down? I write thrillers too. How many of you just had your brains explode? No one? Did it rip the fabric of your reality that I do more than one thing?
This is the first time in history that authors had control over their platform. ONE NAME. If you must have a pen name, build it under the umbrella of YOUR NAME. Bob Mayer has his books listed on his site. We get that Bob Mayer writes thrillers, sci-fi, romance, NF, and now historical fiction…and yet we live to tell the tale.
If you want sci-fi, check out Bob Mayer as Robert Doherty. Still alive? Good. See how easy that was?
If we build our platform using our own name and then our agent wants us to have a pen name? No problem. Just keep business as usual then mention, “Oh and soon my romance under my pen name FiFi Fakename will be available for sale. I’ll let you know when.” Notice we don’t have to scurry off and build an entirely new platform with an entirely new identity.
I just found out Kristen writes fiction, too. Can I go on?
I am afraid of failure—Join the club. Some of you want to wait until the writing is successful to let friends and family know about the other half of your life. But it is coming at the cost of you spreading yourself too thinly to be effective. Hey, I have been there. I know!
Dreams come with risk. We don’t get a pass on risking failure. We all risk that. I have failed many, many times, and I have learned to take my lumps, laugh it off and keep going. Failure is part of life, and it is a core ingredient of the successful life. If we are spending so much time hedging against a fall, then you are planning for failure. Your focus is in the wrong spot. Focus on success.
Take the plunge!!!
When we use the name that all our friends and family, coworkers and people who knew us in school remember, we get an added advantage of activating our intimate networks. I have people who barely spoke to me in high school who are now some of my biggest cheerleaders. They are excited to get to support a writer they know.
Never underestimate the power of those close connections. The same family members rolling their eyes at you now will be the first to buy a book and tell all their friends and coworkers.
Are there good reasons to have a pen name? Certainly! But expect more work and plan accordingly. Make sure you are choosing that name for good reasons, not to hide, buttress against failure, or to masquerade fear.
Can you have a pen name? Sure. I won’t stop you. But my job as a social media expert is to give you my honest opinion. Most of the time, pen names are a total time suck that take away valuable time doing more productive things like writing great books. If you still want a pen name, rock on. Make sure you get a copy of my book so you can do it in a way that won’t have you up on your roof with a shotgun and a stockpile of tequila.
All right. Questions? Comments? For those of you who have a pen name, any pointers for those who must have a nom de plume?
I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end on March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.
This Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique–Laura Droege
Until next time…
In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.
I didn’t know how bad my fear of heights was until I saw that diver pic, LOL. Thanks for a great post, Kristen!
Awesome post. I’m going away for Spring Break, but I’m going to take your book with me to read, and I’ll blog about it when I return (even though that doesn’t count for the contest).
Just commenting so as not to be a lurker.
Hey, I totally agree re privacy. I have some writer friends paranoid about privacy, and some consultant/attorney co-workers who fear the same. It’s like HELLO people, there is none. Get over it, and accept transparency. Maybe this is my bias an an investigator, but I believe it.
And, no pen names for me.
Meanwhile, I’m going back to my blog this weekend and tagging all my posts with my name. Thanks for that advice yesterday.
I think there are great points here, especially given that having a pseud *is* a time suck. But I think you are overlooking the issue of social and industry stigma here, and that’s important for writers of certain genres. Whether it is BDSM or M/M romances, having that kind of work easily linked to a writer’s RL name can cause all sorts of social and personal issues, from family ostracism to job loss. One writer I know works as a vet in a small, conservative Southern town; it could seriously impact her financial stability for her M/M romances to be linked with her. In your example, the BDSM writer would never even get her childrens books published if not for a pen name.
I choose a pen name because under my RL name I primarily about grief and mourning issues, as well as foray into mainstream sf. If people in either sector knew of my M/M erotica, it would marginalize me, and so rather than making my life easier, not having a pen name would compound my difficulties.
Is that fair? No. Am I all for being “out and proud”? Yep. Is that always a realistic option? No, it’s not. In my case, I’m not really concerned if an individual here or there finds out about my dual identities (because you are absolutely right: someone will); but it would be problematic for me to try to do it all under one umbrella, so to speak, and this is definitely one of those situations where it will be easier to laugh about it later, rather than fight it out earlier.
I agree, and I think you should use pen names when it comes to certain genres. My point is that a pen name cannot hide your identity like it used to, and the shelter is does offer is getting thinner by the day. That is a risk that goes with writing that genre. Also, if I make a choice to write certain genres, I really should give up on others. I really need to choose between Christian Inspiration and erotica. I can’t have both because the privacy is no longer there and I can set myself up for big problems.
The good news is that most people do not spend their free time investigating people they know :D. But, we do have to be aware of risk when we make certain decisions. Thanks for the comment!
Wow, I get to be first today–how fun is that? (At least that’s how it looks on my screen 🙂
Okay, pen-names: mine is, I always wanted one, it ties in some meaning for me and I love it. (So does my Twitter handle, but my pen name is always next to it so the two are associated. Not that I’m not taking so much of what you write under major consideration, Kristen–I most certainly do. Now my stubborn decisions are more informed, lol.)
Back to pen names: one little side goody that came out of mine: b/c the surname begins w/ ‘A’ it’s often listed first on flyers, etc where book fairs or other selling events are involved. Never thought of that when I adopted it. And as a romance writer–at least for now–the name is much more romantic than my maiden name (and a whole lot better than my married name).
A great weekend to all!
Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
NO MATTER WHY
The Wild Rose Press
I’m in total agreement with you, Kristen! I’ve been wavering about using a pen name…and I think I’ll skip it. I like my own name! I’m definitely tweeting this – lots of my friends are currently thinking about this issue. Thanks so much!
I initially chose a pen name both for privacy and because my RL name doesn’t seem to “go” with my genre. I’m pretty well over the privacy issue and I like my pen name. Anything I write from now on will certainly be published under the same umbrella. (I’m such a slow writer the risk of me breaking out in a wildly different genre is next to nil!)
Here’s my logic for using a pen name. I’m just not that close to my family, and I’ve always had a problem relating my ‘real’ surname to myself. I want to use a pseudonym to make any achievements I may make really mine. ‘May’ is actually a friend’s name (‘Sean’ is all my own), and ironically, he and his mum don’t much like it because his dad left when he was little.
I totally recognise the argument about using a pen name to shield oneself, that it is a symptom of fear – I feel that fear. But it’s a very complex issue, and I’m sure people have reasons for using nom de plumes that touch on very deep concerns about identity.
Maybe there are even good reasons for having a pen name. If John Realname is afraid of being a writer, maybe Johnny Moniker is a useful persona to overcome that fear.
You can use a pen name, just expect extra work. That’s all. In most cases our real name is a superior choice. But writing is a business. Every decision needs to be weighed–cost vs. benefit. If I open a boutique and I want it to be in the old building that was my favorite toy store when I was a kid, I have to weigh that choice. Is the emotional fuzzy worth choosing this location versus another site on a main street? If it is, then I have consciously made that decision and accepted possible consequences. Make sense?
I am thinking on the same plane, Sean. A name is an identity. Unfortunately, we got into this world without the freedom to give ourselves the name we really want and carry the name we really want.
Also, my reason for wanting to have a pen name is to separate my writing life from my private life. Why was Mark Twain so successful with his, I wonder.
I’m currently wavering around on this because I want to mainly write YA fantasy. But I have also written an adult dystopian novel and I would like to write erotica. Now, as far as the adult dystopia goes, yeah, whatever, no biggie. But I’m worried about the implications of YA vs. erotica.
Should I just not write/publish erotica if I’m going to write YA? It’s not the kids I’m worried about so much as their parents…
First, writing multiple genres is hard….really hard. It is one thing when we are new and not beholden to deadlines. Once you get to a certain level, one of the genres will suffer. My concern is less that you are writing erotica and more about time constraints. Since I am not concerned about people knowing that I write about social media and thrillers, my platform is all in one place. Writing two genres is hard, but having one platform makes it easier. But you are going to have to build a separate platform for the erotica AND write two separate genres that cannot support each other and share fan base.
As I said in an earlier comment, the shelter a pen name offers erotica authors is getting flimsier by the day. I think that mixing those two genres could be problematic, and (to play armchair shrink), I wonder if subconsiously you wouldn’t sabotage your own success out of subconsious fear. I think you should focus on one or the other and if you are going to do the erotics, then just write fantasy for adults and save the headache. But, ultimately it’s your decision. Best of luck! 😀
I have two words for you: Kelley Armstrong. She writes both YA and adult Fantasy under the same name. I hesitate to call her Women of the Otherworld series erotica, but it *does* deal with the adult themes of sex, murder, violence, and so on. In fact, I bought her YA books because I love her “regular” books so much.
I think that erotica is (at least as far as I can see) becoming less stigmatized as it has been in the past, and I’d like to see more authors be “out and proud” so to speak. There will always be people who think it’s nothing more than porn, just like there will always be people who see Michelangelo’s David as perverted just because he happens to be naked.
You can’t please all the people all the time, and if you worry about what others think about your writing, you could end up strangling your muse. It happened to me when I allowed someone else to dictate to me what I should feel shame about.
Be who you are, write what your muse wants, and let me know when it comes out!
AMEN! Great advice, Gigi *hugs*
You just made me feel a heck of a lot more confident in including erotic scenes in my fantasy sequel 😉
I have to say, I’m so exhausted from being yelled at.(And I’m including all blogs and loops) Pen names suck. People who feel bad about negative contest scores suck. People who don’t twitter suck. All the negative is so draining.
Because, ultimately, you may be right and wrong. Maybe people bought books by Victoria Alexander because the name made them think of corsets and romance.
Don’t get me wrong, I love your blog. You have tons of great advice. But when I see the titles come through on the feed, I feel like I’m being chastised. Even if I’m already ‘going hard’, I just want to ‘go home.’
Thanks for the feedback…I will watch that :D. But, in fairness, I want you guys to succeed. I see too many writers spreading themselves too thinly and allowing fear to steal their dreams. We have to make this social media thing as easy/simple as possible or it will kill any time we have to write great books. I am sorry I made you feel yelled at. That was never ever the purpose. My messages are always intended to empower you and free you.
A lot of things “suck” in this industry, but I’ve always seen your posts as a “we’re-all-in-the same-boat-and-look-at-me-I-just-stepped-in-that-pile-of-stinky-fish-don’t-do-that” kind of way.
I don’t think that sucks at all. 🙂
LOL…well I do get compared to that drill instructor on the Geico commercial, :D. Hey, I want to save you guys TIME. We have solittle of it and I have done a lot of really stupid things that seem like great ideas.
Privacy on the internet is a pretty laughable idea. I chose a pen name to separate my current career (software development) from my writing. But just about everything I do on the internet is under my pen name. If you’re looking, you could probably pretty easily connect Crista Ayers with my real name, but I don’t think most of my potential employers will be looking that hard. I minimize the identity switch by almost exclusively using Crista Ayers online and in my interactions IRL in writer’s circles. I don’t have a problem sharing my real name, but I’d rather all my writing be associated with my pen name.
I am so thankful for this article. I must admit I have been waivering due to being used to the ‘old’ way. It’s great that you mentioned writing in different genres. I am writing a book in Christian Non-fiction and I write online articles about ‘simple’ living. I also write for the WL Insider about techie stuff, wordpress, business, memberships and the WishList Member plugin.
It’s nice to have such a variety because I never feel that ‘writers’ block. If I have a down-time on one I can usually come up with something concerning the others.
I have been so busy with my ‘day’ job working with WishList Products that I am just now beginning my own blog and websites, so they are very new with not much content uploaded yet … but please, remember my name, as you will see much more of me in days ahead. 🙂
You can all find me at: @bobbihunter
Have a Great Day!
I have changed all the above urls to:
It is by my husband & I – John & Bobbi Raffin… 🙂
Have a great day!
Don’t have your pen name email forward to you real name inbox…lol and get more than one browser to have your pen name on and you real name on the other…that is all…
Man you should have heard us at the conference with Piper. I didn’t know what to call her, LOL. I still stumble when I chat with her on the phone. “Hi, Piper…I mean karla….urgh.”
I do that with her all the time! Since I met her in person first I have tried to get it in my mind to use Piper for when I comment on her blog and use Twitter but then I’ll forget and use the wrong name in email. Maybe I’ll start using Kiper or Parla. 🙂
No worries. 8)
Heh, I had a “rock star name” all picked out when I was much younger: Sahara Moon. I was sooo pleased with it, because Sahara means moon, apparently, so I was the double moon and that was a Star Wars reference as well as an Elfquest reference.
And then I grew up. My writer name is Gigi Salem as opposed to Gihan Salem not because I’m averse to my given name but because so many people know (or have known) me by my nickname that I sort of already have a platform among friends. It’s how I introduce myself 90% of the time, so why not capitalize on that, yeah?
I agree that a pen name can take more work–I have one. It it is a decision that needs to be taken seriously. For me, it is worth it.
My “real” last name is Borath (maiden). After my brother and I getting picked on in middle school for “boring Borath” (love how witty those middle school kids are), I decided it just didn’t set the right tone for a romance writer. My married name is Nonnemacher. To be honest, I was being optimistic, and decided I hate signing it on credit card receipts now, how would I feel if I ever had to sign it on books?
I grew up as SusiQ, and still sign all my emails to family and friends “SQ,” so I kept that. It is a part of me. I also created my Facebook fan page off of my real page, and have been very upfront with the pen name. I am definitely not trying to hide behind it.
I was talking with a friend who also uses a pen name, and we have both seen one positive change since we have adopted the change. When we talk to friends and family, they seem to take us more seriously now that we have our pen names. It is like they are saying, “Hey, she took the time to create a whole new persona–she must be serious!” 🙂
Even funnier–as soon as we start talking about my writing, almost all of them start calling me Savana. 😀
I’m sure I’m the odd one out, but I like my pen name. Originally, I started using it precisely to build separate platforms because under my real name I’m organizing herb walks and writing non-fiction articles to do with herbs and outdoors. My pen name is symbolic of my alter-ego who writes weird fiction. And I still love it. She is me, and I am her, and we’re not hiding anything because I divulge my real identity on the ‘Madison’ website. *Shrug* I like keeping my duality separated, but as time goes by, the two are closer to becoming one. I’m more likely to adopt my pen name and ditch my real name, though.
Oh Madison I would have loved to have had a pen name. Do you have any idea how many Kristen Lambs there are? I joke that we breed like sheep :D.
There is nothing wrong with having a pen name, we just have to go into the decision understanding it is extra work. That’s all. And it sounds like you had a pen name for right reasons, so go for it and love it all you like. Merging the two would probably be wise, so that the fan bases can comingle and support both your genres. I like herbs and outdoors and I like weird fiction. You shouldn’t need to separate those. My advice would be to start merging the platforms into one large Madison Woods platform.
LOL. The pen name is a lot more constant, too. I’ve been married twice in the past, so two different last names so far, not counting the maiden name I used when I first started out. Now there’s a new last name on the horizon… so yeah, the pen name would be the better option for organizing all of my writing.
From a practical standpoint, though, I like that if you Google ‘Roxann Phillips’ you’ll find lots of references to the herbal direction of my life. If you Google ‘Madison Woods’, you’ll find my fiction front. Unless a person is specifically trying to match Madison and Roxann, there’s not much overlap in my career paths. However, as you mentioned, the liklihood that the two will merge is great because I use herbal insight in my fiction and that will likely increase as time goes by.
The only reason why I could see somebody using a pen name is to create distance with his personal life. Yeah, people will end up knowing, but it doesn’t matter as your fans will remember the pen name and if time and success are on your side, your pen name will become your name.
Identity is very fickle. Even more so in the electronic age.
My writing tends to fall into two distinct categories: independent film making, and something I loosely call how-to/inspirational. With two books in print, and (hopefully) a third coming I had been wondering if I should use a pen name, or buy separate book URLs!
You have helped me See The Light. I should use my own name TonyLevelle.com, with different book pages, on one website. I still don’t know how to handle the blog thing… I only have one blog and it’s just Tony Levelle at blogspot. Maybe one blog per book?
I am halfway through We Are Not Alone. Amazing book. I am recommending it to every writer I know.
Will be linking to your blog in a few minutes… enter me in the contest!
I would incorporate your books into your blog using Blogspot’s pages in connection with your author site (If/when you get one put together.)
Not the most professional example, but it’s how my game design blog is set up over at http://indiegamedesign.blogspot.com
Thanks Patrick! I will check it out. Have a blogspot blog connected to my website, but it’s just kind of a place holder.
Today I am reading We Are Not Alone today, and even though it’s simply explained and easy to read, am feeling overwhelmed by all the work that I have not done…
Baby steps. You will be shocked how fast you will command the google search of your name with just the focus I teach you in WANA. This isn’t due tomorrow. Breathe and most of all…have fun :D.
I’ve recently done some research into the etymology of my surname. I’ve come to find out that my surname is very rare, something I knew, but hadn’t confirmed. With less than 500 people in the entire United States who share my surname, I definitely don’t have much competition when it comes to setting up my identity online.
Of course, makes me extra easy to find online, good thing I’m looking at writing and business as career fields!
Sage counsel, indeed! A former colleague of mine, who is writing under her own name (for travel books) and a pen name (for chicklit), wonders if it’s worth it. Answer? No, since why can’t a travel writer pen some decent romance novels? I never once thought of writing under a fancy new name, but I guess there are those who do. Never could figure it out, and your post confirmed it for me. Thanks.
On Twitter and FB and all the random sites, people know me as Elizabeth Sharp. In real life my name is Donna Dull. True, people wouldn’t pick up a book because of the name, but I could see them passing it by if it says Dull right on the cover. As for changing my first name, well, there’s a deep-seated grudge that goes way back to childhood issues I’m sure no one wants to read about. I have no illusions that changing my name is going to magically keep me out of the public eye. It was purely for ease of marketing. Besides, this leaves me free to separate my cosmetology stuff from my writing stuff, because sometimes things just need to be separate.
LOL…you fall under names that I would advise changing for marketing reasons, :D. My dad went to school with twin boys with the last name, Rape. And we have all gotten a laugh at the Fokker’s expense. But you picked up a pen name for great reasons, and it sounds like you are doing everything correctly.
You know I see signs in Indiana for a RV dealer named Raper. I don’t think I’d name the place after myself in that case. 🙂 I definitely don’t think you should have a pen name for the sake of a pen name. But what about using initials? I confess to having some trouble remembering them sometimes, so maybe that’s my answer right there. But it works for JK Rowling and LJ Smith…
That’s why Twitter is handy. We get to see the name over and over and over….and over. Eventually it just engraves in our mind.
Yeah, my grandparents used to go to a proctologist named Dr. Rump. *giggles*
Tom Raper RVs! We see them here in Ohio and it still makes me picture a horrid scenario from out of “The Hitchhiker.” I guess Mr. Tom is of the school of thought that “any publicity is good publicity.”
I’m still sticking with a pen name. My surname is hard to spell and somewhat unpronounceable. if they can’t find me, they can’t buy me.
As far as privacy goes, yes, the majority of people will not hunt you down…but the ones who do are good at assembling information that can be used to steal your identity. A pen name may be more of a privacy curtain and less of a privacy wall, but it’s a little extra work that may mean the difference between a nice lawn and dog-poo being burned in your front yard.
I agree…but people need to know what you just said; it is a privacy curtain not a privacy wall.
I believe pen names were for centuries a wall, and it is easy for us to forget that times have changed. Thanks for the comment and great statement. 😀
I use forbiddenhero online only, but I make sure that my real name is pretty much shown everywhere. I do have a boring name, but I still use it. People recognize both as the same person, since I don’t hide behind my username. That’s all it basically is to me. My books aren’t going to be under Forbidden Hero. If anything, they’ll be under J.R. Hopkins, since I like the way that sounds more than Jeremy Hopkins. That’s understandable right?
Sometimes it seems like most of my closest writing friends are using pen names. I call everyone by their pen name all the time now, just so I don’t accidentally “out” anyone. The other day someone dropped me a supportive comment in response to some things I had posted about my current book not going smoothly or being finished in a timely fashion. It was basically a thumbs up for continuing to push through, at any pace, rather than giving up. Whoa, give up? Well yeah, actually. As much as I love the work–most of the time–I have felt tremendous pressure over this stupid sequel (most of which I put on myself), and have had thoughts of just chucking it all. Bad days happen, right? Anyway, in contemplating all this, it made me wonder: if I had used a pen name instead of my real name, if I didn’t feel like I had made this path so much of my identity, would it have been easier to turn my back on it and do something else (as I have been known to do in the past)? Another reason I’m glad I kept my own name.
You know, besides that I’m a natural blonde and there’s only so much I can keep up with.
I’m not yet published and I’ve got zero web presence. I’ve been debating the whole name thing for a long time. This is mostly because I used to be a teacher and although I’m home with the kids now, I might some day want to go back to teaching. I agree that most co-workers aren’t going to spend time Googling you, but a bored 12 year old? He will. My concern is the backlash from parents or the school district. I write romance, but it’s not PG-rated. I know I won’t have real privacy if someone wants to find out, but if a kid searches for me on-line and only finds teaching-related credentials, I don’t think he’d continue to search for some other link. BUT if my novels showed up first, then it might be interesting for him to show up at school holding one of my books.
That is just the risk that goes with mixing that kind of profession with that kind of genre. To be blunt, that same 12 year old could find you anyway. Search engines are improving exponentially and that thin protection afforded by a pen name is dwindling by the second. I wouldn’t worry about it. Just use your name or a close variation. But ultimately it will be up to you. Just write. Don’t live in fear. We can’t make everyone happy and we will go crazy trying to. Be happy and strive for your dreams and damn the naysayers.
Okay, question about mine…. First, I go by Heather Trim. My full name is Heather Aine Trim. So I’ve started a blog and combined my first and middle name to look like this: Heatheraine Trim. Why? I don’t really know. I was bored. It’s still my name, even aquaintences will notice that it’s me. So my ultimate question is: Is it dumb to continue with this pen name/name variation? Do you think it works? Any thoughts? I’m totally open to constructive criticism. Lay it on me!
I think it is fine. If you like it, close networks recognize it, and you are consistent, no problem. Enjoy :D.
Great advice, Kristen! I’m not exactly using a pen name, but I am writing under my maiden name (a second legal name for me here in Ontario). So it’s certainly not to hide me, because I’ve been known under this name previously, but it has more to do with it being MY name, not my inlaws’ name, if that makes sense. My scientific journal publications are all under my married name, but that’s okay; that’s a completely different kind of writing in a different field than the science I write in my fiction. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a big deal to separate the two. And if people put the two names together, that’s perfectly okay.
Yeah, Lamb is my maiden name, so I get that. It was easier than McKibben for people to spell and remember.
Late to the party, but I wanted to say that’s exactly what I’m doing. My married name is Stacy Whisenand (which is awful), but I’m writing under Stacy Green. I know there are a lot of us, but it’s MY name. It may make more work in the long run, but using that name is important to me.
This was a good post. You opened my eyes to some issues. I have a pen name for my erotic romance about to come out – but then I was a pastor for 10 years 😉 I won’t be hiding my ‘erotice flavor’ but like you said, I will post it that my novel under my pen name will be coming out. That way those who want to retain the image of me being a ‘good girl’ will have the option to ignore this side of me and wait for when my women’s fiction comes out. LOL
Hm. When I decided that I need to dig in and really start networking, I joined everything under Nichole Chase. That name hold special meaning for me, and I really wanted to keep things seperate from my ‘real life’. Not that writing isn’t the real me, or that I expect people to not figure out my real name. But this way I have a way of circulating in the networks I need to, and not drag my family pictures through it all. I have a young daughter which really made me decide that I didn’t want just anyone looking at my regular FB pictures. Also, my real last name is Cowart. And I often have that mispronounced in horrible ways. Coward being one of my least favorites 😉
I have a public profile with my daughter’s pictures on them. What I did is create a list of people that have access to those pictures. Everyone else doesn’t even see the albums she’s in but they can see everything else. A lot of FB friends I don’t know in real life don’t even know I have a a daughter.
It’s under privacy settings.
Kristen – love your style, humour, excellent information and reality checks you bring to your blogs. Write on! Thanks!
I wanted a pen name until I listened to your wise words at DFWcon! I am a private person but I’m letting that go…facebook is up, I started tweeting this week, blog is next! Thanks, Kristen!
Hey, is that 5 page critique really for ME? Or is there another “Laura Droege” who lurks around your blog?!
Yep…it is you. E-mail when you are ready :D.
For some reason, I can’t find your email address on the site. I know it’s on here somewhere, but I can’t find it!
kristen@kristenlamb dot org 😀
I had the same problem. I finally found it – at the bottom of Kristen’s home page:
Brace yourself, LOL.
My pseudonym, Manon Eileen, is actually necessary for a whole different reason.
Manon is my first name and Eileen my second, I just dropped my last name. My reason is that my name is Dutch, and when pronounced properly, it is a word with certain.. connotations… In English. Which is why it’s better for me to just drop the last name.
But I would certainly just use this name for everything I publish.
Don’t you love it when the Universe and fab people (like you) validate our instincts?
Soon launching a new author website branded with my impossible-to-spell-or-pronounce name, that I happen to love. (http://www.christinecastigliano.com)
United State of Tara = my favorite item from your post. She’s a goddess. Can’t wait until she brings all her peeps under one massive superpersona.
Thanks for all you do here, with grace and humor.
Google’s slanty letters have you covered, LOL. I think that is an awesome last name and thank God search engines are there to correct me :D. Thanks for the compliment and great job!
Kristen, I started with a pen name because I was in that old fashioned thing–bricks and mortar store–and wanted my name near the front of the alphabet. So, I went from Carolyn Smith to Caroline Clemmons. Now it doesn’t matter, but what do I do? I have all these books as Caroline Clemmons.
You’re fine. No need to change. Most of this blog is geared toward those writers starting out, to give them the real challenges that go with a pen name. Can we have one? Sure. But we need to make that decision and informed decision lest we unwittingly make too much work for ourselves :D.
One reason I could see using a pen name is around genres. Besides the erotica/YA problem already mentioned, some names just lend themselves better to certain genres. “Dan Brown” is short and snappy, so it works for thrillers, but what if he wanted to write a romance novel? It doesn’t work quite as well. The same could be true in reverse.
Another reason is that if your first book doesn’t sell well, you could have trouble selling the second under the same name. I know of several writers who have changed to different names for that reason.
Of course, the decision to use a pen name for either of the above reasons would likely be made in tandem with your publisher and agent. But I can see that being awkward if you’ve already started building a platform around your own name. Even if you do your best to link the two, it’s an extra step for readers to have to make.
Dan Brown isn’t far from Sandra Brown and she sells plenty. As far as “the first book doesn’t sell well” remember that authors only recently had any control over that. Before the success of the book was really up to luck. Now? We can help our books succeed. Also now? People have way shorter memories than they used to. Your odds of succeeding are better if you focus and build that platform. If people know you and like you they will buy your books anyway. And nowadays we can download free samples. So if your first book fell flat, you can hook with the sample of the second. Word gets out just as fast about good books.
I agree with your comments about privacy and somewhat agree about the cross-genre, though I have friends who are writing Inspirationals under new names.
I skimmed the comments here, and didn’t immediately see anyone mention my own reason for a new name — because my real name is another the same as another author who is now a NY Times bestseller, though she wasn’t at that time.. Actually, there was a THIRD author with the same name, so Author #2 was reinventing her brand and adding her middle name. I had planned to use a pseudonym but my agent talked me out of it, assuring me that the publisher would add my middle name but the ball was dropped. (Intentionally, I suspect.)
As I said, Author #2 was reinventing herself. But her first books had been in the same genre as mine and published under the same first-last name as mine. So readers AND booksellers assumed it was her book. Even though my sales probably benefited by being linked to the more successful Author #2, my book’s low print would have thrown off her sell-through figures. She survived and is flourishing despite that little(?) mistake.
BTW, Author #1 also changed her name shortly afterward.
Those are great reasons for a pen name. Yeah, if your name is Stephen King and you ain’t the King? Change it. But, those are sound marketing reasons for a name change, which is fine :).
I publish under my own name and a pen name, and I’ll have work out under yet another pen name before the summer’s over. My reasons for doing that are mainly marketing, though there are other considerations (too numerous to list). I’m happy with my decision, and don’t regret the choice even with the extra work.
On managing multiple pen names – I think you have to realize & just accept that if you do use multiple names, one will get the majority of your time by default. My pen names don’t have individual accounts on FB, they have pages off my main account that I won’t really try to build until I have more work out for each to support a fan base. They do have twitter feeds, and I use Tweetdeck so I could, in theory interact with all my accounts at once, but I’m very clear in each bio that it’s a pen name associated with my publishing brand, and I use them far more sparingly than my real name. Both pen names have blogs because I serialize work (against Kristen’s advice, as a disclaimer), but that’s mainly what they’re for – along with new release announcements. And that’s no more work than the normal writing I’d do for those genres. If I wasn’t serializing, it wouldn’t take that much time to do one post a week for each blog, just to keep them active and fresh.
Because I keep the pen names tied loosely to my real name, and tightly to my publishing brand, I honestly don’t really notice the extra work much at this point, and aside from needing to be more interactive on Twitter when I have more work out, I don’t see that changing much. Your mileage may vary, of course, just thought I’d share how I manage my alter-egos in case it’s helpful.
I do not think it’s a matter of all of us wanting to hide. I am using a pen name, but only the surname. Why? Think of Archibald Leach, who turned into Cary Grant.
I was a rock musician in the 80s and we always had nicknames or cool names so to me, it’s part of my author persona, much like I had a rock persona, maybe all this is, because I’m a frustrated actor but I enjoy my “branding” and I love my name so much, I’ve considered changing my surname to Murphy legally. (besides, I have Irish ancestry and I do have a real Murphy somewhere on my father’s side lol)
I do agree with your points. Sure it’s harder up to an extent, I think I would struggle if my real name wasn’t Alannah, think the fact it’s only my surname that’s differernt helps.
Of course, if you absolutely MUST adopt a nom de plume, and want a way to come up with one, there’s always the “That Girl” method. In a That Girl episode, Marlo Thomas has an argument with her dad about whether to use one, and her method of coming up with it involved changing your last name to your first name, and using where you came from as your last name.
Using this method, Ann Marie becomes Marie Brewster. It doesn’t always work, of course. You can get some oddball results (like William Shatner becoming Shatner Côte Saint-Luc), or some funny ones (like Minnesota Fats becoming Fats Minnesota). Sometimes it is better to stick with your real name, after all.
LOL I love this! Of course, I’d end up with the completely absurd “York Albuquerque”…although hey, that might make a great name for a character!
>Think of Archibald Leach, who turned into Cary Grant.
Or even better, Spangler Arlington Brugh who became Robert Taylor (I can’t imagine what kind of sadistic mother would name her kid Spangler Arlington Brugh).
But is changing your name entirely really the same thing as adopting a pen name? When you change your name, the old one goes bye-bye, while using a pen name usually involves keeping your real name and using the pen name only when writing. It seems like juggling both names would be more of a pain than a straight change.
Vaguely on topic, a month or so back, I heard a Jack Benny show, in which Dennis Day addressed Al Jolson as “Asa”. People laughed, but I don’t know whether it’s because they knew that really was his birth name, or because it just sounded like the kind of thing you were supposed to laugh at. Oddly enough, I’m still wondering about it a month later.
I don’t want to use a pen name, but I’m going to have to. Someone else is already publishing with the same name as mine, including the same middle initial – just a different spelling of the first name.
I haven’t decided on the name yet, and find the whole idea a bit unsettling – establishing myself under a new name that no one who knows me will recognize. I’ve heard other people talk about having to train themselves to answer when someone calls the pen name across the room (Who, me?) So I plan to go by my real first initials, and answer to my real first name, at least.
But I have a copy of your book, Kristen, and I’m trying to be as prepared as possible.
Joseph isn’t my real last name but the reason I use it isn’t to hide or because I’m scared of failure. I refuse to be associated with my real last name because it’s my ex-husband’s. I keep it because we have a daughter but I never want to see that name on the cover of my book.
I don’t use my maiden name because I found an author who writes in a similar genre with that name. Although I think I’ve chosen to use a pen name for the right reasons I wish I had thought it through more because my first name is real and already so common that I should have chosen a last name that stands out more. So many Jennifer Josephs online.
I’ll just have to be the most awesome Jennifer Joseph ever to stand out. 🙂
Ok, I get that we should be using our real name but I have a problem Krtisten.
My real name is Barbara Taylor and when that is typed into Google, guess what comes up? Right first time – Barbara Taylor-Bradford!
How can I get round that? I’d love to hear from you.
Barbara TAYLOR, you say? You’re not related to Spangler Arlington Brugh, are you?
Hi Graeme. Haha – I wish; ‘fraid not though, he was a great actor!
Anyway, Taylor is my married name!
My number one reason for picking a pen name? There is another writer out there who has my real name and already captured all the internet real estate. And because it’s my chance to finally get to rename myself what I always wanted to be called growing up 😀 I’m not under illusions of life-long privacy or whatever. And I really don’t feel like I have some kind of split personality or that it’s a big time suck. I exist on the internet about 95% of the time as my author brand. The other 5% is when my friends and family annoy the crap out of me to actually sign on to facebook and see this that or the other thing.
You talk a lot about activating intimacy networks, but I don’t think my real name would have accomplished that either because I’m so disconnected from my hometown, etc. most of them don’t know my married name (and no way in HELL am I using my maiden name…I HATED it and no one ever spelled or pronounced it right…good riddance), so I don’t think I’m missing all that much on that front.
Isn’t wonderful, though, that we have these choices? Frankly, in high school, I fantasized about starting fresh, with a name of my own choosing, rather than one that I had no say in. It’s all about informed choices; as long as we know what the trade-offs are, and what is involved and are willing to take that on, either path can lead us where we want to go. Good for you, Kait, in knowing what your path is.
All good points. One thing I would add is that writing under a pen name is absolutely zero extra work if you write under only that name. Unless, of course, you have a nice platform built up under your real life name. So whether you’re going to write under your real name or a pen name, pick it and stick to it. The choice needs to be made early on.
I write in multiple genres and it makes my head spin to think of using a pen name for each one. I’m glad to see that you don’t think it matters. People always say to use a pen name for a different genre to differentiate, but can’t a reader use the blurb to differentiate? Or the cover? Or the category it’s listed under? I’m going to depend on smart readers rather than on creating multiple platforms :).
I did see someone on the Kindleboards mention that he knew someone that chose a pen name based on being shelved close to a bestselling author. That was something new and interesting I had never thought of.
I had not decided but I think you won me over with one point. Uniqueness. If we have a common name, like Dan Brown, then we have to train people to the specifics of “our” Dan Brown. Likewise, if we have a rarer name, like Angelika Mjeleski (just made this up), then we have to train people to the name itself for them to remember our specifics. Pretty much the same process. Still, a part of me wishes I had a maiden name, but being a guy that just isn’t going to happen (not a poke, I agree that Lamb is easier than your married name) 🙂
Thanks for another great post Kristen, can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next week.
Surely you are missing one of the key reasons to use a pen name, that someone else has already staked a claim on it. I would be quite happy to use my own name. Well, okay maybe I could get used to it – I’d still be quite happy if my rather stuffy employer never connected me with my writing. However somebody else is already published in that name, so I don’t see that I have much choice in using a pen name.
I would like to use a pen name because my subject/experiences are very personal. I live in a small town with no support from family or friends to help me through this. I want to write about it to let others know someone can survive what is happening to me, plus it would be good for me to process all of it.
If I share all my experiences, I do not want to be in the spotlight. I would rather be the supporting cast for someone, not the leading lady.
But you are planning to fail. With this approach you limit how effectively you can build a platform, so you are limiting how many people can be helped by your writing….and at the end of the day, if the book was a wild fluke that became successful despite your efforts to hide, people would still know you wrote the book. This is not the time to be shy. Your work will get front and center stage, but the name is vital and pen names no longer allow us to hide. I can appreciate what yo are feeling, but even if you chose to write under Silvia Franks and your book was a mega-success…Sylvia Franks (YOU) would still be center stage. In the end, do what you feel best doing, but we have to take risk if we dare to be dreamers.
I’m far from being even remotely publish ready and if/when I get there I’m still not sure I’ll publish but it is the old dream. My situation is that my current blog started out as a way for family to keep up with us after a move and it still is that though a lot more of my hobbies are coming through these days. That means there is a lot of family related stuff on the blog that I wouldn’t want on an author blog. Same deal on FB.
I already know I won’t use my married name, too many people misspell it and heaven forbid something happen with the marriage, not to mention the SM initials (God what was I thinking to take his name?). Also, there is a photographer out there with the same name. I’m not fond of my first name, never have been, and again too many people misspell it. Heaven help the person who calls me Sher! (Too many Sonny and Cher jokes growing up.) Of course, there is the middle name option but it’s rather common.
I’ve been toying with a pen name that is a combo of my sister’s middle name and mine plus my mother’s maiden name. Google search doesn’t bring up the name and as I used the first name many moons ago as a phone name I actually answer to it.
If I’m going to do this I know I need to start building that presence. So, pen name or not? Thanks.
Not sure how your blog is set up but with some you can set password protected blog posts or separate pages for only family related stuff that doesn’t link back to the main page.
For FB, I have combined all the pictures of my daughter into a couple of albums that are only viewable by people I put on a privacy list. You can do this under the privacy settings. Everyone else won’t even see the albums and won’t know they’re missing out on anything.
I would go with Sherri Meyer. It is easy and people know you so you don’t have to construct an entirely new identity. I am lazy and all for what is simple. Like I said, Kristen Lamb is NOT glamorous and I have heard all the jokes…”Marry Hannah” “Lambo” “The Lambinator.” But at the end of the day, it is just less work. It is a personal choice. Is it worth the extra effort? If it is? Go for it. My goal was just to ensure that writers knew that pen names could not offer them what they have historically…no privacy and no anonymity. So, when it comes down to brass tacks, is it worth more effort? If you want a new identity, then rock on, creat it and then stick to it. Buy WANA and I walk you through how to command the Google search, even with a pen name.
Thanks for the replies Jennifer and Kristen!
I’ve never used Meyer (married name) professionally and my challenge with the maiden is that I can’t get the domain with it (one of the reasons I started looking into a pen name). I plan to put up WANA on Friday when the book budget is reset for the new month, LOL
What a thought provoking post! I used to have a pen name. I also used to have it as my net nickname. Last year I decided to change to my real name, and everything changed with it. I became more open, began to submit again, and a lot more.
Really happy I chose to do this. And all that fear I had is out of the window 🙂
My last name had an interesting history. It’s probably shared by less than 300 people worldwide–only those related to us have the same last names. Basically, my great great grandfather have to change our surname in defiance to the Spaniards (he was a freedom fighter in the late 1800’s). Hence, the unique last name.
Everytime I look for friends in Facebook having a common name, I always tell them to search for me instead. It’s easier to look up especially since I had an equally rare first and middle names.
In the past, the reasons (mostly for women authors) to use a pen name were that the publishers theorized that authors could not successfully jump genre’ especially if it was a male dominated genre such as crime thrillers. Nora Roberts was associated with one genre’ and when she decided to write in an additional genre’ used the pen name J.D. Robb. However Debbie Macomber dominates her genre’. Back in the days of Nancy Drew, Carolyn Keene was actually various male authors hired to write the individual books of Drew series. I believe that pen names are also used for brand association and identifcation as well. You have mentioned Stephen King but prior to his horror success with Carrie he wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman. It may just come down to whatever works for the individual author.
Oops, Carolyn Keene was actually mostly female authors! Got a little backward with my information! Must give credit where it’s due! Apologies for errors!
I read your other blogs about the pen name issue before and after reading them, I really would’ve gone by my legal name (tho’ I really don’t like it *lol*) only… there is another woman with ‘my’ name. And she’s an author and journalist – sooooo I figured it be better to change to a pen name in that case. 😉
You still don’t have to. the “other” Kriten Lamb is media personality. Tagging will make the difference. Unless she is writing the exact same stuff you are, you should be fine.
Kristen, I’m with you. I’m SO with you.
I used to labor for hours, days, weeks to come up with a pen name.
And one morning I woke up, slapped myself upside the forehead, and went “What am I, an idiot?”
I mean… LOOK at my name.
I’m going to bet you have never seen that surname before in your daily travels.
(And if you have, do let me know where, because it is extremely rare and each one we found is somehow related. :))
There are around 100-150 people in the world with that surname. (I’m not kidding.)
Among them, I’m the only “Silke”.
I could never in a million years come up with a name more unique than that. When I realized it, I thought all right — I’m unique. Truly, absolutely unique. I’d be an utter fool to change it to “Jane Smith” or “Mary Jones” just because my surname looks difficult. (Nothing wrong with those names, but you kinda get lost in the masses.)
@Sanna — to me, your reason is a valid one, btw. 🙂 But at the same time… why not? Double exposure for half the work. 😉 Someone googling the other author might find you — and like what you write.
Weird… I wrote a comment ages ago but it’s not on here :-/
Could have been a 3G fail.
Anyway, loved the article. Although I have only ever wanted to write under my own name… just feels weird to write anything under a “pen name”.
Oddly enough, Icy isn’t my real name, but my surname is my own. Icy is just a nickname that stuck ten years ago. People call me that in real life, so it made perfect sense to stick with it when I started sending out submissions. Plus it’s unusual so even if people can’t spell my surname (which they usually can’t) they can at least get directed to the right place by Google since Icy narrows down the search options. I don’t mind people knowing my real name, and many people do, I just decided to go with a name I use in everyday life as well.
Also, co-workers might not Google you, but employers have certainly been known to Google job applicants. They Google my real name and get my LinkedIn profile instead of my blog!
Gonna disagree with you Big Time on this one, Kristen ol’ lamb. Privacy is *not* an illusion provided that you know how to get and maintain it. The average person? Not so much. The average nontechnical, too niched for comfort writer? Even less. So yeah, a 10 y/o with an Internet connection can probably find your mother’s maiden name and SS number, but not every writer with an AKA is going to be a clueless n00b.
The problem is that 1) it is too easy to slip up. I have writers who use pen names accidentally use their real names all the time. Multiple identities is TOUGH. I am just flipping between a maiden name and a married name and I still get an identity crisis. 2) We cannot control what other people post. All it takes is a friend posting a picture and oopsing on the pen name vs. real name and that image is searchable. I am not saying anyone is clueless. I am saying it is extra work that really might not be worth it in the end, when we look at all the demands already placed on our time.
I think the pen name is like a locked screen door. It keeps honest people honest and might make real predators go look for an easier target. But, what I see too many writers believing (mistakenly) is that locked screen door (pen name) is a 3-inch thick reinforced steel door with multiple deadbolts. Not the case. And every day we lose more and more privacy so even computer savvy people have to work harder.
interesting. i’ll read anything that has “suck” in the title. just kidding. i want to win your not so little contest. here’s my first qualifier to get my name in the hat. : )
I went from Pamela Johnson (there’s probably a million of me out there) to Pamela Skjolsvik. I am the only Pamela Skjolsvik in the United States. So, I took your advice and changed twitter to my name and got a website with my name. I’ve been published a few times and I have an embarrassing story online. Well, during my job search, I asked if they would change my name to Pamela Johnson on the website. Well, that dang story still comes up when you google Pamela Skolsvik. I don’t know why that is, so I’ve just got to suck it up and own my work whether it’s cringe worthy in a good way or cringe worthy in a bad way.
Good blog and I agree with you.
Kristen, this is a great post, recommended to me on another forum by Tony Lavelle. (I noticed his comment above.) You make wonderful points. But then you usually do.
I don’t like my name. It doesn’t sound like an author’s name. It could have been worse; my paternal grandmother used to tell me I looked so much like my father when I was born that she wanted them to name me after him. You don’t even want to know. Hideous. Purely hideous.
My pen name popped into my head one day when I was wondering if I should publlish under a pen name. I write historical (and erotic enough) romance that certain people in my life do not need to know about. Thankfully, those people are highly unlikely to find out. I am blessed with near-unlimited time to work on things like blogs and social presence and edits and so on, so having a pen name will work for me, I think, in spite of having to maintain two Facebook pages and so on…
Of course, if I’m outed, I’m outed. I am perfectly comfortable with what I write and wouldn’t apologize to anyone. I just feel it would make some I love uncomfortable around me to know what I *really* write.
However, already I am having trouble remembering who I am. Who knows me as Kellie and who knows me as Summer? I have to work out a solution for that. And my current social media presence is all under my real name, so I’m pretty mcuh starting over. Again, thankfully, I can share my “new” identity with most of my social networking buds so that seems to be working out as well.
Interestingly, almost everyone I’ve handed my card to or introduced myself to has remarked, “Summer Stephens – what a pretty name!” I can live with that.
By the way, I think your name is lovely. And I just purchased WE ARE NOT ALONE and plan to start reading it tonight. I’m sure I’ll find lots of good advice and info in there that will help me remember who I am…
Pfftt…I left the wrong website address in my reply. Sorry.
Definitely great points to consider.
I wanted to add one more to the conversation though: “Rainy” is not my legal name, but it’s been my “real life name” for many years. Many of my friends and acquaintances don’t even recognize I have another name. But, I have no desire to do a legal name change. So, in my case, a pen name makes more sense–especially if you consider the first level of your platform is friends and family.
My family recently learned of my practice website, so you can be sure that website (and that maybe that name) is now abandoned, though it doesn’t yet appear to be so. My real married name is the same as a writer/guru who’s been publishing for a long time, and my real maiden name is shared by a well-known murder victim. Both names are common as Anglo-Saxon dirt. You bet I’ll use a pen name. Still, I’m not getting in a rush to choose one (or more) because the books are not done yet.
I so agree with you!! I thought long and hard about taking a pen name. There were so many reasons why I shouldn’t take a pen name (much of which you covered in this blog post). But the truth is, I am working really hard to build a social media platform, and for me to manage multiple names would be too confusing! It was hard enough emotionally for me to change my last name when I married, why would I go through this again! And I know I would end up responding as the wrong person at some point or another. It’s just not worth it! I wrote about this on my blog just last week if you are interested.
Thanks for a great post!
An interesting article that leaves me with a sense of what to do next. As you can see my own name is currently one which has no real identity. My own blog has been a kind of testing the water experiment and has no aim but to satisfy my interest in blogging.
I’ve been writing for a number of years and only recently reached the decision to share my writing projects online via a blog, although actually using my real name, and not Noobcake which I know isn’t exactly professional! I’ve read how your name is your brand but I don’t actually like my name, David Farmer. I prefer Dave and I’ve never liked the Farmer part.
From a marketing or promotional perspective does it matter that I (or anyone) use a shortened version of their name? Dave instead of David for example? Thinking forward to a possible hopeful future, would using a shortened version look wrong or bad on a book cover? Is that up to the writer or would any publishing company prefer to use the full name? I actually like the name Dave Cake or David Cake. I’d value your opinion on my strange quandary.
You might not like Farmer, but it will sell books because it is memorable. If you shorten your first name that is fine. People in intimate networks know you as Dave, but they wouldn’t recognize “Fabio” if you went for a more “glamorous” name. My professional recommendation would be to stick with Farmer. I wasn’t thrilled with Lamb, but it does drive sales, which, in the end, is what allows us to do this passion of ours for a living. Best of luck! 😀
Kristen, thank you for replying, and so promptly too! I shall take heed of your advice and act accordingly when I make a start. I like the name Noobcake but wouldn’t dream of using it for a serious blog! By the way, I’m really enjoying your series about the antagonist, thoroughly enjoyable and informative stuff!
This was a really interesting post, Kristen! Thanks for sharing. A friend posted your link on Twitter, and I’m thrilled to have discovered your blog!
There was one category I thought you could have addressed, which is for those of us who are thinking of creating a pen name not because we dislike our name or have any illusions of privacy, but rather because SO MANY other people have our exact same name. And not only people in general, but other writers specifically. What do you say to that? Jennifer Levine is so common, I actually personally know a few other women with the same name! Adding my middle initial might help, and I’ve thought about going by just my first and middle names, but the more I think about it, the more I think it might just be easiest to create a pen name. What do you think?
Also, I was unclear as to why you keep emphasizing that it’s so much “work” to have a pen name. Do you mean just from the time constraints of having multiple Facebook/Twitter accounts? Or from a legal standpoint? It doesn’t seem like much work to me.
Yes, the multiple accounts can get dizzying to keep up with. My goal is to streamline everything so it is seamless. Can we have a pen name? Sure. We can also drive a truck shaped like a giant box, but don’t expect decent gas mileage, ;),
Great stuff, I had been thinking about a pen name and you helped ne decide that I dont need one.
You have a great sense of humor and I thoroughly enjoy your blogs.
‘There was one category I thought you could have addressed, which is for those of us who are thinking of creating a pen name not because we dislike our name or have any illusions of privacy, but rather because SO MANY other people have our exact same name.’
Ah, me. And that, in short, is precisely why (since I haven;t as yet built a platform or presence) I’m pondering the whole pen-name issue. Why? Well, at least you’re a Levine, wise lady. Me? I bet my search count beats yours… :-).
Yes, presence or platfrom is identity plus content. But for any given quality/ quantity/ level of content, at what point does the horde of people not you out-weigh the adviseability of being, um, you? In essence, at what point does _staying_ you actually contribute more to not being found than being found? For instance, in the universe we laughingly call Real, I’ve never had to pay to be ex-directory. Nobody can find me anyway :-).
This. This is why *you rock.* Yes, I wanted a pen name in order to hide. I was thinking, “How will I purchase & register the URL? My real name is on the credit card.” That was just the beginning of my questions… Wow. I’ll have so much more time to write now that I won’t have to be all sneaky! 🙂 thank you, Kristen!!
I do have a penname: @nataliagortova and if you stick that in facebook you’ll find my real name in two seconds flat 🙂
There’s a writer in Inspirational fiction called Michael Phillps, and it’s such a small world of writers i just didn’t want to be associated with him my whole career. He writes VERY different stuff from me.
That’s why I did it.
Well, you have already done it so no worries, but names are only half the brand. A brand is the name + content. Almost nobody else would have made that same connection. If I hear Sandra Brown, I am not likely to mix her up with Dan Brown. I am not totally against pen names, but they do take extra work and we need all the time we can get to just tread water in this biz :D.
You rock! I am amazed by the hundreds of comments, and the ones that you’ve responded to. Thank you for the informative post. I am stumped with this whole pen-name debate. I have chosen a pen-name, but it is just a shortened version of my name. OL Shepp- Ondi Laure Shepperson I do use both interchangeably.
I was using the olShepp for a nonfiction column, liked it and kept it.
Hi and thank you for the information. I need to use a pen name to conceal my identity. How do I do it. My concerns are copy-writing my material and getting paid. I have done searches and have been unable to find the procedure for doing this. If my name is john jones and I create a pen name John Keen, the cop-write is under my pen name, the checks are made out to my pen name, how do I get paid. As you see I am confused. Help?
While I am no lawyer, the minute you write something you own the copyright. Paying for the copyright is unnecessary and amateurish. You own it as intellectual property. If you insist on a pen name, which I STRONGLY advise against, understand it will not hide your identity. Mosern social media uses the same facial recognition software that the FBI uses. But if you insits on a pen name, then I am not an entertainment lawyer and have no idea how you would handle royalty checks. Sorry. Good luck!
What if you are writing a novel about Al Qaeda and in your day job you’ve published scholarly articles on AQ and jihad etc? You are writing, all imaginary characters ofcourse wink wink OR an amalgamation, using the thriller genre to educate/enlighten/entertain.
Second, by nature and possibly to keep would be assasins at bay (kid u not), you have become a semi-hermit. You want to wrrite the series to entertain and enlighten, and to earn a living since this is now all you do and, last but not least, you want your work to sell based on its own merit even if its almost like trying to win a major lottery. A feat you’ve never even tried to attempt. If you use your real name…there may be a LOT more bites but also more threats/fears. A trade off.
Excuse my shameless “marketing” something I’m hopeless at, but my novel will be out mid-Jan on kindle titled “The Source in Al Qaeda.” The next in this series is called “The Manhattan Raid.” It the sequel followed by two more books. I’m banking on the subject matter and attention to detail, plus a good plausible story to market this first work. I believe merit (& some luck thrown in for good measure) is still the order of the day. If this fails, maybe just maybe I will write using my given name. But its also cathartic…therapy.
Thanks for reading this…I would love to hear your comments 😉
“We have the numbers” Ulysses Grant
Anyone motivated can find out your real name, that’s the truth. And if using your real name would help book sales, why not? Any time writers choose to write certain genres or about certain topics there can be complications. Just have to weigh it and see if it is worth the risk.
Thanks for confirming what I thought for a wile now. I write horror, scifi and romance under one name. It’s weird to see horror books on the customers also looked on the my romance novels page. My goal is that someone may take a chance on something different as long as they can trust that I’ll tell them a mighty fine story.
Can more than one person publish under the same name? How do you find out if the other person has a trademark? Can a person copyright their pen name?
No, you can’t trademark that and really if you brand properly, people won’t be confused.
I am a newbie author. My name is Dan Brown (really). Not the famous one. Wouldn’t I nedd a pen name? Dan Brown or Daniel Brown is too common and confusing me with that famous author. My full name is Daniel Robert Brown. Any advice on this greatly appreciated. Very nice article. Thanks.
Very interesting post; there are a lot of good points here. Thanks!
I use a pen name for another reason – there is another author writing under my real name. Facebook is extremely frustrating. When I set up a page for my novel, it refused to accept my pen name, S. Suzanne Martin. It just tells me I can only use “A-Z, a-z, spaces and periods”. That’s all I was trying to use! Yes, you’re right. Pen names can definitely suck!
If you understand SEO it doesn’t matter if someone else has your name. You can bump them to page 2 or 4 of the search. So you might want to consider just using your real name.
I used a penname for a couple of reasons. The first was because I didn’t want to share a last name with my dad should my books start to take off. Another was because there were too many Erica Snyder’s out there in the world that few people would ever be able to find me. Third, my coworkers all know me as “Bubbles.” In a way, I feel it fits my personality more.
I understand your points about pennames, and sometimes I wonder if I may have chosen the most ridiculous one there is, but I already have a couple dozen followers under that name. I’m worried that changing it now might just confuse them.
Good and interesting article. But as a moonlighting author who writes non-status-quo fiction, I think I would still choose a pen name to publish my writing. Anyone including employers, can Google us (and probably do) these days. Why give current or future employers a reason to discriminate? Then there’s the other privacy reasons too..
If you register your (pen name) domain with a private setting, and keep things separate, only your publisher will know your true identity. And If Amazon is your publisher, then just make sure to setup your payment details under your ‘real name’.
I suppose if ever become a best-selling author, and no longer need to worry about finding and maintaining a day job. I can always choose to come out of the closet, and link my personal name to my PN on the website. Till then, why risk it?
I do have a pen name and did plan accordingly. It is a juggling act for sure and confusing for close friends, coworkers, family, etc. it’s crazy as well keeping up with Twitter and Facebook, keeping it all separate. You are so absolutely right. But since my blog is growing and includes some dubious followers I’ve kept it. I’m more into photography and and a dab of writing. But your article is very interesting and helpful. I’ve pondered giving it up. I might in due time.
Any advice is appreciated.
Thank you so much for writing this. I will hopefully be a self-published author this year, and this has really helped me to confirm that I will not be using a pen name.
Thanks for the post. However, I have to quibble with your using Stephen King as an example of someone with a boring name. I think it’s kind of appealing. I’m facing this dilemma because I have a real boring/ugly last name: Johnson. That’s all. Good post! You actually convinced me to seriously consider writing fiction under my real name, much as I loathe my last name. Getting married didn’t even help. My husband has an equally plain last name, so I just kept mine.
I really enjoyed this article as it has been something I have been thinking about lately. You make excellent points!
Thank you for taking the time to relate to us new writers. I really appreciate it. there seems to be a lack of good insight on what to expect or how to approach it. I’m about to submit a few of my first stories …love your candor and smile…
Alan Fitzgerald Wilde King Hemingway Lamb. cha cha! lol
Well, I’m a non-US author about to selfpublish under a pen name. Why? Because my maiden name when pronounced in English sounds like the dirty word for ‘being intimate’ , and my married name sounds like the dirty word for a man’s thing. Both names are perfectly normal names in Europe (Netherlands and Germany), in fact they are quite boring names over there. But in English they just give the wrong impression. Unless, of course, if I were writing Erotica. Then they might actually work. Anyway, just wanted to say that sometimes pennames are not such a crazy thing.
Yeah, but they would be memorable :).
It isn’t they are crazy, it’s we already have A LOT of work. Some writers genuinely need a pen name. Most don’t. We want it for the romantic reasons or we think we need a new name for each genre. I just want writers to be educated about what they are REALLY signing up for. Because ten years ago, it was just a different name printed on the book. Now? You have to build on-line platforms to go with the identities.
I have a question. I write bizarro horror under my pen name Matt Neputin. But I’m also psychologist and I want to write self-help manuals.
For you see I’m a recovered psychotic (paranoid psychotic/schizophrenic) and I wanted to write books about that. And I actually talk about it extensively in my fiction.
Should I use my ‘real name’ Matt Peplinski for my nonfiction or should I try to brand everything under Matt Neputin?
(I want to note that I like the sound of matt neputin much better and pretty much everything about it)
Okay, here’s a question for you Kristen…
Things are looking good on the writing front these days, and I’m feeling pretty positive about the genre romance thing I’m doing BUT this is not what I want to do forever and I have some WsIP that are quite different.
I’m not ignorant of the pros and cons of going the Harlequin route (esp. for me, since I’m just starting out), and I know there is a certain stigma associated there from the more “serious” writers. I want to write for them under a pen name and write my more serous fiction under my real name – BUT – that being said, I don’t mind doing a Real Name writing Romance as Fake Name – I just want there to be a level of separation as there is no overlap between those writing styles (or audiences, I think).
How would you go about having a blog in this case? My RealName Blog and then a subsection as “Writing Romance as…” ?
It’s still a little early to think of all these things, but I want to start as I mean to go on and I would love your input.
Focus=POWER. Separation=DEATH. People aren’t paying THAT much attention. One name is my recommendation. The author is the brand. Candace Havens writes everything from Blaze Harlequins to NF to standalone romances. One name. If someone isn’t going to read your other stuff because you write for Harlequin, they aren’t worth your time trying to please. My two cents.
Kristen~ I use a pen name in a rather thinly veiled, tongue-in-cheek manner for my blog (“Mom”). However, I am currently writing a novel length CNF chronicle of a life changing diagnosis of a family member, and how it tore others apart, The topic is sadly very current and I feel like anonymity needs to be a priority for this book, I want to be free to write with painful naked authenticity in order to help other families suffering the same, while protecting the privacy of my loved one at the same time. After all, her story is not mine to write…only my view of it and my forest of feelings and actions will be the focus. It is in a memoir format with a clear and up-front disclosure that ~just like the old tv show said~ the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Ah, but therein lies the catch 22, how do I platform as an unknown name, an unknown work? Do I pitch it exclusively to the big houses and then, point of pick up begin to barnstorm some cyber marketing?
Hey Kristin, love the article. (Also, I know – it’s been like three years since this has been published. Just recently found it!) Couldn’t agree more. Speaking as a reader, I’ll pick up an interesting book no matter who the author is. Authors feel “boxed in” by the genre they’re known for, but there’s no reason to feel that way anymore – especially when social media has made access to fans so immediate. Rainbow Rowell didn’t adopt a pen name for her adult novel even though she’s known for her Young Adult works. She didn’t feel the need to stay boxed in by her genre and neither will many other authors going into the future.
Discovery is already a nightmare in the New Era. Why make it more confusing? LOL
I’m just getting to this info. on the pen name. This has stumped me forever. I’m a journalist since 2000 as Cathy Shouse (with a low-level website for editors) and in 2010 released my (traditionally published) historical photo book including my maiden name, Cathy Duling Shouse, since my family is associated with the photos. The book did well for a niche book and I’m Cathy Duling Shouse on FB. I decided three days ago to become Cathy Duling Shouse but on Twitter, I have to be Cathydshouse due to length. What do you think? I love the whole thing but is it too long? I likely will stay with two words for my journalistic endeavors . . .
I really wanted to use my real name but there are a couple of stories I want to write involving family members and my journey through PTSD because of one of the family members (emotional abuse). However, through therapy and prayer, things have changed greatly for this family member and for myself. I wanted to share my story in a creative nonfiction way and in a fictional account in order to hit two different markets but with the same message. I have a good web presence under my real name, but under my pen name not so much. I went with a pen name for these stories because if my family found out I wrote about what happened they would be on my case and picking everything apart and be defensive. I don’t want to create enemies. But then under my pen name I have no fan base. I had planned on changing family names in my creative nonfiction story. My family is NOT very supportive of me. I have three brothers and two sisters all in various stages in PTSD recovery. One brother will not speak to me and I don’t know why. I feel like everything is awash, like I can’t win either way. If I use my real name and market those stories my family will know for sure and let the hate mail roll in. If I use my pen name, I have no one to market to. I can’t help but to feel sad and confused and like “What do I do now?” I also struggle because I feel like using a pen name is a way of hiding. Earlier on in my PTSD recovery I would have preferred NOT being me. But I am passed that and long to be ME and want to publish under my real name. But like I said, the content I’d be writing about would only invoke upset from my family if they knew. I have no idea what to do and don’t want to juggle multiple names. I’m tired of trying to please my family who have never been there for me in the first place so why keep them abreast of my writing career? I also have pictures up under my real name and under my pen name where the only difference is eye glasses. Any suggestions? Thanks so much!
The thing is, if I ever were to publish something, I think I would still use a pen name. I know that you have to build new platforms on social media, etc, etc, but I have a google plus account. That’s it. I never use social media, and besides promotion and publicity, I doubt I ever will. I’m aware of the privacy factor, but it would just be weird to see a published work under my actual name. I think using pen names is fine, as long as you accept that you can easily be traced back to your real name or face.
Having done an experiment, I can confirm that pen name sucked for me.
I had chosen a pen name for my book which I thought looked and sounded fabulous. After the book got published, I was not sure if I should continue using the pen name; as it was a lot of work. I felt split too, in my mind, having to keep multiple identities. But I wanted objective feedback from people who matter – the readers.
So, I created 2 author pages on Facebook, one with my real name and other with my pen name. Then, released simple identical advertisements for those pages on Facebook targeting people interested in reading for couple of days. I spent 4 dollars on the ads
I decided that if readers liked my pen name more than real name I should keep using the pen name.
To my surprise my real name got 3 times more positive feedback compared to my fabulous pen name !! Out of say 1000 readers 100 liked my real name author page, while 30 liked the ‘fabio’ pen name page.
I have discontinued using the pen name and am more at peace.
Thanks for sharing your perspective. One question I still have is, whether I should re-release the already published book with my real name.
Just recently I thought about using a pen name for upcoming children’s books, because I also want to write erotica, especially hardcore bandage. Yeah just like your example. But not to hide what I’m doing, but because kids could stumble over very inappropriate book covers while browsing books I wrote when they look my name up. All of your points make sense, but I wonder if they also apply in this scenario. What do you think?
I chose my name, it is the only one I use (except with the government and immediate family). So yes, it is a pen name, but no more difficult to achieve a brand with than the name I was born with. The key isn’t using your name, it is using one name. Realistically no one I know, or knew, was part of my target demographic. There is zero reason to use your given name, unless you like it. There are a million reasons to use one name for everything you write. It isn’t pen names that is the problem, it is multiple names.
I disagree partially. When we don’t use out given names, we limit how easy it is to activate the intimate networks. Believe it or not, those people who never said BOO to you in high school can be some of your biggest fans and mouthpieces. Facebook is really good for collecting these members of the intimate network. Relatives, people we went to school with or once worked with. I kid you not, I write social media books for authors and some of my most AVID fans who have bought my books and told people about me were the cheerleaders I didn’t even know knew I existed. BUT they are now adults and THRILLED to say they know an author 😉 .
I think that’s the difference right. I may NOT want the people I knew or know to be a big fan because it may “out” me. Overall, I get the idea that there is a benefit in starting with your warm/closest network, but its not something everyone wants, which then I think is a good reason to go pseudo. A few people making the connection here and there isn’t as scary as everyone who knows you now seeing you as “that person.”