Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

The Problem with Pen Names

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When I first became a writer, one of my favorite activities was dreaming what my pen name would be. I’d even practice signing it so that, you know, I didn’t accidentally scribble Kristen Lamb in my runaway best-selling book at my glamorous book signing.

Don’t judge me. Y’all did it too 😛 .

Before anyone gets in a fluff, understand two things. First, I’m on your side. If you want or need a pen name? Rock on! If you already have one? Keep it! If a sexy exotic name makes you write better stories? Go for it!

This is only a decision the author can make. My only goal here is to make sure y’all are making educated business decisions. Thus, I won’t stop anyone from having a pen name, but about 95% of the time? They’re unnecessary.

The modern author already has to take on far more than simply writing, so why volunteer for more work?

In my opinion? Pen names are more hassle than they are worth and they’re a fast way to land in Crazyville. Pen names used to offer benefits, but most of those benefits have evaporated because the world is digital and connected. In fact, pen names can actually hurt book sales and stall a platform and brand.

Let’s look at some of the advantages pen names used to offer that no longer exist.

I Need a Pen Name for PRIVACY

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Here’s the thing. We are in The Digital Age. Privacy is an illusion. In fact, be too private and we fail to connect emotionally with others and thus the platform and brand never gain traction. Social media is social and being social requires a certain level of vulnerability and openness.

Being open and vulnerable doesn’t mean we post our Social Security Number and the names of all our kids. It can be something as simple as, “Hey, I totally dig Dr. Who” or “I like to crochet weapons of mass destruction.”

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Some writers don’t want to do social media at all or they want to hide behind a pen name and only post “writerly things” or “BUY MY BOOK!” because, yeah, that is SUPER creative and we don’t already get enough of that *rolls eyes*.

They don’t want to share anything personal and the pen name is there to help them gain emotional distance and keep their “lives separate.”

The problem with this thinking is that, in The Digital Age, WE ARE THE BRAND.

Before The Digital Age, gatekeepers stemmed the number of books that came to market. Readers only could buy what they discovered browsing a bookstore. Now that there are millions of titles and more being added every day? Those habits and hobbies no one cared about in 1995 are what’s going to help us cultivate our readership. Readers buy from who they know and who they like.

When we try to separate our personal persona from our writing persona, we create layers of friction and a lot of extra work for those trying to discover our books.

This means we can inadvertently undermine our own success seeking the illusion of anonymity/privacy.

I Need a Pen Name to HIDE

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Erotica authors generally run into this problem. If what you write might cost you your job? Then yes, I agree a pen name is probably a good idea. It will be extra work, but y’all probably already knew that. What I DON’T like is often writers believe that just using another name is enough.


First, if you require a pen name for safety, security, etc. hire a pro. I recommend The Digital Dark Knight Jay Donovan at Tech Surgeons. Tell him I sent you and he will give you special rates. If we are just creating social sites under a made up name and thinking this keeps us “safe”? This is akin to locking the screen door to keep out serial killers.

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If someone is motivated to find us, they can (unless you hire a pro like Jay).

You will probably have to look into the legal aspects of using another name and will likely require a DBA (Doing Business As) because, if you have any amount of success, you will need to be able to cash the check under another name, do taxes, etc.

Also, I will say that having to hide an identity is very stressful. Sites like Facebook use facial recognition software for tagging photos and then those photos are searchable.

All it takes is a friend carelessly posting a photo and tagging with the wrong name to implode a carefully crafted alter ego.

As more social networks communicate across platforms and search engines become more ingrained and more advanced, hiding will get harder and harder.

I Need a Pen Name for Each Genre

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NO! For the love of all that is chocolate, NO!

Remember, WE ARE THE BRAND. You guys come to my blog and trust I will work hard and deliver enjoyable content. This means when I have a book out, there is less work or thinking on your part. You know me, hopefully like me and you trust my work.

My name holds a lot of power because it promises to deliver content you enjoy. I write social media books, but I also…wait for it…write fiction.

Did anyone’s reality just fracture?

People “get” we do more than one thing. In fact, those who like my blogs or social media books, might just decide to read my fiction simply because they already trust my non-fiction. With SO many choices out there, we find a writer we like and stick like glue. We don’t want the hassle of trying and testing an unknown.

Readers don’t only read one genre. In fact, I think that is probably fairly rare.

When we use a pen name for another genre, we are back at Ground Zero. We have to build another name without any help from the already existing platform.

I finally sent off my mystery-thriller to the publisher. When that sucker goes to market? I am NOT motivated enough to start ALL OVER. If my followers don’t like stories about murder and cartels? Don’t buy my book. Simple. But, there may be people who might just try a thriller because it’s written by me.

*cute face*

It Doesn’t Take Much to Implode an Identity

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I once had a writer in my branding class who was using a pen name because her family is less than supportive and they trolled her other sites when she tried to use her real name. But what if she becomes successful and crazy family member figures out the pen name and starts trolling that site? Eventually this writer will have to put down a boundary.

Troll my site one more time and you will die in a tragic blow-up doll accident in my next novel.

She is costing herself a TON of extra work to cater to a handful of bullies. She’s losing all those close connections—schoolmates, college friends, colleagues, etc.—who actually will be her best word of mouth sales. I have people who didn’t say three words to me in high school who are now avid fans because I’m the writer they KNOW.

My Name is Too Hard to Pronounce or Spell

NO! That name no one has gotten right since you were a kid is now your digital BFF. If you don’t believe me? Google Janet Evonnivich.

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I see authors with AWESOME names for the Digital Age change it to something utterly forgettable. If your name is Skjolsvik, I don’t have to know how to pronounce it, I just have to be able to recognize it in a lineup. Also, all I have to remember is it starts with Skj—.

Search engines will correct me if I goof it.

I Need a Pen Name Because There is Another Person With My Name

Again, search engines can help with this. Do y’all really think I am the ONLY Kristen Lamb? When I decided to set aside fiction to become the social media expert for writers, I began by googling my name. There was another Kristen Lamb who happens to be a media mogul.

But by producing a LOT of content and properly tagging that content, I now dominate the search for my name. And, even if I didn’t? If someone is searching my name for my blog/books and they get Kristen Lamb the Cake Decorator, all they have to do is add the word “writer” to narrow the search.

I Need a Pen Name Because Using My Name is Pretentious

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I hear new writers say this a lot. Why would anyone care what have to say? They don’t. When I was new, they didn’t care what I had to say, either. But being a writer is fundamentally pretentious and even narcissistic. We have to believe we have something to say that is worth not only reading, but PAYING to read.

Just own it.

And if we pan back, this entire argument is more than a tad ridiculous. So no one would care what Kristen Lamb has to say, but they WILL care what Kristen Lamb writing as an imaginary person and figment of her own imagination has to say? And that isn’t pretentious?

It is YOUR Decision

In the end, all I can do is give you branding and social media advice. Multiple names and pen names are a lot of work that is very often unnecessary. I see writers do this same thing with multiple blogs.

I blog about writing but I also blog movie reviews and funny anecdotes. What if my followers who like my writing posts don’t like kitten stories?

Um, they don’t read your post that day?

I write thrillers, but I also write cozy romance. What if my readers don’t like cozy romance?

Um, they don’t buy them?

If you require a pen name for safety issues, legal issues or even because it could endanger your job? TALK TO JAY. The rest of us? Our time is better spent writing more books 😉 .

What are your thoughts? Questions? Experiences? Do you have a pen name and love it? How do you manage that pen name without going cray-cray? Did you start out with a pen name and now you regret it? Do you have multiple names you now need to merge? I can actually blog about ways to do that another time.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that 😉 .

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


89 thoughts on “The Problem with Pen Names”

  1. Tina WilliamsTina Williams

    There’s something a little old-fashioned and romantic about writers using pen names, but you’re right, there doesn’t seem to be much sense these days.

  2. Stephen H. KingStephen H. King

    Yes, this!

    One of the first few agents I queried under my first, exciting, pen name asked me, “Why don’t you just use your real name?” At the time I thought that idea rather heretical, because, you know, Stephen King. He’s THE Stephen King, and I’ve spent the past *mumbledy* years of my life being “you know, not THAT Stephen King, not the novelist.” But now I am the novelist, or at least A novelist, and so — of course I wouldn’t do it under my real name.

    …but maybe I would.

    …and maybe I should.

    Thus, the purchase of the domain name, TheOtherStephenKing (dot com). It’s a light-hearted, poking, joking, hey-I’ve-spent-a-lifetime-being-not-you sort of thing.

    I thought by adding my middle initial I’d be good. Unique, you know. One. Annnnd…nope, there’s another Stephen H. King, who is also the other Stephen King who writes, only this other guy writes books (two of ’em) on early airplane pioneers.


    Tried using TOSK, short for The Other Stephen King, but that gets confused with a Star Trek character. Ah, well.

    I did get accosted once, not quite a year ago, by a guy who asked if I was the other Stephen King. Yep! my reply rang. “You’re familiar with my work, then?” I got a blistering reply about how I could put out a series of really bad books while capitalizing on the name of a very famous writer.

    …huh? “No, dude, I have pretty good reviews. I really hope you’re not talking about my books as really bad?”

    Turns out he wasn’t. There’s yet ANOTHER Stephen King, though this one’s probably a chosen pen name, who is in fact putting out less than superior work. But at least by engaging the guy who was concerned I was able to clear my own efforts.

    Sorry, long response. But it’s such an interesting topic to me.

    TOSK, out….

    • ratherearnestpainterratherearnestpainter

      This might be a good reason to use a pen name, but I love that you are owning it. Maybe you’ll have to go one step further? notthatstephenking-notthatoneeither-theotherone

  3. paws2smilepaws2smile

    I’ve never wanted to use a pen name. I am proud of my name, who I am and where I come from. Why would I want to hide that?

  4. Joyce PalmerJoyce Palmer

    I use my real name, but have wondered if it was a mistake. I enjoyed your take on this matter, and now I feel better about my initial decision to use my real name. Honesty has always been important to me, and somehow hiding behind another name because of what I write (erotic romance) seemed a bit disingenuous. Thank you for a great article.

  5. Jan Sikes (@rijanjks)Jan Sikes (@rijanjks)

    This is a great blog and anyone who is publishing should read it. If you don’t want to be public, don’t publish and try to market a book!!

  6. Susan M. BaganzSusan M. Baganz

    I have a friend who uses a pen name (her middle name and her maiden name) because there are several other authors out there with her real first name – and while she writes Christian fiction – some write erotica. She wanted to seperate herself from that. Funny thing is, even in our writer’s meetings we call her by her pen name. That’s how i was introduced to her. Her alter ego is fortunately close to her name enough for her to be comfortable having two different names people refer to her by. For her reason I can see the value. Another writer tried a pen name – because she though it was to difficult – but is now reverting to her “real” name. Feels kind of messy. Good article, Kristen!

  7. JenniferShelbyJenniferShelby

    WHAT! You crochet weapons of mass destruction too? #soulmates
    I once considered using a pen name so I could write freely about things my family would be horrified by. The list would be endless. At some point I realized it was better to offend than stay squashed into their box of ideals forever. Now their shame feeds me.

    • Dena DahiligDena Dahilig

      Now I want a T-shirt that says, “Your shame feeds me.”

  8. Cathy F.Cathy F.

    Oy. You’ve been in my head again, haven’t you? Except you left out the one excuse I have for still thinking I need a pen name.

    My name is so boring. LOL

  9. Lyn CramerLyn Cramer

    I’ve been wondering about pen name or not pen name for a while now. Your very funny and comprehensive take on it is quite helpful. Don’t think I need more research and can spend my time just doing the writing now. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned.

  10. David VillalvaDavid Villalva

    Love this piece. ?

    I almost used a pen name when I launched my blog 1.5 years ago. I burned a bunch of time spinning my wheels there. Straight up, I was scared my employer would find out about it.

    Turns out I’m still killing it at work 1.5 years later so if they do know or care about it, they haven’t said anything.

    Thanks again for this true and fun piece Mz. Sleepwalking K. Lamb. ?

  11. Kate JohnstonKate Johnston

    I know an author who uses a pen name for her YA books because the adult fiction she writes has a few R-rated scenes and she doesn’t want teens to pick up her adult fiction based on knowing the author. I understood her reasoning–until I read this post! What would you say in that case?

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      To me that would be under the “job conflict” category. Her two “jobs” conflict—entertaining adults and entertaining youth. So yes, use a pen name. There are plenty of reasons to have a pen name, but we should make the decision with care and current information.

  12. L.S. EnglerL.S. Engler

    I don’t know if my “author name” really counts as a pen name as it’s pretty much the same, but I think “L.S. Engler” sounds cooler that “Laura Engler,” but I make no effort to really shirk away from my Laura identity. Either way, this post was refreshing for me to read because I’ve always been pretty against the idea of pen names, especially multiple ones, for the reasons you’ve outlines so succinctly above. Especially the bit about different genres. If a reader gets all up in arms because they read a book by me in one genre, and then discovered another book by me in another genre that they didn’t like, well, then I think that’s something they need to deal with themselves, because that’s a silly thing to get up in arms about. I’ve never understood readers who like to just stick to a certain genre, but, then again, I read just about anything that crosses my path.

    Ultimately, though, this is me. That horror short story is me, and that fantasy book is me, and that weird little literary short that no one but me seems to like is also me. Maybe it’s a little egotistical of me to want to claim ALL THE THINGS, but, hey, that’s me, too.

  13. angelangel

    Not gonna lie, I have TWO pennames. I regret one–but not the other. I don’t hide using it but when I first started self publishing 5 years ago it was a little more common and I do have a job (business) I don’t really want to have linked. Saying all that though, this blog is timely for me because I’m about to start merging over some of the “second” pen name books to the “main” pen name, but only because it makes business sense to me. I’m okay leaving some of the other books where they are. They sell okay for me doing zero with the account. Because you’re right. There’s not enough time!!

  14. TymberDaltonTymberDalton

    I agree wholeheartedly. The only time using a pen name makes sense is 1) a degree of separation from your day job, 2) if you write YA/kid fiction AND adult/erotic fiction (separate the two). Otherwise, it is a MASSIVE PITA to try to market them all. My two main pen name urls both dump into the same website, and they’re both on my website, Fb, and Twitter banners. I have two other pen names that were special for projects by my publisher, but even those have been “revealed” now that the project ended (long story) and aren’t a secret (and have been amended by my publisher to be included with my main pen names). Right now, I just have the two pen names. Tymber is how I publish fiction with my publisher, and I self-publish some fiction as Lesli. The fiction I self-pub is totally different and outside the niche than I publish with my publisher. Also, the majority of what I publish is as Tymber.

    Originally, when I started publishing erotic fiction, Hubby and I weren’t sure if his job would have a problem with it or not. By the time I realized no, they didn’t, I was already published as both. It was never a “secret” though, it was just a degree of separation due to his job. But he’s retired now, so it doesn’t matter.

    Multiple pen names = multiple work compounded. Seriously. If someone IS going to have a pen name, pick ONE. (Unless as stated above there’s a youth fiction/erotic fiction conflict.)

    I’ve even had people who would say stuff to me like, “Ooh, I know your real name.” Um, GOOD, I’d hope so, it’s on my website, social media graphics, my Amazon Author pages, my Goodreads pages, etc.” and then it literally deflates them, like they thought they were holding some state secret or something. Seriously? Did they NOT read where I have it all over that I have more than one pen name? INCLUDING on my website???? REALLY?

    People can be dicks. So if you’re dealing in real-life with someone who will delight in “outing” you then, as Kristen warns, make SURE you have used a pro to help you set up your super-secret alter-ego. (I’ve seen people do stupid stuff like registering their super-secret pen name under their own name and home address instead of using an anonymous registration service and a po box.) Because otherwise, get used to saying, “So?” when someone comes at you about your pen name.

  15. L.S. JohnsonL.S. Johnson

    I have to say that, in my experience, maintaining a pen name really hasn’t been that much work at all, and it has bought me YEARS of anxiety-free writing and allowed me to develop both confidence and coping strategies for when I am eventually tracked down. While I appreciate the effort to spare authors unnecessary labor, sometimes pseudonyms serve a real purpose and provide valid, even necessary, psychological benefits. I’ve met other authors coming from difficult situations, who are considering pen names but often get shouted down for many of the reasons you cite, and my advice to them is: do whatever you need to do, full stop. The writing comes first.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Oh I am not shouting down anyone. I began the post with the caveat that if you want or need one? Go for it! But if writers don’t understand the industry changes, they can harm their brand using old information. I had a writer in my branding class two days ago who had a WONDERFUL last name for search engines. An Eastern European name with lots of Zs. She changed it to something more mundane that people could pronounce. So she was doing all this work that was not only unnecessary, but she had actually given UP a name that would have offered her MAJOR advantages in the digital age.

  16. TymberDaltonTymberDalton

    I meant to add this: it USED to be standard practice for indie e-rom publishers to recommend to their writers to use multiple pen names for different genres (mm writers versus BDSM writers versus mf writers, etc) until the bubble burst around 2014 when KU hit and the market flooded. But now that advice has shifted back to discoverability of one pen name simply because it is so flooded.

    ALSO, this is a key reason why authors MUST properly tag their book blurbs when they post them with legit, succinct keywords. For example, “My Book” by Me (60k words, MF, BDSM, contemporary). Or, “That Book” by Me (60k words, MM, shape-shifters)

    That allows readers to EASILY skim through your books when you list them to find out what kind of book it is, if it’s in their preferred reading genres or not, etc. So you can not worry about the argument of a reader not liking one particular genre you like. Yes, some readers won’t read the blurb carefully, but that’s not your fault if you clearly stated what the book was. (And I HATE seeing writers use a bucket of keywords that have NOTHING to do with the book itself.)

    • lindabanchelindabanche

      Putting the word count of your book in your book blurb is a good idea. I think more people should do so. I get flack on my shorter titles because some people think they’re too short for the money. I have the word count in the blurb, but if they don’t want to read the entire blurb, or read it and buy anyway, then they have no right to complain, although they do. Unfortunately, too many people equate long word count with good book, which is not necessarily so.

  17. susantrombleyblogsusantrombleyblog

    I sure wish I had read this blog six months ago. I spent a lot of time agonizing over this very thing. Should I… or should I not use a pen name. I published three YA fantasies under my real name and I was ready to publish a fourth book, only this was a romance with some explicit content. So for me, it made a certain kind of sense to separate the two genres with a pen name.

    However, I came to the conclusion that a pen name would be way more work than I wanted to deal with as well as losing name recognition I had built up over the years. My books come up on the first three results in a Google search of my name. Sure, some people may be confused by the difference in genre, but I left a bolded, italicized warning in the book description for the romance informing that it is for 18+. I also mentioned that on my Facebook page and blog.

    Besides, I couldn’t come up with a cool enough pen name. 😉

    On a related note: one of the romance authors I use to enjoy reading has a bunch of pen names in the same genre. She also changes the titles and covers of books and republishes them. This is really annoying. I used to order all her books, until I started reading some and realized that she’d simply republished one I already read and it wasn’t a new book at all. Then I would see a similar story description by a different author, get all excited about a new book that sounds like something I’d enjoy, only to discover that it was the same author (under a new pen name)… and the same book!

  18. lanettekauten2016lanettekauten2016

    I love my pen name and its history. Even though I have no practical reason for it, giving it up at this point would create a serious problem since I have over ten Google pages and two published books under this pen name.

  19. Lisa M ReeceLisa M Reece

    I had wondered about this for a while, for a few reasons. One was that another author had my name, so I added the middle initial and then she got married and hyphenated her name, so that is fixed lol. The other is I’m painfully shy, and don’t like sharing about myself on social media and wondered if a pseudonym would help. But, in the end I thought of all the people I went to school with who would buy a book from me for the reason you gave and decided to just keep my real name for the easy marketability factor since my shyness will make me not be an aggressive marketer I need all the help I can get. I still almost never blog or twitter or FB post, but I’m working on it. I always wondered what to say when my life is so far removed from my stories. What does a funny anecdote about my cute dog have to do with a Magical Realism book with a darker feel? But, you just addressed that too. It doesn’t matter. If they like you the person they are more likely to try your books, even if the ‘feel’ of your online presence and the ‘feel’ of your books are vastly different. That is the part of this blog I needed to hear the most, as this aspect has had me frozen on the social media side of things and I just wanted to say thanks.

  20. KathyKathy

    Good Morning Kristen. I’m fairly new to the published world, and I’ve been silently following your blog, plus others, learning about branding and how to reach my readers. This practicular post of yours inspired and motivated me. You covered two topics I’ve been pondering for some time and which have been holding me back with my social media platforms, pen names and having multiple blogs. My published book is a romance, but my current project is a mystery, so the pen name comments were interesting. My author blog has suffered from my uncertainty because I want to post things that make me who I am, rural and lake living, not just about writing and books. It was nice to read that someone established agreed with what my inner self has been saying. The parts of your post that lit the light bulb for me were; a pen name for each genre would be far more branding work as would promoting multiple blog sites. When you wrote, if your writing followers don’t like kittens they won’t read that post, it gave me hope that this concept will be true for someone like myself who is starting out. I know the importance of social media but I also don’t want it to consume my time which I could use for writing.

  21. Elizabeth RoseElizabeth Rose

    I really need to think about this. I have nothing published, and I have been blogging under a pen name.

    I have avoided social media, so I have no Facebook presence, personal or otherwise.

    Not sure if it’s worth renaming myself on the blog or not.

  22. Jaye GarlandJaye Garland

    Every reason I went with a pen name, many years ago, is no longer valid thanks to today’s technology–with the exception of one thing. My legal name is hyphenated: maiden name to married name. The married name is the issue for me as readers would expect my stories to be grounded in the Hispanic culture–and I’m a virtual novice on that count. My instinct is to simply use my birth name, a Janet Evanovich issue, and what I’m seriously considering doing, even though I’ll need to completely revamp my writer’s life: user ID’s, contracts, book covers, etc. It’s all doable, but what a pain! If only my crystal ball had been more clear… LOL!

  23. sophiekiskersophiekisker

    I do use a pen name, because I write erotica. I’m under no illusions that you can’t find out my real name with a minimal amount of digging, and I wouldn’t get fired for it, but people I work with who are more conservative than me, who know I write books, are not going to take the time to dig with my real name to find out my pen name. And honestly that’s the reason I do it. There’s a lot of stuff that I put out on Facebook about myself that I know is ultimately public, but if I can put just the tiniest bit of distance between my deepest fantasies and my boss, then it’s worth it to me. And honestly, I just enjoy being Sophie sometimes instead of the real me.

  24. Icy SedgwickIcy Sedgwick

    I use a pen name of sorts…the Sedgwick part is my actual surname but Icy is a nickname which I went by in everyday life. Looking back, I should’ve just used my initials but my first name is a bit dull so when I first started submitting short stories to magazines back in 2005, I wanted something that might catch someone’s attention, or that they’d remember. Silly, I know, but I was only 22. When they started getting accepted I just stuck with it. Funnily enough, I do get people saying “Oh I know that name” so I guess it works on some level.

    But thanks to Facebook not letting you use anything other than your actual name everyone knows what my initials are anyway. People are perfectly able to tell the difference! The Icy part is more just a brand name now. It would probably be more of an issue to change it (particularly my book covers) and I’m kind of attached to it now 🙂

  25. joyspraycarjoyspraycar

    I love this article. Exactly how I feel about pen names. Guess I’m wanting to be recognized when someone loves my books. Could be I could find a cool pen name, but there is not another Joy Spraycar anywhere else. Thanks Kristen.

  26. Laurinda BellingerLaurinda Bellinger

    Very interesting topic. I have a writing coach. Although I have had a blog for 7 years on leadership I have interests in writing, creatively (science fiction) and I’m a gun enthusiast too. I was worried about different genres. She told me to use a pen name if it really bothered me but it wasn’t necessary. For the reasons you laid out, I was thinking it’s not worth it any more.

  27. Rosepoint PublishingRosepoint Publishing

    agree with everything you say here…..but, but….my problem is that I published my grandfather’s books who used HIS pen name. okay–his pen name is catchy, maybe (Stanley McShane). however, I chose to try and build a brand/platform using his pen name (not my name), because I didn’t actually write those books. do we (my grandfather and I) have a problem with book promo and marketing? yes..everyone who writes me, writes Stanley. better than no communication, I guess.

  28. Mary L GordenMary L Gorden

    When I got serious about being a writer I took you advice and changed my twitter handle to my name and set up with web site with my name dot com. The trouble is my name is Mary L Gorden and there is a famous author named Mary Gordon (note missing middle initial and different spelling of last name).

    Every time I tried to google my website, google was sure I wanted the other person. So periodically I would entertain ideas of having a pen name. It did seem like a lot of work. After reading your post, I now have a challenge. Become more famous than the other Mary Gorden.

    Thanks again for your help

  29. R. M. DonaldsonR. M. Donaldson

    All this is so true! It’s why I didn’t end up using my pen name. Using my initials and last name made a almost perfect medium. It helps have advantages of both. I find it works great. So if you want a bit of both, I’d go with that.

  30. brendaattheranchbrendaattheranch

    What about a variation of your name? My name is Brenda K. Jackson, and I was just going to use BK Jackson, because I write historical that is not of the romance variety and I wanted to have a way to pull in more readers who’d be likely to pick up a male driven book. Since I’m not published yet I don’t know how it works but I do know when I post on a particular blog as BK Jackson, it works and they can’t tell if I’m male or female. Any thoughts anyone?

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      The last name is all you need to keep in tact. Other than that? Play away. I have even thought about using K.R. Lamb for my fiction just to differentiate but I am too lazy, LOL.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      The surname is the most important to keep but these days I don’t think readers care much about whether it is written by a man or a woman. That was true 20 years ago but not really today. And if you build a brand and platform they will know you’re a chic 🙂 . Just pick which one you like.

      • brendaattheranchbrendaattheranch

        True about the brand and the platform. But speaking for myself, if I saw two historical fiction books on the shelf, one written by a woman, one by a man, I would select the one written by the man because I would assume I’d find more action/adventure in their book than in the woman’s. Doesn’t mean that’s always true, but it is more likely. Since I don’t buy print fiction any more, I don’t know how frequently author photos are used on the back cover.

  31. Sarah RosinskiSarah Rosinski

    A thousand thank-you’s. Keep the cool naming for characters–got it. My other Sarah Rosinski is a doctor. I wonder which one of us “dominates.”

  32. Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

    I decided to use my married name rather than my maiden name (even though I had some work out under my maiden name) when I discovered that due to the similarity of that name to the name of a famous actress, at least half the references to me-the-writer online were misspelled, by people who – just assumed. At least with Makarios people gotta ask how to spell it!
    And looking around cyberspace, there’s not a whole lot of us Deborah Makarioses (Makarioi?) out here.

  33. L.M. WilloughbyL.M. Willoughby

    Thanks Kristen – your blog is so timely. I have taken the plunge and begun my first novel, and have been tossing around the pen-name thing. If I analyse it, mainly because I escaped from a religious sect (praise God) and still have family left behind. I know they regard writing as ‘of the Devil’ (one of their numerous manipulations of the BIble) but you are right – this should not influence me in any way.
    P.S. Don’t stop blogging 🙂

  34. kamas716kamas716

    I honestly wouldn’t worry about that FaceBook facial recognition software. It confuses unrelated people all the time. Just last month I posted an old photo of my great grandmother and it tagged her as my mother in law. Other than being of similar ages in various photos they don’t look alike, aren’t biologically related and met (great grandma having passed away when I was 2 and I didn’t meet my m-i-l until 27 years later). It’s much better at saying people aren’t the same than saying they are.

    • ratherearnestpainterratherearnestpainter

      Facebook offers to tag my niece as her mother – my sister-in-law… and the niece is about 12. Another niece, FB invariably offers to tag her as her older sister. BUT you can’t really count on facebook NOT recognizing you, nor can you count on the technology not improving.

  35. Kelly Marshall AuthorKelly Marshall Author

    I am interested in one of your classes but making it home from work to participate is an issue. I am on the west coast. Do ever just offer recordings of your classes?

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      You automatically get the recording with the purchase so you are covered 😀 .

  36. Iola GoultonIola Goulton

    Your Janet Evwhatever example got me. A lot of people misspell my name – it’s iola, not LOLA. But Google LOLA Goulton, and Google tries to correct you, just like it does for Janet. Win!

  37. Richard LeonardRichard Leonard

    Does using first and middle count as a pen name? Granted, no-one normally knows me by that name. My last name is Puts. It’s a shocker. It’s pronounced like the present tense verb meaning to place something, but so many ignoramuses pronounce it like the golf shot performed on the green to get the hole. 25 years ago when I first considered being an author I vowed to not use than name because who would buy a book from someone whose name sounds like that of a clumsy doofus? Interestingly my future father-in-law said almost exactly the same thing many years later without me even bringing it up. (I guess it’s somewhat surprising then that he let his daughter change her surname to mine!) So I’ve stuck with the first and middle purely for marketing reasons.

  38. Elizabeth RoseElizabeth Rose

    For those not using a pen name, do you keep your Facebook private? Especially if you’re using it to share pictures of your kids with distant family?

  39. EleanorEleanor

    My publisher suggested I use a pen name. I now regret it. My first novel was a fictionalized true story. I have ever since realized that I felt guilty hiding behind a mask. It wasn’t me. So I told my readers on my social network that I wrote under two names. Now I am faced with one problem; can I create a website with my real name and tell my readers that I write under 2 names? It would simplify everything. 1 website, 1 Blog. But what would happen to my pen names social network? If I kill it I would have to start from scratch. Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks. Great post KL.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Actually it is relatively easy to merge the names. NYTBSA Bob Mayer at one time had five pen names (from an earlier paradigm when he was required to use them) and I helped him merge all of them into the one. Start the blog and site off the name you WANT to use. Redirect any old sites to the new site. Add BOTH names to all tags and on your web page just put your A.K.A.

      With some time, the content and tagging will weaken the name you don’t want and build the name you DO want.

  40. Stephanie A. CainStephanie A. Cain

    I confess, I’ve thought about using a pen name, simply because I write epic and urban fantasy, and have been publishing as Stephanie A. Cain, but there’s an erotica writer out there publishing as Stephanie Cain, and some of her stuff shows up in the Amazon search. Every time I think about it, though, I think about trying to connect my pen name to those five books I’ve already published, and I get a headache and decide just to make jokes about, no, my books aren’t as steamy as hers. 😀

  41. MnemosyneMnemosyne

    Speaking of online personas, I have kind of an odd situation — I have a well-established online pseudonym that I use to comment on political websites and have a movie website under that name (that I haven’t written on in over a year, but anyway …) So most people who know my writing know me by a pseudonym anyway.

    The problem with my real name is that BOTH my first name and last name are difficult to spell and pronounce, and I’ve had problems in the past with people mispronouncing or forgetting my name because their brains just can’t hold the fact that BOTH halves of my name are unusual. I mean, would your advice be the same if her name was Agnieszka Evanovich and not Janet Evanovich?

  42. Serena Dracis, AuthorSerena Dracis, Author

    I am struggling with this right now! I use my pen name, Serena because I write spicy/erotic paranormal romance, and my blogs have my real-life paranormal experiences as well as other fringe-y topics. I started with a pen name, because my name is pretty unique, in fact a recent search showed I’m the only Healey Lockett in the U.S. Which is super cool! But at the time I thought I was close to publishing my paranormal romance novel and I was still working as a nurse – didn’t want patients to make the connection. So it seemed easier to have that little degree of separation. I knew it wasn’t tight security, and I was okay with that.

    That was back in 2011, when I first took your blogging class, Kristen. Now, fast forward a few years, and the publishing deal that almost happened for my novel evaporated. At the same time, an editor friend asked me if I would write a dog training book for this new publishing company that had just hired her. Sure! But they wanted Healey, not Serena. Healey, a former animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo, had more credibility than Serena the psychic. I put my Serena platform on hold while I wrote the dog training book.

    So now, my dilemma. I am currently maintaining the two as separate, but you weren’t kidding. It is a whole lot of work. And, ironically, Serena’s blog, etc. has a whole lot more followers than Healey’s, even though I haven’t yet published as Serena. Although that’s next.

    I have quite seriously toyed with merging the two, especially since I’m no longer in healthcare. But at this point, I kind of enjoy the separation, thin as it is. And it does kind of work. In person, not everyone gets to meet my Serena side. Remember that scene in the first Ghostbusters? Where Bill Murray barks “Boys! You’re scaring the straights!”

    Although, I guess for some it’s a toss up which is scarier – facing ghosts or cuddling with wolves.

  43. Robert KirkendallRobert Kirkendall

    I use my middle name because it sounds better than my first name, but I figure that’s not a pen name because I am using a name that appears on my birth certificate.

  44. JC MartellJC Martell

    I alternate periodically on the genre I want to read. Mood swings every month or so. I can sometimes tell from the title, but almost always from the cover, whether it’s erotica, mystery, science fiction etc. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a bare-chested man on the cover of a book titled “My Thighs Know His Name”. Sometimes a sweet couple on a porch swing titled “South Carolina Moon”.

    Maybe covers could tip the reader off to the genre better than a pen name.

    BTW has there every been a successful writer using just one name or initials – In this century? Would it be cool to publish as simple “JC”? …didn’t think so 🙂

  45. TUTU

    Good post. I used a pen name for short stories for a few years to keep my fiction separate from my technical writing, but as I made online friends, it felt strange that they didn’t know my name, plus I lost out on the credibility of fiction awards which, on balance, wouldn’t have hurt my technical writing career. Eventually I switched and oh, what a LOT of work, changing online media names, website, bank details… I’m glad I did it because the experience was interesting and writing under a pen name is freeing, but on balance I prefer to be myself. I wouldn’t rule out a pen name forever but I’d hesitate before taking one on again.

  46. Penelope BaldwinPenelope Baldwin

    I changed my first name from Penny to Penelope, because there was another author with that name. So even searching “Penny Baldwin author” brought up different names. My friends and family know my author name, and it’s not far off from my own, so it hasn’t been too much of an issue.

  47. JadziaJadzia

    Thank you Kristen! This post and what you said in the blogging for authors class decided me on just using my maiden name as pen name. Your logic is always so good! Thanks again.

  48. Renee Lannan's blogRenee Lannan's blog

    OK, my husband is saying I need a pen name. I haven’t even published a book yet, but this summer, just my real name in the byline of a magazine article had someone search for me and drive to my house to talk to me about the article!!! My name doesn’t sound too unique, but I’ve searched my name and I’m the ONLY ONE! I am ridiculously easy to find. I’m wondering if there could be some way to use part of my name or maybe maiden name? Something that doesn’t lead to my doorstep? how do other authors keep people from driving to their houses?

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      A maiden name is fine but truthfully if someone wants to find you, these days? They can. I don’t think there is any hard and fast way to maintain total privacy, but if you need it talk to Jay Donovan at TechSurgeons. Tell him I sent you 😀 .

  49. LydiaLydia

    Reblogged this on Live…Love…Share!!! and commented:
    Do you plan to use a pen name? It was my plan until I read this blog post. Very interesting and informative.

  50. Cynthia LowmanCynthia Lowman

    I’m using a pen name (my maiden name), but I don’t hide my real name (Niespodzianski). My surname is long and hard to spell and pronounce unless you’re Polish. Unlike Janet Evanovich, mine gets misspelled in ways that Google can’t even figure out. People have been relieved when I tell them my website, because it’s easier to remember. I’m not trying to hide, just make it easier to be found.

    September 8, 2016
  51. ddominikwicklesddominikwickles

    I use a pen name which includes my maiden name (Dominik) with my married name (Wickles) because my dad had all girls and was disappointed that the Dominik name would be gone after we all married. So, now Dominik lives on in my writing, which my dad supported wholeheartedly. He passed away before my first novel was published.

    September 11, 2016
  52. DaveDave

    Thank you for the great advice. I was thinking of using a pen name because I wrote and self-published a novel years ago. It got mixed reviews and did not reflect my best work. I took it down after a short while, but of course, once something’s on the internet, it exists forever. I have now spent several years writing and working on my craft (and revising, oh the revising). I am ready to submit work to traditional publishers. Is there any way that old novel can come back and haunt me?

  53. Kylie AbeccaKylie Abecca


    My name is Kylie-Rebecca and I have had multiple surnames, I was born with one surname, then my mother married and I got a new surname, then I tracked my biological father and I was given the right to use his surname, then I got married and got a new surname again. When I was talking about writing all families went head to head arguing over which name I should use, all claiming the surname I shared with them was the correct one. My solution to this problem was to use my nickname, created when my cousin had a speech impediment and called me Kylie-Abecca. They all knew it, they all knew it was me, but none of them got to share their surname with the writer.

    I’ve made many a close enemy with my decision, but it was better than ‘choosing’ a side.

  54. Julie C.Julie C.

    Not sure if anyone is reading the comments section anymore, but I’ll give it a go anyway. I’m considering a pen name because I am a high school teacher AND I have a hard to pronounce last name. It’s not pronounced at all in the manner in which it is spelled.

    Every time someone asks for my last name, I have to say: how last name is actually pronounced – looks like “how last name is not actually pronounced” – spell it out, often times phonetically (as in apple -bear-cat instead of a-b-c)

    I don’t write erotica or anything like that (YA paranormal/romance, but interested in doing an adult romance down the line with closed-door sex). I sort of want to separate teacher me and author me. If you google my name, it shows my online teaching portfolio (at myname.com) and a variety of online publications I’ve written freelance articles for dealing with education and parenting.

    So I don’t know if it’s a good idea to have that platform mix with a a YA/romance author platform. But part of me is like, if I am successful at getting an agent and a publishing contract… I totally want my real name on that! Plus, I kind of think it would be an asset as a high school English teacher to have a published novel.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  55. AdeAde

    Great advice on the cons of using a pen name (especially if it’s for the reasons stated above). I’ve been toying with the idea of using a pen name myself for my upcoming works, but have recently decided to stick with my real name as it’s a lot easier to deal with long term.

    My only remaining issue however is that there is another author with the exact same name as me, based in the UK like myself AND already has an Amazon author profile page and some books published. So when it comes to publishing myself, I want to avoid the potential confusion of people finding more than one author of the same name who both happen to be writers. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    P.S. And no, I have no middle name or initials to use either. And plus, I don’t really want to make one up to add in to my name anyway. I just want to be me! 🙂 I’m tempted to dive in and accept the risk here…

  56. LKTLKT

    Thank you for this article. You actually helped clarify that I do want to use a pen name. I understand there will be extra work involved, so thank you for pointing out the hassles to look for. I am in a mid-life career evolution – i have an established finance career under my name, but I am currently writing a MG/YA novel. Because I still want to do business (and possibly write for) finance, I’ve decided to publish the MG/YA work using my husbands last name. I don’t care if people know it’s me, but in the long run, it will actually be cleaner if I keep these two business areas of my life (finance and MG/YA writing) separated. At least I now know what I am in for 🙂

    • BethanyBethany

      Will you be using an author picture? This is my dilemma. I was an author first (under a pen name because I HATED my real name at the time and didn’t think it sounded cool) but now I also want to start a blog/business on personal development (improving your mindset) etc, as well as a podcast. BUT I still want to write my books. I write paranormal romance but they’re a bit racy, not quite erotic but close.
      I really want to do big things with my new business. I’m talking eventually speaking at conventions and being a mindset coach.
      I wondered if followers of my new blog/business would take me seriously if they knew about those books/my writing career. I’ll admit, I sometimes get embarrassed telling other people what kind of books I write too…

  57. A.G. HaywardA.G. Hayward

    This is kind of an old post I guess, but yet…I respond. I remember when I was about 12 I somehow had the idea that I needed to use a pen name and told my mother. She said, “Why wouldn’t you use your real name?” I just didn’t think my name was that good. Now, here later in life after publishing a few things, I am about to use a pseudonym and for good reason. Not to write erotica (although I believe that IS a good reason and I’ve thought about writing a really good one), but for a deeply personal story that I really don’t need my family reading. I’m not worried about my brand or popularity or audience, so no harm there. I will say I agree you don’t need a pen name for those people who are coming up with the silly reasons mentioned. The person whose family is stalking their work??? Ack! With a family like that, it’s time to cut some major ties!

  58. Sandine TomasSandine Tomas

    I would have been fine using my real name but felt odd about it due to work. Large financial firm. I had to get “permission” to be an author from compliance. It’s complicated. Everything legal is under my legal name. I put the pen name on the book and established FB and Twitter and a free website. No $ yet. Only one published book (Dreamspinner). I hear you though. It was work establishing the extra everything. And I had to personally reach out to people on my RL about the book rather than just post to my personal FB for instance. I selectively told folks at work. I admit to liking the control. But you are right-someone could link the legal me and the pen name in a few clicks.

  59. Chelle RoyalChelle Royal

    My real name is Brittany Spears. It was so hard updating my personal Instagram account, I finally just settled for @fakebrittanyspears. Even though the first name is spelled differently, everyone thinks of the pop star when they hear the name. Also, there are so many terrible spam accounts out there that even pages and pages of Google are still dedicated to her. It would be a logistical nightmare to try to brand so hard through social media to beat her SEO landmine, haha. I honestly feel like that would be so much more work than building a brand that is unrelated to anybody else’s name.

    I’m also a 6th grade English teacher and they always wig out when they find out that’s my real name. One boy out of all 150+ of my students had no idea who the “other” Britney Spears is, hahaha! We were actually really shocked someone didn’t know who she was! That made for a funny few minutes during class that day.

    My middle name is “Michelle” so that is why my first name for my pen name is “Chelle.” The last name is “Royal” for a couple of reasons. 1) It’s a word that I love because it’s associated with success and reaching the top. 2) It’s a nod to my pageant background. Many of my pageant sisters have proofread chapters from my book I’m writing and have offered to support me once I finally get it finished and published! It only made sense to tip my hat to the incredible field of personal cheerleaders who have my back. 3) It is easy to say, remember, and is a word that catches the eye pretty quickly when browsing shelves. That’s always an extra plus when it comes to names.

    I can’t speak to the ease or success of managing the social media and online marketing aspect as I’m not published yet, but I imagine it won’t be too difficult. I promote my pageant titles through social media when I’m an active competitor and they’re easy to juggle with a plan and thinking ahead of what comes next. 😀

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