The Pseudonym

I know I have written on this subject before but I think it is worth another round.

Authors use pseudonyms when they change categories; they also use them if their first book(s) sells less well than hoped and they want to try again.  There is nothing wrong with doing this as long as you are upfront in saying you are doing so.  (Note please, it is not necessary to provide your real name unless asked directly and then you should, while offering an explanation for why you have chosen to use the pseudonym.)

Pseudonyms can be extremely useful.  Writers can change categories by changing their “pen names” going back and forth as they wish.  Fiction, in particular, lends itself to using pseudonyms in categories such as mystery/thriller, horror, romance (contemporary, historical), sci-fi/fantasy, etc.  A pseudonym, in fact, can be an effective marketing tool.  Why tell the customer (the book buyer) the author’s real name when using another will boost sales for everyone? With social media, promotional possibilities abound when using a different name. We put together a list of a number of bestselling authors who use this device and I wanted to share it with you:

J.K. Rowling

James Patterson

Anne Stuart

Eloisa James

Stephen King (wrote short stories under the name Richard Bachman)

Nora Roberts (also writes under J.D. Robb)

Dean Koontz (writes under Aaron Wolfe and K.R. Dwyer)

Michael Crichton

Lemony Snicket


Anne Rice (also writes under Anne Rampling)

Agatha Christie (also wrote under Mary Westcott)

Stan Lee

I would be curious to know what you think about the use of pseudonyms, whether as a writer, you have used one, or as a reader you would buy a book by someone who does.

4 Responses to The Pseudonym

  1. unnamed author says:

    I\’m entering this territory right now and I\’m at a bit at a loss. Unfortunately, I\’m doing it for your second reason…poor sales on my last book. My publisher knows, of course.There are so many areas where I don\’t know how to proceed now!I\’ve actually built up a reputation under my real name teaching workshops at conferences and writing nonfiction articles for beginning writers, and yet now I won\’t have any new books under that name, maybe ever again. Which I think makes me look kind of lame…I can teach you, but I\’m not publishing, you know? And I can hardly pitch my new name for teaching as no one\’s ever heard of me and I have no nonfiction how-to credits or experience or even a book out yet. Last year I taught a lot, this year, I don\’t have any gigs booked.Also, I\’m wondering what to do when people publicly (social media) ask the real me when my next book\’s coming out. Never, but you should read this other great author I know?And what about the author picture? And do I tweet under my old name still, or just walk away from that and try to build up my new name?What do I do with my website? With no new books out, it looks kind of stupid.Also, I\’ve recently realized that I\’ve been tweeting about new books I\’m working on, and yet, they\’ll never be published under that name, so I just look like a dork! Writing, writing, writing, never being published…. I can\’t even really announce the sale to any of the people who might be interested in another book by me because they don\’t know the pen name is me, so what\’s the point? You see???I\’m actually fine with using the pseudonym, but I just don\’t know how to use it effectively.What I\’d love is a Pseudonym 101 blog post. Author\’s who aren\’t hiding their identities because of poor sales have lots of options, and I know plenty of them, but those of us who are, have to keep quiet and no one can really tell me how to proceed, mostly because I don\’t even know who to ask! Maybe some of your authors who have done it could be interviewed for your blog? Or write a guest post? Help!

  2. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    OK, pep talks are a bit out of my line, but as long as this is still hanging out in the wind… Do, please proceed as if your previous identity doesn\’t exist and cultivate complete emotional disengagement from everything you\’ve previously done. I\’ve had to do it a few times; it comes with practice. Then set aside everything you\’ve ever taught or learned about \”literary value\”, \”social awareness\”, and claptrap of that sort. (Stephen Pastis\’ comic strip of May 15 about James Joyce\’s gibberish writing style is a good place to start) Then consider all the people who started out doing something \”worthwhile\” and then became famous doing something completely crazy after they failed at it. Pete Townshend, art student; R.L. Stine, juvenile comedy writer, etc. I\’ll even give you a free idea from my own backlog I probably won\’t have time to get around to…A writer of minimal talent sells her soul for 20 years of fame, money, and boy toys, and is now chewing nails because the contract is up in 3 days. (What to do, what to do-I\’ll call Kim-maybe she knows some loopholes) And above all, when you pick your silly pseudonym, invent an ID to go with it. Now put the peddle to the metal and for God\’s sake cancel your subscription to Writers Digest, it\’ll just give you stuff to envy and obsess over…………

  3. Bill says:

    I know someone who uses at least three different pseudonyms for different types of writing. She originally used pen names to protect her family’s privacy. Now she says she finds it’s very convenient to just think of [Author Name] to get in the mood for writing that particular genre.

  4. blog wanderer says:

    I think the \”Pearls Before Swine\” comic you\’referring to ran on May 14th, at least in my local paper-and he\’s so right. I\’ve never understood what people see in James Joyce either.

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