pseudonyms & author names

They say never judge a book by it’s cover, but I’m sure I’m not the only one guilty of doing the exact opposite. Cover art and book title are often given a lot of attention, but for this particular blog post I’d like to hear your thoughts on author names.

As some of you may know, my dissertation examines author names, and how they develop and function as a brand, as a signal that the related text is of a certain kind and quality. I am particularly interested in the use of pseudonyms, because by selecting a pseudonym, the author can control or shape a reader’s first impression.

So here are some questions to all you authors out there, whether published or unpublished:

• What genre do you write, and where is it published (online/print)?

• Do you use a pseudonym, meaning any name that is not exactly the same as your legal name?

• If yes, why? How did you choose it?

• If no, would you consider using one?

• What do you think are the main motives for authors resorting to pseudonyms?

• Do you think ‘online-only’ authors are more or less likely to use pseudonyms than authors with printed works?

If you think of any other points which I’ve forgotten to cover, please include those as well!

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.


About A.M. Harte

A.M. Harte writes twisted speculative fiction, such as the post-apocalyptic Above Ground and the zombie love anthology Hungry For You. She is excellent at missing deadlines, has long forgotten what ‘free time’ means, and is utterly addicted to chocolate.
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14 Responses to pseudonyms & author names

  1. Pingback: Twitted by quillsandzebras

  2. Skyla says:

    • What genre do you write, and where is it published (online/print)?

    I write urban fantasy primarily. It’s commercially published in both ebook and print. I also have online work.

    • Do you use a pseudonym, meaning any name that is not exactly the same as your legal name?


    • If no, would you consider using one?

    No. Getting credit for my own work is important to me, plus I have an awesome name. Thanks, Mum.

    • What do you think are the main motives for authors resorting to pseudonyms?

    Often, when a writer switches genres, the publisher requests a pen name for the new books for branding purposes. Most writers go along with it. Some writers start off by choosing a different name, however, because they don’t feel their own name is interesting enough, or because they write in a genre they don’t want people to know they write in (for example, erotica). And there is a justifiable concern, when writing something like erotica, because it can negatively impact the writer’s day job. Teachers, for example, don’t want their students (or parents) knowing they write smut.

    In some cases, pen names are chosen because the author’s given name is too similar to another author’s name. I’ve seen a few cases like that, but not as many as the other ones I mentioned.

    • Do you think ‘online-only’ authors are more or less likely to use pseudonyms than authors with printed works?

    I don’t really have an opinion–my contact is primarily with commercially published authors, so I’m only familiar with their motivations. I was going to say I think online only authors might be more likely to use a nickname, but then I’ve seen some bizarro pen names used by other authors too.

    • The point about erotica is interesting – do you think it also extends to romance in general, or simply for “hardcore” stuff?

      You’re very lucky to have a cool name. :)

      • Skyla says:

        I think with hardcore stuff, it’s a must for most writers. I do know one, though, who writes M/M under her real name, and will be publishing lighter romance under a pen name. And it was mostly a branding decision she and I discussed.

        Another thing is gender, though. Male romance writers quite often write under a female name, and female M/M erotica writers sometimes write under male names.

  3. MCM says:

    – I write children’s stories, adult mystery and adult sci-fi. I also do cartoon shows and am dabbling in hourlong drama work for TV.

    – I do, and I’ve been using it since I was in gradeschool.

    – It’s my initials. It’s a laziness thing. I got tired of writing out my full name, and decided to shorten it, and it stuck.

    – n/a

    – I think a big reason is to do with controlling expectations. When my TV show was being produced, there was a lot of debate about whether saying “created by MCM” really communicated a “person” behind the show. Same with my books. But ultimately, I don’t want someone to read my stuff and be able to pigeonhole me off the bat… at least not easily. If anything, I want readers/viewers to say: “I don’t get it”, and want to find out more.

    – I think they’re probably more likely. I know of at least two established writers (screen and otherwise) who use pseudonyms online to protect their day jobs. It’s a prestige thing. They don’t want to muddy the waters by being a pro writer and also a web writer. But it’s changing. It just takes time.

    • Thanks for your comments. :)

      The good thing about initials in pseudonyms is they tend to be gender-neutral (thus not alienating either audience) although the risk of being impersonal is there of course.

      I didn’t realize RL authors would consider using a pseudonym solely for online purposes: that’s quite an interesting point.

  4. Jan Oda says:

    • I’m unpublished, but there should be stories published online by me at the end of the year. I’m a fantasy-girl, though I’ve got historical fiction, Sci-fi and some Romance stuff too.

    • I’m working on getting my dissertation published, and since Archaeologists seem to be taking themselves too seriously, I decided not to publish my historical fiction under my real name since I fear they wouldn’t take me serious anymore. I didn’t want an online nickname though, so I decided to use my middle names. Jan Oda was born.

    • The fear of not being taken serious or being judged, whether in your real life job, as a writer of a different genre, or in some cases even by your surroundings.

    • I see more and more authors using there real name, (or at least using a real sounding name). I think it is a sign of people viewing publishing online as a more legitimate way of publishing.

  5. Elle says:

    I write chick lit (I’m currently unpublished) under a shortening of my full name – Elle Field – and other genres I write will be attributed to my full name. “Elle” is the sort of name that fits a chick lit personality, whereas my full name is more serious (and therefore suitable to more serious fiction!).

    My main motive is because I intend to write a few genres and I think the readers of one of my genres are quite unlikely to be readers of the other. Of course there probably will be some overlap, but it is a “branding” issue for me, so-to-speak. I’d say this is one of the main reasons why authors use pseudonyms – if they write different genres – though some may have privacy reasons and want to mask who they really are (people who are prominent public members, for example!).

    As for “online-only” authors, I think they’d be more like to use a pseudonym.

    Hope this helps!

  6. janelwalls says:

    What genre do you write, and where is it published (online/print)?

    Can’t say I really consider myself actually published. I’ve got a novella you can check out for free online. It’s a supernatural romance, although I dabble in a number of genre from sci-fi to horror.

    Do you use a pseudonym, meaning any name that is not exactly the same as your legal name?

    I used to, when I first started dabbling with getting published over a year ago, but now I use my middle name and my last name.

    If no, would you consider using one?

    I did use one at one point in time, because I didn’t want people in this area knowing what I wrote. I didn’t believe they would approve of it, even if they could say ‘hey, I know a published writer’. My husband is published (one actual book that you can still get a hold of), and the people who knew that he had written the book were very judgemental of what he had written, believing his work was wrong and immoral (due to the fact he dealt with a vampire that was seeking salvation)

    What do you think are the main motives for authors resorting to pseudonyms?

    I think some believe that their names will put some readers of, or not catch their attention. I believe some what to have two lives, the lives of a writer and the lives of a normal person, and do not want these to overlap. I believe some do it just for fun. They create so many characters, they themselves become a character to play with.

    Do you think ‘online-only’ authors are more or less likely to use pseudonyms than authors with printed works?

    I think they might be a bit more likely, wanting more privacy to their lives than printed writers.

    • a.m.harte says:

      Thanks for your comments — I liked your idea that some authors might do it for fun! I use a pseudonym for the last reason you mentioned: wanting the separation between online and offline lives.

  7. jesseowalls says:

    I write mostly supernatural drama, but my published work (which is printed in both hardcover and softcover) is a vampire drama. For this particular work I used a psuedonym (not my name on here), primarily becuase my real name sucks (and all my split personalities wanted their own names, so this was a way to sate their desires). I plan to use other psuedonyms in the future, one reason is becuase I also write romance, but (save for Fabio) all romance writers are either women or at least use a female name. For me, writing under different names allows me to separate the different genres in which I work, though in my mind all my works still tie together.

    • a.m.harte says:

      Yes, it is quite common for people to use pseudonyms to distinguish between genres. And you’re right about the female names in romance trend — I found that even the male names tend to have what are considered feminine vowel sounds!

      Very intriguing stuff. Thank you for your thoughts.

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