Why use a pseudonym? And should you?

I was asked recently whether a writer should write under his own name, or to take a pseudonym.

A lot of people get hung up on this – and for good reasons. The right name can grab readers, the wrong one turn them off. A pen name can distance you from associations with your real name. So here are my thoughts:

  • StartingOver-cover-4 (1)I write as Sue Moorcroft because THIS IS ME. That’s what it says on my birth certificate. THIS WORK IS MINE. That’s how I feel about it.
  • Writing under one’s maiden name can be useful. If you write under your married name, find success, then the marriage ends, you can be stuck with a name you no longer want.
  • Length is a disadvantage to ‘Moorcroft’. A shorter name could be larger on book jackets.
  • A lot of people believe that having a name at one end of the alphabet or the other makes them easily overlooked on the A-Z bookshop shelves. Others that names containing certain letters such as K or Z look strong.
  • I have a friend who regrets taking a pen name and says it often makes easy things laborious, especially when it comes to giving people bank account details for payments. She’s in the process of moving over to her real name. I have also addressed her by the ‘wrong’ name at events, ie her real name.
  • I also know someone whose day job is in HR and her first book has an HR dispute in it … Those two parts of her life are better distanced for professional reasons. Also, being a woman writing about relationships, she was already attracting negative fnaar fnaarΒ  jokes from men at work. ‘Do you write like that Fifty Shades woman?’ etc. She wasn’t quick enough to come back with ‘I would love to write the world’s bestselling paperback’ and it made her uneasy, so she took the pen name.
  • Some people feel they have a ‘funny’ name. If my name were Schitt or Snott or Peepee I would change it, too! Otoh, Dean Koontz is memorable precisely because people can make ribald jokes about his name. And I understand he writesΒ  good books, which helps. But look at actors Larry Lamb and Sean Bean (who was born Shaun Bean) – their ‘funny’ names haven’t held them back. They’ve utilised them as memory joggers.
  • if you have a mediocre sales record but a big publisher wants you, they will find it easier to market you under another name, ie one that doesn’t have the mediocre sales record attached. This means throwing out the baby with the bathwater as you will lose the readers you already have …
  • If you share a surname with someone writing in the same area as you, you may feel that you’ll be accused of trying to capitalise on their success. Of course, you may actually capitalise on their success. Who knows?
  • TWP_HIGHRES 150dpiI have recently fallen victim to a writer writing different things under one name. The first was chick lit, which I enjoyed, the second was motor cycle gang romance, which left me cold. Waste of my money. Now I probably won’t buy any more of her stuff because I feel cheated and can’t be bothered to check out whether any particular book she’s written is chick lit or motorcycle gang stuff. Even subtle variations are picked up by readers. I’ve written short stories and serials for women’s mags, and they’re pretty wholesome. The serials made it to large print for the libraries and so became books, in that you could go to a library and borrow it as a book you hold in your hand. So these books appeared on Amazon and readers began asking why they were always out of stock as they had very small print runs. So, as a service to readers, IΒ  put them out, along with an out of print novel, as ebooks. They became a useful stream of income. But then the reviews started and a few people are disappointed that the ‘wholesome books’ are not what they’re used to. They’re short. Where’s the sex? Conversely, I’ve had people who followed my mag stuff buying a novel and saying they were disappointed in me for the heat level! In my view, the shift between my mag stuff and my traditionally published novels is small. But it’s enough to disappoint some folk.

So, should you use a pseudonym? It depends upon your particular circumstances and preferences. It may be a choice that an agent or publisher helps you make.

Good luck!

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48 Comments

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48 responses to “Why use a pseudonym? And should you?

  1. Great post, Sue! I was toying with my maiden name Frewing, but I just knew I’d have to spell it out every time lol!

    When I started writing with an aim to be published, I set myself up as Teresa Morgan, because, like you, that’s who I am married. And as a new writer starting out, and hearing publishers like to see an online profile/presence, I went with “my” name.

    I was gutted to find that another Teresa Morgan had self published romance novels. What was I to do? When Harper Impulse took me on, I discussed it with them and suggested I use an initial to just make me different. I don’t have a middle name, so we’ve used F which stands for Frewing.

    Even though I’m divorced, I don’t hate me ex enough to want to change my name. I actually like Morgan. Less common than Smith but doesn’t need to be spelt out. (It’s shorter than Moorcroft ;-))

    I think if I started writing a completely different genre, I would use a pseudonym or become T F Morgan ha ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Penny

    Some most useful comments, Sue. I’d definitely say it’s best to think about well before having to make one up in a hurry!
    I have used ‘Lucy May’ for the occasional historical tales… chosen not only because it’s a family nickname plus the month I was born in, but also, yes, because it’s a darned sight shorter than my real name πŸ™‚
    BTW I think ‘wholesome’ is good, as is ‘a bit more racy.’ Surely we don’t expect to read the same thing all the time?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating!! I plan on using a “changed name” for fairly obvious reasons, but I’ll be guided by my publisher, if I ever get one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At one time, any man writing in romance would have automatically assumed a female pseudonym. Happily, these days are done. There may be a case for taking a genderless name such as Alex or Kerry, though.

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  4. I use a ‘sort of’ penname – essentially it’s very close to my real name but shorter, and that’s the main reason I changed it – just to have something that rolled off the tongue a little more easily. I don’t think ‘Moorcroft’ is too long because ‘Sue’ is nice and short. A multi-syllable surname with ‘Alison’ was just toooooo many syllables!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I write everything under my own name. I wanted my name on the cover, and I can’t be doing with maintaining different on-line personae.
    I also write in different genres and across several sub genres. I don’t see a problem with that, and I know several readers who have tried para, for instance, because it was one of mine, and now love the genre.

    To stop reading an author, because she writes different genres under the same name is really rather silly imo. It’s usually pretty evident by the cover, blurb, and tags what genre it is.

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    • Yes, definitely room for lots of opinions on this matter. The person with whom I was originally discussing the issue of pen names found it really hard to make a decision. (Hope he mae the right one!) Interesting reaction – thanks, Doris.

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  6. Interesting post, Sue. I went with my real (married) name but there are times I wish I had given it more thought as it doesn’t really say ‘Regency romance’! My maiden name would need spelling every time – not helpful if you want people to find you online. I’ve already thought that if I write in other genres (I have a crime novel just waiting for attention) I’d probably opt for JG Preston.

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    • Going with my maiden name was also a case of identity. I felt more ‘me’ with ‘my own’ name.

      Men don’t often face that issue! πŸ™‚ x

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      • I get teased because I was adamant about not changing my name when I got married, and then changed it when I got a book deal! This definitely doesn’t imply that I love my book deal more than my husband πŸ˜‰

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  7. I write under my own name, but I would consider a pen name if I were to venture into a different genre. Great post πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m putting out everything under my own name, although I started using my middle initial simply because I hate my own surname (and the initial makes a bit more pretentious), but I’m too schizo as it is to start using something else. In the hugely unlikely event that I ‘make it big’, I might toy with a pen-name, or variations on my own name (Michael Marshall Smith has made something of a career from this), as I do have ideas that don’t necessarily sit comfortably together…

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  9. chris barnes

    A slightly different situation for me but I use a psuedonym when narrating romance novels, really just as a way to seperate those two distinct genres.

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  10. Great post, Sue! I use my real (married) name, which I think sounds like a good author name anyway. I use my maiden name at my day job, which helps separate the two.

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  11. I use a pen name but everyone knows it’s me, which is fine. (Originally it was to save my teenage children’s blushes.) I actually like it, because when I put my Raven ‘hat’ on, I’m in the right frame of mind. I use my own initial and maiden name, J. Lilley for my YA, mainly cos my married name Robinson is so not exotic lol, and there is a Jo Robinson who writes. Also my dad would have been so proud of me. ( Soppy but hey ho.)

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  12. Viv

    Such an interesting debate! My maiden name was long gone when I started writing, so I have been writing as my married name, Hampshire, for many years and am known by that name, especially in the womag world. After divorce I just kept using it. But last year I remarried and became Vivien Brown. Like you, Sue, I carry cards in both names. For now I am carrying on writing as Hampshire – it sounds like a writer name! – but am using Brown on facebook and in my non-writing life. It can be fun being two people!

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  13. Some very useful points you have made here Sue. If I ever get published (ha ha), I was thinking of using my maiden name. I am divorced but have kept my married name. But then if I used a surname that nobody knows me as, if I became successful, I would want everybody I am acquainted with to know about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I often thought it would be fun to go by the name of Sue de Nim. πŸ™‚

    I used my married name as I’ve had that for many more years than I had my maiden name. If I do ever decide to write in a different genre, I will consider a change in name. If it was out and out crime I might go for S E Fortin but if it was, say, RomCom I would go for something more fun and light hearted.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Sally Malcolm

    Fascinating post. I use my maiden name, mostly so that people at work/the school gate can’t easily find me! It’s an odd thing, having the ‘author’ identity and the ‘real life’ identity, but I think it’s a good idea to protect your privacy. It also helps that, when you sign copies of books, etc, you’re not using the same signature that’s on your credit card/ driver’s licence/ cheque book and so on!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Brilliant post, Sue – thank you!

    As you know, I can relate to quite a few of these! When I started out, I was writing under my married name, and we split just before I was due to have my first story published so I decided to use a variation of my surname, and thought I’d leave Moorcroft in your capable hands πŸ˜‰

    The only thing that’s been difficult is that there’s another Nikki Moore out there, who writes erotic romance, which has caused some confusion! When I went looking to make sure I wasn’t duplicating a name already being used, she was using Nikki ‘NiMo’ Moore and her branding was quite specific, so I didn’t feel it would be an issue, but she’s subsequently dropped the ‘NiMo.’ Oh well, never mind… πŸ™‚

    I’ve reblogged this to my blog.

    Take care, Nikki x

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Reblogged this on Writing, Work and Wine and commented:
    Fantastic post on using pen names, by Sue Moorcroft – I can relate! πŸ™‚

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  18. Although my married name is Sheila Belshaw, for very personal reasons there was one particular book I didn’t want to associate with the name Belshaw, so I decided to use my maiden name, Sheila Taylor. But there were lots of other Sheila Taylor people, so I stuck in my second name. Sheila Mary Taylor. My publisher liked this, but it was only meant to be for one book, and then I would revert to my married name, Belshaw. But my publisher told me it was much better these days to have just one writing name, especially on Amazon, where they bunch all your books together on one page. So now I’m stuck with Sheila Mary Taylor!!

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  19. It took much deliberation to decide my surname following divorce and my ex’s subsequent re-marriage and also, because I have three different WIP’s, all differing genres so this is very topical for me! Thanks for making me think, Sue xx

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    • A pleasure! I’m just glad that I don’t have those issues!

      I wonder if the pen name quandary is easier or harder for men, as they don’t have a maiden and married name? At least most of them don’t, I presume! xx

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  20. Because I have an unusual and fairly memorable name I wouldn’t want to use a pen name. It does mean a loss of privacy, but it should have some impact.

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  21. Enjoyed the post AND all the discussion! πŸ™‚

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    • Hi Casey, thanks – it has been interesting to see the comments. The variety of opinions offered backs up my feeling that a different approach suits different people.

      Thanks for following my blog, by the way. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Great post Sue, Made me think. My author name is the same as my stage name, which I’ve had since 1976. I was christened Madalyn Smith, changed to Treaddell when I married, but didn’t want that name when I joined the actors union, Equity, as by then I was divorced. So, as there was already an actress with the name Madeline Smith, I chose Morgan from a rum bottle in my dads pub – I didn’t think Smirnoff was quite the thing… What’s in a name? A great deal, I think. As a writer of novels and articles – and when I present radio – I am Morgan. if I was changing genre from wartime saga to horror, or science fiction, I think it would be best to change name. What fun you could have thinking up funky names for the different genres. Seriously, if you have followers who enjoy a certain type of novel from you, they may be disappointed to find something different. Food for thought. Thanks Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment, Madalyn. I have other actor friends who have had one Equity name, one writing name etc. (Actors are always great at writing dialogue, in my experience!) I do think that many actors and writers share the ability to put on and take off personalities, like jackets. πŸ™‚ x

      Liked by 1 person

      • A good actor becomes the character they play on stage 100%, and they become the character they put on the page in the same way. Love it. Love writing. I feel blessed to have found two such professions.

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  23. I was published before I got married and decided to keep that as my writing name. It has the advantage of being my real name so is easy for bank accounts etc but also leaves me with my married name for when I don’t want to be Patsy the writer.

    Liked by 1 person

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