Some authors like to use pen names when writing books, especially fiction. Below is a Q&A email I answered for an author who wanted to use a pen name (aka nom de plume or pseudonym) — and had a lot of questions on how to use a pen name successfully.
Book Publishing Question: Using Pen Names
I have just finished writing a novel and will be publishing it myself under a pen name. I chose to go the pen name route for reasons of privacy and also for marketing reasons (so people don’t get confused if I ever write other genres like theology, children’s books or if my first book bombs and I want to start over).
I will be publishing under the name of Pen Name. I will be myself, Real Name, as the publisher of My Publishing Company. Having a pen name is relatively easy if I just sit at home and don’t go out. But since you advocate that authors interview and speak and sign books, I can’t see using a pen name working. Do I just give up on it and write under my real name?
Here are my questions:
Question: How do introduce myself to my audience, radio talk show hosts, conference attendees? “Hi, I’m Mike.” “Hi, I’m Lee” or “Hi I’m Mike, but that’s not my real name.”
Answer: If you have a pen name, you publicize and speak using that pen name. And only your pen name.
Question: Will I violate a trust with my audience or reviewers if I keep my identity a secret?
Answer: You violate no trust by keeping your true identity a secret. Your cover can state that you are using a pen name, but you don’t have to provide your real name if you don’t want to.
Question: If I tell a interviewer my real name is Lee, will they agree to refer to me as Mike during the interview?
Answer: Don’t tell anyone your real name. Focus on being and promoting your pen name. Don’t confuse them by giving them two names. It only causes confusion.
Question: If I go on TV or speak in public, how should I handle it if someone recognizes me?
Answer: If someone recognizes you, simply tell them you write and promote under your pen name. Keep it simple. Never complicate things. Tell the truth, and keep it simple.
Question: What other reasons have authors employed pen names for?
Answer: Some writers have employed pen names because they write in two genres and want to keep the two separate. For example, Agatha Christie writing romance novels as Mary Westmacott.
Others use pen names because they are so productive that a publisher would never publish all their books under one name. For example, Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb and Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.
Some want to publish without hype or expectation. Thus J.K. Rowling wrote as Robert Galbraith.
Back in the 1950s, several women wrote using a male pen name because their field (science fiction) was dominated by men; for example, Alice Sheldon writing as James Tiptree, Jr. Even more recently, Joanne Rowling was convinced to publish as J.K. Rowling to appeal to the young boys who read fantasy.
Similarly, several men have written romance novels using a female pen name. For example, Tom E. Huff wrote as Jennifer Wilde and Harold Lowry wrote as the gender neutral Leigh Greenwood.
In the early 1800s, women used male names to get more respect. The Brontë sisters all wrote as men with the last name of Bell. Amandine Lucie Aurore Dupin wrote as George Sand. Mary Anne Evans wrote as George Eliot.
You can find more reasons authors use pen names in this article: Pen Names: When to Use Them, When Not to Use Them
Question: Can you give me the names of any other authors who might have some advice for me?
Answer: Don’t worry about a pen name. You are way over concerned. Simply write and promote under the pen name and don’t make a big deal about it. You don’t need to talk to any other authors about this. Remember: Mark Twain did incredibly well using a pen name.
You are in good company. Here are just a few famous authors who used pen names. The list is alphabeticized by the author’s best known name (real or pen name).
Simo Puupponen — Aapeli
George William Russell — Æ (AE, A.E.)
Louisa May Alcott — A. M. Barnard, Flora Fairfield
Kingsley Amis — Robert Markham
Kathy Hogan Trocheck — Mary Kay Andrews
Cleo Virginia Andrew — V.C. Andrews, Virginia C. Andrews
Isaac Asimov — Paul French
Susan McGowan — Bevan Atkinson
Julian Barnes — Dan Kavanagh, Edward Pygge
William Anthony Parker White — Anthony Boucher, H.H. Holmes, Herman W. Mudgett
Bourbaki congress (Claude Chabauty, Jean Delsarte, Jean Dieudonné, Charles Ehresmann, Charles Pisot, André Weil, Simone Weil) — Nicolas Bourbaki
Ray Bradbury — Guy Amory, D.R. Banet, Edward Banks, D.R. Banet, Anthony Corvias, Cecil Claybourne Cunningham, E. Cunningham, Leonard Douglas, Brian Eldred, William Elliott, Ron Reynolds, Doug Rogers, Douglas Spaulding, Leonard Spaulding, Brett Sterling, D. Lerium Temaine (primarily for short stories)
Anne Brontë — Acton Bell
Charlotte Brontë — Currer Bell
Emily Brontë — Ellis Bell
Sandra Brown — Laura Jordan, Rachael Ryan, Erin St. Claire
Pearl Buck — James Sedges
Harold Witter Bynner — Emanuel Morgan
Victor Canning — Julian Forest, Alan Gould
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson — Lewis Carroll
Cora Stephan — Anne Chaplet
Agatha Christie — Mary Westmacott
Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski — Joseph Conrad
Michael Crichton — Michael Douglas, Jeffrey Hudson, John Lange
Carolyn Gold Heilbrun — Amanda Cross (a feminist academic who also wrote mystery novels)
Jeffery Deaver — William Jefferies
Nelson DeMille — Jack Cannon, Ellen Kay, Kurt Ladner, Brad Matthews
Charles Dickens — Boz
Karen Blixen — Isak Dinesen
Mary Anne Evans — George Eliot
anonymous — Elena Ferrante
Dorothy Catherine Fontana — J. Michael Bingham, D.C. Fontana, Michael Richards
Cecil Smith — C.S. Forester
Jacques Anatole François Thibault — Anatole France
Benjamin Franklin — Alice Addertongue, Anthony Afterwit, Silence Dogood, Richard Saunders
Erle Stanley Gardner — A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Robert Parr, Les Tillray
William Goldman — S. Morgenstern, Simon Morgenstern
Heather Graham — Shannon Drake, Heather Graham Pozzessere
Pearl Gray — Zane Gray
William Edmund Butterworth III — Alex Baldwin, Webb Beech, Walaker E. Blake, W.E. Butterworth, William E. Butterworth, William E. Butterworth III, James McM Douglas, Jack Dugan, W.E.B. Griffin, Eden Hughes, Allison Mitchell, Blakely St. James, Edmund Scholefield, Patrick J. Williams
Harold Lowry — Leigh Greenwood
Terri Guillemets — A.J. Esther, Abbe Yeux-verdi, Abigail Charleson, Adabella Radici, Adeline Cullen Ray, Albany Bach Reid, Alexis F. Hope, Alexis Flora Hope, Amborella Oltre, Amethyst Snow-Rivers, Anda Fiorin, Andrei Turnhollow, April Vallei, Arthur Buddhold, Astrid Alauda, Audra Foveo-Alba, Audrey Foris, Aurora Raigne, Azu “Betty” Espezia, B.F. Tucson, Bella Convalesco, Berri Clove, Brock Fiant, C. Astrid Weber, Caleb Baylor Hive, Candea Core-Starke, Carin Hartness, Carrie Latet, Cherishe Archer, Cherralea Morgen, Cinnamon Stomberger, Corri Alius, Currielene Armstrong, D.H. Mondfleur, Daisey Verlaef, Dante G. Roque, Danzae Pace, Dena Groquet, Destin Figuier, Destiny Vaestus, Drew Sirtors, Ed Northstrum, Emily Logan Decens, Emma Racine deFleur, Emme Woodhull-Bäche, Ever Garrison, Everett Mámor, Ezbeth Wilder, Faith Seehill, Glade Byron Addams, Glorie Abelhas, Graycie Harmon, Grey E. Livingston, Grey Livingston, Hartman Jule, Holden Rinehart, Irisa Hail, Ivy Culler, Jaesse Tyler, Jareb Teague, Jasmine Heiler, Jessi Lane Adams, Juliet Carinreap, Kælen Leigh Mulberry, Laurel Hoodwrit, Leslie Grimutter, Levende Waters, Lexi D’quill, Lexie Saige, Linda Solegato, Loire Hartwould, Madrianne Arvore, Marche Blumenberg, Meriel Stelliger, Merit Antares, Mirakel Reves, Missy Altijd, Morrow Bourne, Nathaniel LeTonnerre, Neroli Lambent, Noelani Day, Opal Montagne, Pepper Giardino, Pixie Foudre, Ravensara Noite, Reaven Fields, Sara Moss-Wolfe, Sarah Crestinn, Scarlett Bene, Sepal Felicivant, Sommeil Liberosensa, Sonnett Branche, Star Richés, Stelle Atwater, Sweetpea Tyler, Tere Saudavel, Uniek Swain, V.L. Allineare, Val Saintsbury, Valentine Sterling, Verbena Woods, Violet Gartenlicht, Ward Elliot Hour, Ymber Delecto
David Hagberg — David Bannerman, Nick Carter, Sean Flannery, David James, Robert Pell, Eric Ramsey
Marjorie Allen Seiffert — Elijah Hay
Robert Heinlein — Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, John Riverside, Caleb Saunders, Simon York
William Sydney Porter — O. Henry
James Alfred Wight — James Herriot
Mary Patricia Plangman — Patricia Highsmith, Claire Morgan
Susan Eloise Hinton — S.E. Hinton
Eleanor Hibbert — Eleanor Burford, Philippa Carr, Elbur Ford, Victoria Holt, Kathleen Kellow, Anna Percival, Jean Plaidy, Ellalice Tate
Cherith Baldry, Kate Cary, and Victoria Holmes, co-authors — Erin Hunter
Washington Irving — Diedrich Knickerbocker
Erika Mitchell Leonard — Snowqueen’s Icedragon, E.L. James
James Oliver Rigney, Jr. — Robert Jordan
Sharon M. Kava — Alex Kava
Douglas Edward Reeman — Alexander Kent
Sherrilyn Kenyon — Kinley MacGregor
Stephen King — Richard Bachman
Madeleine Sophie Wickham — Sophie Kinsella
Joe Klein — Anonymous
Arthur Davison Ficke — Anne Knish
Dean Koontz — David Axton, Brian Coffey, Deanna Dwyer, K.R. Dwyer, John Hill, Leigh Nichols, Anthony North, Richard Paige, Owen West, Aaroon Wolfe
Jayne Ann Krentz — Jayne Bentley, Jayne Castle, Amanda Glass, Stephanie James, Amanda Quick, Jayne Taylor
Ruth Crowley, then Eppie Lederer — Ann Landers
David Cornwell — John le Carré (to hide his identity as an intelligence agent)
Stanley Martin Lieber — Stan Lee
C.S. Lewis — Clive Hamilton
Ann Charters Maxwell — Lowell Charters, Elizabeth Lowell, A.E. Maxwell (with Evan Maxwell, her husband), Annelisa Sun
Robert Ludlum — Jonathan Ryder, Michael Shepherd
William Luther Pierce III — Andrew Macdonald
Richard Matheson — Logan Swanson
Salvatore Albert Lombino — John Abbott, D.A. Addams, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, Evan Hunter, Richard Marsten, Ed McBain, Ted Taine
Linda Lael Miller — Lael St. James
Catherine Lucille Moore — C.L. Moore
Alberto Pincherle — Alberto Moravia
Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto — Pablo Neruda
Alice Mary Norton — Andre Alice Norton, Andrew North, Allen Weston
Ḥasin ibn Hānī al-Ḥakamī — Abū Nuwās
Joyce Carol Oates — Lauren Kelly, Rae Jolene Smith, Rosamond Smith
Catherine Lucille Moore and Henry Kuttner — C.H. Liddell, Lawrence O’Donnell, Lewis Padgett
Peter O’Donnell — Madeleine Brent
Brian O’Nolan — Brother Barnabas, George Knowall, Miles na gCopaleen, Miles na Gopaleen, Flann O’Brien
Eric Blair — George Orwell
Juliet Marion Hulme — Anne Perry
Edith Mary Pargeter — Peter Benedict, Jolyon Carr, Ellis Peters, John Redfern
James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, co-authors — Publius
Frederic Dannay (real name Daniel Nathan) and Manfred Bennington Lee (real name Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky), co-authors — Ellery Queen, Barnaby Ross
François Rabelais — Alcofribas Nasier (an acronym)
Alisa Rosenbaum — Ayn Rand
Douglas Reeman — Alexander Kent
Howard Allen Frances O’Brien — Anne Rampling, Anne Rice, A.N. Roquelaure
Eleanor Marie Robertson — Sara Hardesty, Jill March, Nora Roberts, J.D. Robb
Harold Rubin — Francis Kane, Harold Robbins
Jim Cjazkowski — James Rollins
Joanne Kathleen Rowling — Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling
Mike Hinkemeyer — Vanessa Royall
Amandine Lucie Aurore Dupin — George Sand
John Sandford — John Camp
Theodore Seuss Geisel — Dr. Seuss
Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky — Abram Tertz
DGA movie directors — Alan Smithee, Allen Smithee
Paul M.A. Lineberger — Anthony Beardon, Felix C. Forrest, Carmichael Smith, Cordwainer Smith
Daniel Handler — Lemony Snicket
Evelyn Beatrice Hall — S.G. Tallentyre
Alice Sheldon — James Tiptree, Jr.
Ulrich Leonard Tölle — Eckhart Tölle
Joanne Trollope — Caroline Harvey
Samuel Langhorne Clemens — Sieur Louis de Conte, Mark Twain
Pauline Phillips and Jeanne Phillips — Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby)
Sheila Kelly — Gena Hale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly, Lynn Viehl, S.L. Viehl
Vince Brach — Fran Vincent
François-Marie Arouet — Voltaire
Ted Parkhurst — Duke Q. Wallace
Charles Farrar Browne — Artemus Ward
Thomas Elmer Huff — T.E. Huff, Tom E. Huff, Edwinna Marlowe, Beatrice Parker, Katherine St. Clair, Jennifer Wilde
Christopher Hovelle Wood — Frank Clegg, Rosie Dixon, John Drew, Timothy Lea, Richard Mason, Penny Sutton
Andrej Tisma — Andrej Zivor