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Monday, January 7, 2013

Nom de Plume, Does a Writer Need One?

Today a friend of mine announced on facebook that she has a new "author name", and someone asked why an author would write under another name. As an author who uses a nom de plume I have decided to try to give an answer to this question.

There are many reasons for a pseudonym. The reason Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot) and the Bronte sisters wrote under men's names was so that their works would be taken seriously. As recently as 1997, Joanne Rowling was told that boys would not buy a series of books written by a woman so she became J.K. Rowling.

Alice Mary Norton wrote Science Fiction from 1934 until her death in 2005 as Andre Norton, Andrew North, and Allen Weston. Science Fiction was seen as a man's bailey-wick. Alice Bradley Sheldon also wrote Science Fiction in the '60s and '70s under the name of James Tiptree Jr. for the same reason.

Samuel Clemens wrote under the name of Mark Twain, why isn't clear, there are several theories. I think perhaps it sounded more adventurous than Sam Clemens.

Others like Nora Roberts, aka J.D. Robb, and Jayne Ann Krentz, aka Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick, use different names to differentiate between the genres or sub-genres they write in. (An interesting note, at one time Jayne Ann Krentz wrote under seven different names, but now she only uses the three listed here.) Some of these name changes are at the request of publishers. 

There are some book series that are produced by book packagers. The company puts together a series idea with a free lance writer or writers. The books are written under one pseudonym even though there could be multiple authors in the series.

Stephen King was too prolific. When he was first being published his publisher believed a writer should only come out with one book a year, so he convinced Signet, his publisher, to allow him another name to write under. Thus Richard Bachman was created.

Throughout the history of writing there have been authors who either wanted to remain anonymous to society or have a more marketable name. An author named Illiterate Buttwipe probably would not be your first choice for a book of poetry, limericks maybe, but poetry . . .

I know several erotica writers who publish under a nom de plume. They are not ashamed of their work, but they are teachers, business women, mothers, daughters. They use another name to shield their families and protect their jobs.

Many writers, romance writers especially, have become targets for stalkers. (Did you know that romance books are a big hit with men in prison?) Many authors adopt a pen name for safety reasons.

Does an author's name matter? After all Shakespeare wrote:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet;

While that might be true, would you buy a love story by an author named Glorious Stinkypants or a mystery by Crude Privy?

Just as boys would not be anxious to buy a new book series by an unknown author named Joanne, most women do not want to buy a romance written by a man. There are men writing and selling marvelous romances, such as Howard Lowry aka Leigh Greenwood. The gender of the writer shouldn't matter, only the quality of the writing, but unfortunately, a book is judged by its cover and a very big part of that cover is the author's name. 

Happy reading my friends.


  1. Wonderful blog as usual and I agree with all youve said. I write under a pen name because,as you stated, I am a mom and a grandmom, and work in a doctor's office. I'm certainly not ashamed of my erotic romances; in fact, Ive been writing under Heather Peters for more than a quarter century, since I wrote and sold fan-fiction, and my pen name is the combination of my children's first names. And I had no idea that um, men in prison like romance and erotica! I think being anonymous lends to the mystery of writing romance. I kind of like the idea that Heather is basically a mystery to many. Kind of lends to the fantasy of erotic romance.

    1. Heather, writes wonderful love stories with eroticism blended so well into the story that the romance still shines through.

      Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. ;~}}

  2. Great blog post! Excellent over-view of pen names and why authors use them. I am about to publish my first children's book, so of course I'm using a new name (NINA CLARK) to differentiate between my kiddy collection and the lumberjack collection (ahem). ;^)

    So excited for Jess's new adventure. Off to tweet, etc.

    1. Nina Clark, I cannot wait to get a copy of your children's book to read to my little guys!

      Thank you for reading my blog. ;~}}

  3. I chose a pen name from the very first book to protect my family. And yeah...I knew about the romance readers in prison. Stalkers come in all professions, but I expect writers might have more than their share!

    Excellent post!

  4. This was beyond a brilliant topic today. Since joining with Still Moments I used my real name, however now that I've written a Middle Grade novel I'm curious if a pen name will be in order. At what point do you feel one is right?

    I feel like you should have a part two to your novel! How does one come up with a pen name? Where do they gather information to feel that it would be a great fit? Something that sounds young enough to interest a twelve year old, or distinguished enough for someone in their fifties.

    People don't realize how much preperation goes into being a writer. There are so many variables to consider, and a pen name is one of those obstacles!

    1. Thank you, Jen. If you don't mind I am going to use your opening line to promo this blog.

  5. Curious. Is Liberty a given, or a chosen?

  6. Liberty was my father's middle name. I wanted to name one of my daughters Liberty, but my ex had a problem with it. So I named myself. ;~}}

    1. Thanks, Liberty. It's a great name.

      To reciprocate, I was never terribly fond of Rodney, even though I insist on the full name as opposed to Rod. As an author, using my initials seemed more attractive.

  7. I'm particularly fond of the name Glorious Stinkypants. Actually, when/if I ever start writing erotica I'll be using a pen name-Eden Rhys-instead of writing under my current name. Of course, to confuse everyone, I currently write under Ceri Hebert AND Cerian Hebert. I'm trying to shift everything over from Ceri to Cerian. What fun!

  8. Great post! I decided to use a pen name for exactly the same reasons you stated

  9. Love this, Liberty. I think there are as many reasons for using a pen name as there are pen names.