The Career Author Podcast: Episode 85 – Using Pen Names

Using Pen Names

Choosing to use a pen name when publishing can be a difficult decision. Make sure you look at the issue from all angles before deciding.

The Career Author Podcast is a podcast where co-authors J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon share their struggles and successes as full-time authors, advice for improving your writing craft, and honest discussions of what it takes to build a successful career as an author.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

The reasons authors use pen names:

  • Privacy
  • Name too similar to another celebrity
  • You’re writing in multiple genres

The reasons authors don’t use pen names:

  • No validation or recognition
  • Multiple website maintenance
  • Multiple personalities on social media

Also, learn how a timer can make you more productive.

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18 thoughts on “The Career Author Podcast: Episode 85 – Using Pen Names

  • Morning guys. Great hack Zach. Word counts are interesting. In a similar vein, some joggers are obsessed by times, which can be useful to indicate when one is unwell or injured and I wonder if this works in writing. If one regularly uses word counts, does a failure to reach the desired count suggest that there is something wrong like oncoming illness, stress, poor plotting, weak story or loss of interest in the story?
    Pen names are fascinating. I am considering writing a series in a different genre after I finish my current military sci-fi series but I am not going to use a pen name because there may be crossover and because I don’t want to.
    There are a lot of stories I want to write, including a literary piece. It is a woman’s Decameron that I have outlined and only needs a time commitment from me. I may use a pen name for that, although the cover should warn readers that it is not military sci-fi. If the cover doesn’t do that what is the point of genre specific covers?
    In fantasy some attribute power in discovering someone’s “true name”. This may have come from the story of Odysseus who famously gave the “pen name” of “nobody” when he was trapped in the Cyclops cave. He poked Polyphemus’ eye out and escaped. But when the Cyclops shouted for help he was only able to tell his mates that “nobody” did it, so they all said, “OK, no problem then,” and ignored him. But Odysseus made a big mistake. When he felt he was safely in his ship he shouted his real name to Polyphemus. Polyphemus was now able to ask his dad, Poseidon, God of the Seas, to avenge him and Poseidon gave Odysseus a lot of trouble after that, delaying his homeward journey to Ithaca by ten years.
    So J, whatever you do, never reveal your real name in case the Gods find out… oops too late 🙂
    Great show.

    • Re: Pen names and covers – I’m not sure it’s as much that readers aren’t going to get that it’s different as that it’s going to turn them away from your brand. So if you’ve written a military sci-fi series and you’ve gotten an audience through that, those readers might see your literary piece and make assumptions based on that, such as that you’re not writing more military sci-fi. It’s hard to build an audience, and feeding them what they like will do better to keep them around. Of course, everything I said is dependent on your “why” being that you want to sell books and continue to sell books, which isn’t going to be the reason everyone writes and publishes. And there’s no guarantee it’ll work, or that you won’t be able to sell books in multiple genres under a single name. It just gives you a better shot.

  • Waaaaay, too many pen names in my little part of the writing universe. Started in erotica with pen names (for gay and straight erotica). Moved on to cozy mysteries (yep, definitely need a new pen name for that) Willow Monroe and now her ‘cousin’ DJ Monroe writes gay romances. Working on a humorous fantasy(?) about a third grade teacher who gets a part-time job as the grim reaper. Should we start over with a new pen name for that? Who knows?

    • Wow. Do you keep separate websites, lists, and social media for all of that? Seems like a lot to manage, though I totally understand why you’re doing it. That’s a lot of different genres and sub-genres.

  • We don’t write erotica any more so we don’t even worry about that website or mailing list. We have one website for Willow, DJ, um, and the other two I forgot to mention. Yeah, Thrillers as JD Salyers and what we’re calling cozy fantasy under Jade Wolfe. I know, I know, it’s crazy. Our mailing list is for the cozies with about 50 people on board. That’s the only one we really utilize as emails, etc. Mostly, we just keep our heads down and keep writing. Plan to release 6 new books in September, two new series.

  • Very interesting episode! I mostly write science fiction, but I have an oddball humor book that doesn’t fit in with the rest of my catalog. I decided to publish it under the same name because I didn’t want to manage multiple pen names. I also considered using Chris Yee for the humor book and C.F. Yee for all of my science fiction stuff, but I already had a bunch of books published and didn’t want to take them down and republish them. I don’t have any immediate plans to write another humor book, but if I ever do, I may consider a pen name.

  • It felt like you were speaking to me this episode! I just started using a pen name because J. told me to. I’m kidding. Sort of. But I am using a pen name, with a nudge from J., because I’m now writing in a typically male-dominated genre AND my last name is hard to pronounce (although not that hard now that there’s a Christian country singer with same last name that everyone asks if I’m related to and no I’m not and I don’t even like country music sorry to people who like country music) AND my first novel was Victorian Steampunk which is not the same audience as Far Future Post-Apoc.

  • Big fan of the “time count” tip this week. I dropped word counts as my primary metric a LONG time ago. I still track word counts, but it’s secondary to hours in the chair.

    If nothing else, people have to realize that you have to spend time editing and outlining (if you’re not a pantser). And hours spent on that are not, like, “invalid” or something. Hours in the chair is the most important thing I track, day after day, week after week.

    Another benefit is that over the years I’ve got a pretty good approximation of ABOUT how long each step of the process takes me. Of course it can vary book to book, but I know, for example, that I can get a write-able outline in about forty hours. So I know, if I want my outline done, that I need to put forty hours in, and I can track the hours I’ve put in and how much is left. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it, and it lets me feel like I’m always chasing the next goal, and I know exactly how far away it is.

  • The Time Count tip works well. I am looking forward to having multiple data points on book parts, but for now I am just tracking everything.

    obligatory python quote: ” Some people call me …. Tim”

    With the name Angus you had to start a band with him.

    I feel like J is still in education he just changed venues….and I guess he keeps changing venues.

    I am similar to J in pen names. I am using the one everyone knows me by but my real name is Tom. But only the people in the Air Force called me that. It is interesting interacting with other authors and finding out the label you use to call them is made up.

  • Another great podcast, guys. Really enjoyed this latest episode from Tim Anonymous and Zach Banana. 😉

    I have long used “Mark Leslie” for my pen name because most people can’t spell or pronounce “Lefebvre.” I went with it because “Leslie” was my middle name (and was pronounceable) and it was the same letter as my last name. (Not to mention it could mean my name on lists or on bookshelves near “King” or “Richard Laymon” – which I figured could be handy. Folks would LOOK for those guys but might find me lurking nearby….(my first published horror story got me an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror and I had the thrill of seeing my name near Laymon’s)

    When I released a couple of books on the business of writing last year, I ran into the issue that nobody in the writing community really knew this “Mark Leslie” character – mostly because most writers and industry folks knew me as “Mark Leflablahblahblah” – the reason why I had adopted “Mark from Kobo” for a while. Mark2Digital might be a new moniker for me now. So for my non-fiction books on writing, I went with my last name, but, because I also was curious about potential discoverability (sometimes readers of the non-fiction business of writing books might also be readers of Twilight Zone style fiction), I used “Mark Leslie Lefebvre.”

    In any case, thanks for another great episode. Always enjoy listening to the two of you going over a topic.

    • Ha! Thanks for the comment. I love how unique your decision was around pen names and the rationale you explained. It goes to show how many variables need to be considered.

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