Pen Names… evil or necessary?



The concept of various pseudonyms has long been a hot button for readers and authors alike.

There are no real set standard rules about such. Some well-known print authors have numerous pen names. Some shift around until they find one they like and others hop from pen name to pen name depending on genre and even publisher. For example a well-known and best selling romance author Jayne Ann Krentz is also Jayne Bentley, Amanda Quick, Jayne Castle, Stephanie James, Jayne Taylor, and Amanda Glass. Thankfully JAK has always had a full listing of her various pen names (they changed with publisher) and has cut down on the number she uses. Her choice, but confusing for fans. As a reader I often was frustrated and angry at her continual changing of pen names and wanted to slap her (sorry!) and ask she pick just one. My opinion only there! She did make it easy with listing a full book list with the various pen names on her website but that’s a lot of names.

Someone else mentioned the Nora Roberts/JD Robb pseudonyms. When the JD Robb series came out, Nora Roberts said everywhere that she wrote it. I personally was reading NR at the time and that’s the sole reason I started buying/reading the JD Robb series. When you buy a JD Robb book now and even back with the very first JD Robb book there is a list of other Nora Roberts titles right on the inside. There was never an attempt to hide that this is the same author. In fact NR was smart and capitalized on her market but used the different pseudo to separate the entire series. The only thing JD Robb puts out is the Eve Dallas series.

Now other mainstream authors use various different pen names as well. There is rather widespread acceptance of an author changing pen names for genre switches; such as romance to mystery or young adult or inspirational to erotic romance. Here in the e-published world authors also try to differentiate among their erotic romance. If an author pens m/m and m/f, sometimes they’ll use different pen names so the readers know what they’re getting. For example, JL Langley does this. JL Langley is her m/m pseudonym and Jeigh Lynn is her m/f pseudonym. Again, this is clearly stated on her website as well.

There are other examples as when authors group up and co-write and as well when an author just feels another pen name is necessary for whatever reason. An author may choose to make new pen names for every single book they publish – this is absolutely their choice.

Now, as a reader/consumer how does this practice affect you?

Well it depends. When authors are open and obvious about their pen names well clearly you are given every opportunity to avoid or follow the author into their new pen name. For example with JAK’s various names if you do a search the name is associated with say her “biggest” pen name so you can choose whether that writing style is one you’ll want to read. For authors that attempt to hide their pen names, is it devious? Does it really matter?

It’s a courtesy you could say for an author to list all their various names making it easy on the reader should they choose to do their homework about an author. In some ways it’s in the best interest of an author to carry a fan base but differentiate the writing. For others it’s a genre shift, completely out of erotic romance (for example) to mainstream or historical.

There are well known e-published erotic romance authors that also write young adult and some make their new pen names known and others do not. Some have stated they don’t want to make the connection between the two names on purpose. Young adults looking for more books by a name stumbling onto an erotic romance backlist, well that makes sense. I do know that I’ve personally emailed a YA author and they gave me their erotic romance pen name for other books.

Other authors use a variety of pen names as a way of hiding or seeming to be different authors. These authors may publish within the same publisher and there is a reasonable expectation that the average reader would have no idea they are reading the same author. Now this is the practice that tends to bother me as a consumer. If I happen to dislike an author, how do I know to avoid that author when they are penning things under multiple names? I’d have to avoid the publisher entirely to be absolutely sure I’m not wasting my money. What happens when the author goes to lengths to hide their various pen names as well?

Also I don’t want to get into a genre debate about the various categories of cowboys versus marines or contemporaries versus historical. Our little pond is rather small and authors have successfully written in all categories without needing to have different names for each. And if all such categories can appear in the same mix at a publisher, then how is the reader to know? Cowboys are mixed in with marines and next to werewolves. So why would your average reader expect that all three of those would have different author names but by the same author.

Since this was brought up in the TQ pricing thread, the owners of TQ have gone to lengths to hide their various different pen names. The owner/author who pens under Sean Michael has even flatly lied about that pseudonym. A long time back Teddy Pig (and subsequently Karen Knows Best) did a story about the Case of the Poison Pen Names over at TQ. Most supporters said it doesn’t matter but a lot of consumers felt they were being lied to. Teddy raised some interesting questions. A year later and this debate still continues, perhaps in other publishers as well. I don’t want to harp on TQ because they are just one fish in a sea of publishers. The issue just reminded me of Teddy’s post. So what about another publisher? I admit, I’m not that savvy with various pen names so I’m certain it happens elsewhere. Anyone have examples?

But the end result is – does it really matter? It IS the author’s prerogative to have numerous pen names– absolutely. But on the same note, it’s the consumer’s prerogative to feel lied to as well. Does it boil down to ensuring that the consumer can make an educated choice? I think this what hinges it for me personally. If an author wants to have several pen names, I may not understand it but I want to know I can still feel confident in my purchases. For example I read a book recently by a “new to me” pen name, I can’t find any information online, no website, no bio but the style is close to an author I’d prefer not buy. How can I know if it’s the same author? Do I have a right? My head is spinning!

I actually started a list of authors and their pen names (like you’re shocked I’m that anal). But again this can only be guesswork since not all authors acknowledge their various names. Should there be a standard for something so subjective?

So really there is no right or wrong unfortunately but only opinions and choices by authors and consumers alike. 

Since I know you’ve got ‘em…go ahead! Let me know your thoughts on pen names. One thing though – this is a debate about OPINIONS! As you know the saying of everyone having them, please respect that someone can disagree and that doesn’t make them wrong.




21 thoughts on “Pen Names… evil or necessary?

  1. The only one I can really see a reason for hiding is the YA to erotic romance one. And that’s the only one I, personally, am thinking of changing, myself. Since I haven’t finished any of me YA WIPs yet, I haven’t had to make that decision, but it’s one I’m still considering.
    The others, like you say, seem to be fine if you state that “This is my penname for this genre.” That seems to be perfectly fine; name-branding and all that stuff.
    But yeah… I dunno. The hiding thing hits all my wrong buttons. I hate being tricked, and I hate being willfully deceived, even if it’s for no reason more nefarious than the person simply knows they can do it. It feels like it violates my free will by willfully withholding relevant information.
    It seems silly, too, because I build an emotional relationship with authors’ works, so that if there’s someone I like, I think, “Oh! I will buy that.” And if someone has disappointed me, I may not be so quick to buy anything else by them, depending on the level of disappointment.
    Anyway, sorry, rambling. I could’ve just said, “Everything you say, I agree.” *G*

    • Well as others have said an author has the right to choose as many or as few names as they want for whatever reason. I really -truly- believe in my little opinion that there is no right and wrong. In the current pop culture atmosphere anyone who solicits money seems to be held up to public scrutiny in one way or another.
      I don’t have a problem with authors having 10 names except it’s more difficult as a reader to follow but that’s their choice. What I have a problem with is publishers putting out authors with 10 or more pen names and neither the publisher or the author making an attempt to let readers intelligently choose who they are reading. In the vast sea of fiction, reader loyalty comes about because readers KNOW they are getting a good book from names they recognize and like. If the pen names are so wide spread you can’t try new names out of fear of authors you don’t particularly like, then there is a problem.
      I’m not sure there is a standard answer.

  2. I shall refrain from posting a full-on screed here. Needless to say, as always, I feel that writers are entitled to their pseuds, in privacy. Their disclosure should be only to avoid falsely representing themselves in intimate, personal relationships. Readers do not have a relationship with an author based on books or a website. That’s a falsehood perpetuated by a surfeit of information on the internet.
    If readers feel cheated by picking up a ‘new’ author and finding out that it’s the same old crap by a previously unacceptable author, then the blame lies fully with the intermediary, the publishing house. If readers demanded higher standards — with their economic leverage — they wouldn’t be subjected to ‘same shit, new wrapper’. That has nothing to do with the author, who is obviously being ill-served also, since their subpar work litters the literary sphere without possibility for a retraction — like the sins of your youth being pinned to your resume — and they are not being placed in a position where they must improve in order to get attention and a little cash. As for “but how can I find their work, if…”, well, that is a risk a writer takes, using a pseud. But a writer isn’t obligated to draw reader attention to everything they produce, even if it seems to make economic sense to do so.
    I think also that readers must not let themselves be convinced that pseudonyms are some kind of moral and ethical deceit. Writers have many different reasons for using pseudonyms. Authors are not public companies. The reader is not a shareholder. They are better served finding good fiction through reviews and word-of-mouth than by the name on the spine of a book. Or, they can rely on a publishing house to bring them good fiction. If that’s being accomplished, if their needs are being met (this is what I mean by ‘good’ fiction), then any harm from a psuedonym is generated in the mind of the reader, not from the writer.

    • Thank you for this excellent comment! I do think you bring up so many good points it’s difficult to pack it all in on one post. First let me say I wish I had touched more on the point that authors are 100% entitled to their privacy. This is entirely true. Whether an author has one name or twenty names – I’ve always said this is their choice and their right. The reader doesn’t have a right to know if all of those are the same author or different author. This kind of ties into the public’s greed about writers, celebrities and so called public personalities. Readers do not have a relationship with authors but they often feel they do – right or wrong. Usually readers like a body of work and thus often confuse the work with the author. For example, most will say in general terms I like this author instead of I like this author’s writing. Most people use them interchangeably.
      If you put the onus on the publisher, than that’s an interesting and perhaps different discussion. If the publisher is responsible for keeping a variety interesting and fresh with a large stable of writers or even one writer under 20 different name, then it’s a publishing failure. That’s assuming that the publisher isn’t also an author compounding the confusion.
      It does boil down to the author has the right to choose as many names as they want just as a reader has the right to not like it. There are reasons for both. But thank you for bringing these points up. I know I haven’t fully addressed them and hope to soon.

  3. I don’t personally care if…say, a female writes m/m under a male pseud. I wish they wouldn’t if they’re only doing it to get some sort of perceived/inferred credibility, but whatevs.
    In the case of TQ, there have been numerous anthos where the editor also had at least one story in it under a different pseud. How the hell are they editing themselves? It would seem that they’re not, given the many complaints about the quality of books and the quantity of grammatical/spelling mistakes.
    It matters if an author that I’ve decided is an asshat and am choosing not to spend money on goes out and invents another name. I’d like to know who they are so I can decide where to spend my money.
    Also, if your writing is shit under one name, it’s unlikely to improve because you’ve changed names. I often try to buy new authors to support growth in the m/m writing community. It’s a waste of my time and efforts if I’m continually getting shit books by what turns out to the the same person writing under different names. That’s happened twice to me, and it’s incredibly annoying.
    I don’t care what an author’s real name is, where they live, or who they’re boinking. But I fail to see why it’s cute and funny to some up with multiple names, particularly when writing within the same genre, without disclosing what those other names are.
    Then again, I also don’t see the point in Nora Roberts adding “Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb” to her futuristic covers.

    • It matters if an author that I’ve decided is an asshat and am choosing not to spend money on goes out and invents another name. I’d like to know who they are so I can decide where to spend my money.

      This is kind of where I come from. It’s a courtesy perhaps but I feel like in cases like this or when a publishing house publishes one author under numerous names, it’s somewhat deceitful. Perhaps that’s an inappropriate reaction but it’s what my gut tells me.

      I don’t care what an author’s real name is, where they live, or who they’re boinking. But I fail to see why it’s cute and funny to some up with multiple names, particularly when writing within the same genre, without disclosing what those other names are.

  4. I know that in ‘traditional’ publishing there’s often a publisher-led reason for pseudonyms, rather than an author-led one: the publisher wants exclusivity for that particular name. So the only way the author can write for more than one publisher, without causing massive problems for him/herself, is by creating a different pseudonym for each publisher.
    I don’t see a problem with pseuds if there’s a reason for them – so an author can work with multiple publishers, or in multiple genres. I do, however, think that it’s rather odd to have an author writing the same genre of books at the same publishing company – under multiple secret pseuds. Even if there’s a perfectly innocuous reason for it, it makes me feel uncomfortable – as if there’s intention to deceive, for no reason I can work out (if I like an author, I’m keen to buy all their books – this secret pseud business just seems to interfere with me making an author some money!)

    • Well there seems to be a general consensus (minor though I admit) that readers aren’t trying to pry into author’s lives – which is good. I do concur with your reasoning and it’s usually why I have some problems with the multiple names.
      I don’t need to know all the names – especially switching genre. I do know several authors who switch names per publisher and don’t disclose, which if you like the author who cares. It’s when you don’t that it’s frustrating.
      I think it may come down to an onus on the publishers.

  5. I’m one of the ones who uses a separate name for YA, but that’s because I share that writing with my family and other people I know in real life. My own parents are non-tech savvy, but my mother- and grandmother-in-law are much more into the Net. I worry about them coming across my more “spicy” stuff. Same goes for librarians, who I’ve heard are reluctant to stock YA books by erotica authors. I wouldn’t actually mind so much of a teenage reader found my adult books, as long as I didn’t have to hear about it!
    I don’t actually use pseudonyms at all. Both of my author-names are variants of my real, everyday name, although not ones that are likely to be randomly Googled by people I know. Even if they were, there are hundreds of people out there with the same name. But that’s me. I agree with Anah that it’s the publisher’s fault if someone’s stuff is so bad they feel they have to cheat readers into coming back by continually changing their pseudonym.

    • I think your reasoning is perfectly fine! Thank you for sharing it though I don’t want you to feel as though you had to. I know many, many, erotic authors who use a different pseud for YA for similar reasons. Just as some who write mainstream don’t necessarily -want- the connection made to their erotica work.
      I agree with Anah that it’s the publisher’s fault if someone’s stuff is so bad they feel they have to cheat readers into coming back by continually changing their pseudonym.
      This this seems to be the problem some readers, myself included, have problems, it may indeed be the publisher who we have to blame.

  6. First, you asked for other known psuedonyms. Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine. Rendell always put on the covers “Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine.”
    After reading the various opinions, I agree that it’s the author’s choice to write under assumed names. I would like to have full disclosure in the author’s website. I appreciate that J.L.Langley admits her reasons.

  7. I don’t have any issues with the use of pseudonyms at all for the reasons you have already pointed out such as privacy, to differentiate between the genres an author may write, etc, etc.
    I can also understand why a pen name may change from publisher to publisher for marketing reasons. If that’s the case, I think the author should indicate such on their website.
    However, when you’re looking at the issue of an author having multiple pseuds in the same genre with the one publisher or with several publishers and not being open about it? Well, it’s a different ball game, and I think it is natural for people to have doubts and suspicions because it does – like it or not – have implications on the way readers spend their money.
    Does it bother me personally? Actually, no. I can honestly say that I’ve never really thought about it before because I try to focus on the work itself. Having said that, I do have my fave authors as do most readers.
    Actually, reading this post and the comments, I’m more concerned about how different names can be used by owners, editors, authors and reviewers of the same publishing company. That, IMHO, seems the more problematic.

    • Hey Kris! I don’t have an issue for all those things you’ve said and honestly I never think about it when I am happy with the books i’m reading. If I’m enjoying the books, I honestly don’t care if it’s written by the same person, 10 people, or someone’s cat dragging their ass across the keyboard. If I like it.. I like it.
      It’s when I am not happy and feel that I can’t pick and choose authors because .. well I didn’t like this author so let me try this new one but wait… that reads very similar to others that i didnt like!
      Oh and yes… that is probably more of an issue.

  8. Hey guys!
    When I decided to post on that stuff about TQ I was not really involved and it was simply things I had picked up from several different sources online but I was honestly more worried about the writers than the readers although I figured for the readers it would be one of those “Ahhhh” moments but for the writers it might be something a little more interesting if you know what I mean.
    In the case of pen name use I think writers are generally aware, at least I hope, how you would use pen names but for the owners to be doing it writing and editing so often and how they also seem to be the same names in the majority of books going to print and add then all of this not being transparent I thought having some knowledge out there this was going on was a good idea even if I most likely never would have all the names or the reasons this was going on.
    Even if the other writers decided in the end that it was OK I always think knowing there stuff going on behind the curtain is better than thinking everything is hunky dory.

    • Hi! I wanted to link to your article because I was thinking of it when I had some discussions with other people on this topic. That is a perfect excuse of what readers hate to see happen with pen names – which then paints all authors with a bad brush. If such shadiness is confined to one publisher, than ultimately avoiding that publisher may be the only recourse but it’s interesting. There’s definitely something shady in denmark over there.

  9. There is rather widespread acceptance of an author changing pen names for genre switches; such as romance to mystery
    Yes; M C Beaton writes mysteries and also romances under the name of Marion Chesney.
    Some romance authors are male and hide it; Peter O’Donnell, who wrote the Modesty Blaise thrillers also wrote romance thrillers as Madeline Brent. I own a few and the jacket blurb actually refers to him as female; doesn’t try to word it ambiguously at all.
    I write under one name, my name, always have, but I honestly don’t have a problem with multiple pennames for whatever reason. I get a kick out of recognizing a style and connecting two seemingly different authors, which is surprisingly easy to do; it’s hard for an author to avoid using their favourite phrases in book after book.
    I can only see one situation where a reader would possibly have a right to complain; if they disliked a book and decided to avoid that author and then unknowingly bought another by them, written under another name, possibly with a different publisher.
    But really, they’d be out $6 if they did; it’s not the end of the world.
    Pseudonyms, with the real name undisclosed, are what allowed women to write in times when it was frowned on, like the Brontes. From Wiki:
    Afraid that their work would be judged differently if they revealed their identity as women, the book appeared under their three chosen pseudonyms—or pen-names, the initials of which were the same as their own. Charlotte became Currer Bell, Emily became Ellis Bell and Anne became Acton Bell.
    I guess I’m predisposed to see them as a way of allowing authors freedom to write what they want, how they want, without fear of reprisals, so I’m generally in favor and not too surprised that they’re common in the field of erotica.

    • Hi! I think we can all agree (which I’m surprised but thankful lol) that authors are afforded their privacy. I personally don’t care who they are, what they do, who they screw – in fact a lot of the author sexuality conversations surrounding the Lambda wankfest had me thinking TMI! Do what you want, put out good fiction and I honestly don’t care if you write under 100 names. One for each new book or even each new pair of shoes or something.
      I think you touched on the one case that readers keep saying they agree as long as this doesn’t happen.
      I can only see one situation where a reader would possibly have a right to complain; if they disliked a book and decided to avoid that author and then unknowingly bought another by them, written under another name, possibly with a different publisher.
      But really, they’d be out $6 if they did; it’s not the end of the world.

      If it was just $6 once, then yea. Annoying but ok. Unfortunately I know I’ve been had several times and so have others – what ultimately prompted the discussion elsewhere. As others have said, it may just coming down to identifying the various publishers and simply avoiding them.

      • As others have said, it may just coming down to identifying the various publishers and simply avoiding them.
        I’d go out on a limb and say that if you did that, you might end up with no one to buy from 🙂

  10. I just have the one pen name. I have a second in mind should I ever decide to write m/f in addition to my current solely m/m writing, simply because I feel the audiences are different enough to warrant a delineation. If that ever happens, though, I plan to make it perfectly clear, probably with a splash page on my website indicating “M/M this way, M/F this way”.

  11. I am using my first pseudonym for a release next year. I’ve written a children’s book. Not YA, a picture book for 7-10 year olds. (I had help from my 9 year old)
    Naturally, parents will look to see what else I’ve written and somehow my backlist isn’t going to be conducive to them buying more children’s books from me.
    A friend of mine uses a pseud to write the romance and her name to write the mainstream.
    I have no problem with the editor of an anthology including a story of their own (almost every anth I’ve seen, everyone from NY mainstream to Yard Dog Press, does this). I do have a problem with the idea that someone is using four names with the same house to drive up sales while concealing the true amount they are publishing.

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