Sunday, March 11, 2012

An Author’s Guide to Using a Pen Name

Over the years there has been a lot of backlash about pen names.  A couple years back Suite101 announced that all of their writers that used pen names or other pseudonyms must change their account and write under their real names. This was supposed to increase the professionalism of Suite101. Examiner does a background check on people who sign up to be writers- no using pen names for them.

Personally I think that just alienated many writers. Many, many professional writers use pen names. Kim Harrison and Nora Roberts are two NYT Bestselling Authors that instantly come to mind.

For years I have written under both my real name and a pen name. At times it was really confusing, especially in the beginning when I had no idea when I should use both names and when I should just use my pen name.
I operate a book review and promotion site for paranormal authors and I have found that many new writers are just as confused as I was in the beginning.

Awhile back an author who is man but writes as a woman sent me all his promo info for his book under his pen name and his bio under his real name. His email and web sites were also under his real name. So I assumed that he had no problem with both names being used to promote his book (since he didn’t specify otherwise).

As a reviewer and promoter I publish what authors send me, I don’t change their words except for misspellings.

Well, the author contacted me a few days later very upset because I used his real name and the pen name. I explained to him the problem and suggested a few ways to stop any confusion in the future.

The things I suggested to him are ways that I keep my writing names separate while making my life a lot easier.

First of all, set up an email account in your pen name. Many email servers like yahoo offer this for free. Use this email account for all writing transactions and submissions under your pen name.

Create a signature line for your email. For a long time I wondered after I sent an email if I accidentally signed the wrong name. Now I use signatures with my email accounts that include my name, email address, and web addresses so I never have to worry about signing the wrong name.

Create a bio for your pen name. This bio should not include any writing credits, jobs, degrees or memberships that are under any other name. When someone tries to verify the info in your bio and can’t find anything under your pen name you’ll look like a liar. So keep your names and bios separate.

Set up separate Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts for your pen name. That way all your promotion can be done through those networking sites under that name alone. This is extremely helpful when you want to remain anonymous.

Set up a blog using only your pen name. This is extremely easy to do, especially with Blogger and it will help with promotion as you can publish all your book covers and publishing information on the blog, entertain readers and draw people in. Try to get the URL with your pen name in it, such as

The last and most important thing to remember when using a pen name…don’t ever give anyone your real name unless absolutely necessary. Book reviewers, bloggers, book promoters- none of these people have any reason to know your real name. Publishers and agents are the only ones that ever need to know your real name and sometimes there are ways around that as well.

I often do not put my real name on any work until it is accepted by the publisher and a contract is offered. Then I give my real name. And sometimes even then I don’t offer my real name if payments are made electronically and they never ask for my social security number. There’s no reason to use my legal name.

In some localities you can file a DBA (doing business as) under your pen name. This is the same as filing for a business name. Some cities/counties/states won’t allow you to file a DBA under a person’s name while others do. If you can, this will allow you to legally use that name for all transactions. You can even open a bank account using your business/pen name. To get around the use of a social security number you can file for a taxpayer id number.

The only drawback to going this route is that it leaves a paper trail that anyone can have access to if they know where to look but you won’t have to give your real name to publishers, editors or agents.

Decide which route works best for you then stick to your guns and keep your names as far away from each other as possible.