I’ll never forget the divorce court scene in the Tina Turner movie, What’s Love Got to Do with It, when Tina battles for her name.
She didn’t care about the houses or the wealth she’d accumulated with Ike Turner. All she wanted was the right to retain and continue to use her stage name.
These days, many authors are choosing not to publish under their given names as well. Their reasons vary.
Some have law enforcement backgrounds. Others don’t want domestic abusers or rapists from their past to find them.
Then there are the authors who use pen names when they publish in a genre that doesn’t match their brand.
There are plenty of examples. When editor and writer Suzanne Lakin writes her romance novels, she uses the name, Charlene Whitman. She publishes her nonfiction books and other novels under her real name.
When Arlene Miller, an editor and grammar whiz, wrote her New Adult/Women’s Literature book, Trashy Novel, she chose the pen name JoJo Baker.
Then there are the famous examples. Do you recall when J.K. Rowling selected the pen name Robert Galbraith? Her reason for selecting a pen name, according to her website, was this: “…to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers….”
Here’s a list of other well-known writers who use pen names:
- Stephen King has published under Richard Bachman, Eleanor Druse, Steve King and John Swithen. He published seven novels under the name Richard Bachman. In 2013 in explained why: “I did that because back in the early days of my career there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept.”
- Michael Crichton has used the pen names John Lange, Jeffery Hudson, and Michael Douglas. He published nine books under the name John Lange and Jeffrey Hudson while he was attending Harvard Medical School.
- Washington Irving has published under Jonathan Oldstyle, Diedrich Knickerbocker and Geoffrey Crayon for the short stories he published.
- C.S. Lewis published two books of poetry under the name Clive Hamilton. He wrote A Grief Observed under the name N.W. Clerk.
- According to Agatha Christie’s granddaughter, Rosalind Hicks, the famous mystery writer chose the pen name Mary Westcott to free herself from the “expectations of her mystery fans.” Mary was Christie’s middle name, and Westcott was a distant relative’s surname. Christie wrote six novels under this pen name.
- Joyce Carol Oates wrote Lives of the Twins under the pen name Rosamond Smith and regretted it. Her reason for using a pen name? “’I wanted to escape from my own identity. … I became fascinated with the genre and thought I’d like to do something along those lines.” she explained. ”Last summer I wrote a psychological mystery, quite short, very experimental. I think of it almost as a prose movie. It moves very swiftly and it’s very different from what I think of as a traditional novel.” (Source: The New York Times)
- Doris Lessing also used a pen name at least once. She used the pseudonym Jane Somers to “dramatize the difficulties faced by unknown writers.” (Source: The New York Times)
How to Market Your Books with a Pen Name
How do writers who use pen names build a brand? With a lot of effort.
Charlene Whitman, for example, has her own Facebook page and Twitter profile.
I know an author who publishes all of his novels under a pen name. His website, Goodreads account and social media sites are built around his fictitious identity.
However, he uses his true image on his book covers and social media profiles and pages.
Arlene Miller also uses a picture of herself on her JoJo Baker novel. And she publicized it on her social media sites she’d already established for herself.
At the time she chose the pen name, she was teaching at a junior high school and knew she couldn’t publish a book with sex scenes while teaching at a public school.
So, authors can really mix it up.
How to Build a Distinct Brand Using a Pen Name
What if you want distinct identities for your true name and pen name? This is what I suggest:
This is the easiest example. You can create as many Twitter profiles as you’d like. Then you can use Tweetdeck, HootSuite or SocialOomph to manage them. You’ll just need to use a different email for each account. But here’s a tip. Let’s say you already have a Gmail account for [email protected] (that’s not my true email, it’s just an example).
When you open your second account, you can type it as [email protected]. Twitter will recognize this as a new email address, but Gmail will send the notifications from Twitter to the [email protected] account. You can even create a third email account using a dash, as in <[email protected]. (Credit goes to the authors of Twitter Power 3.0, Joel Comm and Dave Taylor, for revealing this ninja trick.)
As long as you have a profile, you can create any number of Facebook pages. Again, it’s easy to create a new author page under your new pen name. What you can’t do is create a fake Facebook profile for your fictitious author.
In 2014, Google+ ended its ban on fake identities. So you can easily create a new user profile for your alter ego here. You’ll even find dogs with profiles on this network.
You’ll need to create a second author profile on this website.
You will need to create a second account and manage it by either using a social media dashboard or logging in and out of each account.
If you are serious about developing the persona of and following for this fictitious author, you’ll need a new website with new home, about, contact, books, and blog pages.
You can’t create a fictitious profile but you can create a LinkedIn page under your chosen pen name. However, unless you wrote a nonfiction book, I wouldn’t suggest spending the energy or time in creating and supporting a LinkedIn page for a pen name.
How do you think an author with a pen name should market her or his books?
Editor’s note: For more information on pen names, check out Helen Sedwick’s article Should You Be Using a Pen Name?