Got a Pen Name? You’re in Great Company – Now Here’s How to Market Your Books

by | Aug 12, 2015

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?


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Aaron Linsdau

    If you write using a pen name on the cover, I assume that name needs to be on the copyright page, loaded in Bowker, etc. etc.?

    • Frances Caballo

      Aaron: Yes, the pen name becomes your author name.

  2. Abhinita Banerjee

    Thank you. The information and comments were very helpful.

  3. C. S. Lakin

    Thanks for the mention, Joel. Writers have been arguing about pen names forever, and I’m often asked about them from my clients. Since I write in so many genres, I made a decision years ago to use my name on all my books. This really created a problem for me, career-wise. My hope was that my fantasy readers would also read my contemporary fiction, and vice versa. Many did and that expanded readership for me. But, I think, honestly, I would have done better to have used pen names for the various genres.

    Yes, it’s work to create an identity each time, and marketing can get crazy. I’m thinking now I need a website for Charlene Whitman just so I can showcase my Western romances AND build that crucial mailing list, which I can’t really do as “myself.” I can’t imagine having six pen names with the corresponding six FB pages, websites, Twitter handle, etc. I do very little with my Charlene FB page but I felt it should be there. I have an email for Charlene and I use a twenty-five-year-old photo of myself (yes, that cutie is me at 24!) for my head shot. My bio for Charlene is all true, but it does slant my background to fit my “persona.”

    So these are all things to consider when using a pen name. I have read in the RWA mag of many romance authors using multiple pen names within that genre, one for each subgenre. It can get crazy! But I get wanting to compartmentalize readers (do we readers want to be put in a box?)


    • Frances Caballo

      Susanne: I’m so glad you left a comment here and shared your experience. I think it would be a good idea to create a website for your Charlene pen name. And I think your readers would appreciate it as well.

  4. Cathi Stevenson

    I’ve worked with several authors who have used pen names, only to end up republishing with their own name later on. It always seems to cause issues.

    One problem I’ve run into just using my real name, is that when I apply for the ISBN or declare copyright, I am supposed to use my legal name (Catherine). But the articles or publications list me as Cathi or Cat, which most people know me as. Although, I had to stop using Cat because everything thought I was a man for years.

    In the USA, do you use the pen name for copyright purposes or the real name? Using the real name would defeat the purpose if the author wanted to remain anonymous, but can a person who doesn’t exist legally hold copyright?

    • Anma Natsu

      I created a publishing imprint complete with a DBA, so my business can legally conduct those types of transactions for me. With Bowker, my account is under my writing name and registrations belong to that imprint company, rather than me the person. I do most things under that. The only things I’ve encountered where I’ve had to put my real name is for opening the bank account, doing the state sales tax returns, and getting my federal EIN (and of course doing personal taxes LOL). Pretty much everything else can go under the business name.

      And yes, the US copyright office accounts for pen names – you can either register anonymously or pseudo-anonymously. Essentially, you can register under the pen name with the option to include your real name if desired. If you choose to do anonymous, the length of the copyright term is set as 95 years from copyrighting (or 120 years from creation, whichever is longer).

      If the author later chooses to reveal themselves or is “outed” it immediately flips to the usual terms based on the authors lifespan.

      • Cindy Holbrook

        I thought that the copyright office information was confidential. Apparently, that only applies to someone without cash in hand. One week after I copyrighted my book under a pseudonym, a publisher contacted me (self publishing). They had my real name, the name of my book, and my cell phone number.

  5. Frances Caballo

    Ernie: Thank you for adding to this discussion. You make some excellent points.

    • Frances Caballo

      Michael: Good point. Thanks so much for your comment.

  6. JJ Toner

    John Banville writes detective stories under the pen name Sebastian Black. Everything I’ve written is under a pen name.

  7. Ernie Zelinski

    “How do you think an author with a pen name should market her or his books?”

    My answer, as always, is to do what the majority isn’t doing. It doesn’t matter whether you use your real name or a pen name.

    Be truly creative in your marketing, in other words. These words of wisdom apply:

    “The amount of money you make will always be in direct proportion to the demand for what you do, your ability to do it, and the difficulty of replacing you.”
    — Earl Nightingale

    “The great creative individual is capable of more wisdom and virtue than collective man ever can be.”
    — John Stuart Mill

    “To rebel in season is not to rebel.”
    — Greek Proverb

    “Creativity varies inversely with the number of cooks involved in the broth.”
    — Bernice Fitz-Gibbon

    “What Is Your WOW Factor? This applies to both the service that you provide to the world and the way you market it. Make it edgy, make it snappy, and make it punchy. Even make it raunchy — but make it different! Real different!
    — from “Life’s Secret Handbook” by E.Z.

    “The good ideas are all hammered out in agony by individuals, not spewed out by groups.”
    — Charles Bower

    “It’s not enough to be the best at what you do. You must be perceived as the only one who does what you do.”
    — Jerry Garcia

    “The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before. Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. And the unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people realize you were right, they’ll say it was obvious all along. You have two choices in life: you can dissolve in the mainstream, or you can be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different. To be different, you must strive to be what no one else but you can be.”
    — Alan Ashley-Pitt

    In short, there are endless opportunities for you to be truly different when it comes to marketing your books. I have developed 75 to 100 unique ways to market my books that the vast majority of authors are not creative enough to come up with. It’s not easy, but it’s well worth the effort. I know it’s well worth the effort because being truly different in my marketing has helped me sell over 875,000 of my books worldwide. What’s more, I will have to be even more different and creative in my marketing to reach the 1,000,000 copies sold mark — which I will.


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