Wednesday, August 19, 2015

To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the
newly released second edition
 of The Frugal Editor ( in paperback
Nora Roberts, the author of more than 150 romance novels, was asked why she writes romantic suspense novels under a pen name. Here is her answer:
"It's marketing."
She says that writing quickly makes it difficult for her publisher to publish all of her work with an appropriate amount of time between each of them. So she writes works which are "edgier" than her romance novels under the pseudonym J. D. Robb. She says. "Putting it under a pseudonym helps brand it for the reader." Children's writers often separate their real names or their "other" writing names from their children's work to keep work intended for children untainted.
All these reasons are absolutely valid. And there are lots more. But I believe there are far more downsides to using a pseudonym than upsides. A lot more. Especially from marketing and organizational perspectives.
Writers will find information on the concept of branding in the second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter ( including some of the reasons why you shouldn't use a pen name. You will, of course, have to weigh the pros and cons for your title and your career, but keep in mind that Ms. Roberts has a powerhouse publisher and its marketing department to help her navigate the difficulties inherent in using a pseudonym. If you are considering using a pen name, here's what you should know:
1. It is very hard to keep a pen name secret. Everyone knows who Kristie Leigh Maguire is, as an example, but most know that it is a pen name. If people didn't know that Robb was Nora Roberts' pen name, most of them will now that Time magazine let the cat out of the bag in a featured interview. The magazine also revealed (big time) that Nora Roberts is also a pen name! Suddenly I don't feel the same affinity for her as a person or an author. I don't even know her name.
2. It is very hard to promote a book in person when you use a pen name—especially if you choose an opposite-sex pen name. In fact, promotion of all kinds can become touchy if you use a pen name. You may lose authenticity because you are so intent upon keeping your real identity a secret.
3. Using a pen name isn't necessarily an effective barrier against law suits. But do ask your attorney.
4. Have you ever heard people talk about how hard it is to be a good liar? One has to have an amazing memory and as well as a deceptive nature. Authors have problems enough learning to navigate the marketing, publicity, TV and radio, and speaking skills they had no idea they'd ever need when they started writing. Trying to remember all the little white lies (or big whoppers) you may find yourself telling may not be worth the effort. I mean, Nora Roberts finally gave up on the biggest fib of all—that she uses pen names. In the Time interview, she just ended up being herself.
5. And last but not least is the pure technical, time-consuming quagmire, expensive quagmire of branding yourself over and over again, for every pen name you have. Think Web sites, blogs, e-mail accounts, e-mail signatures. And even worse, think how much less effective those efforts will be because they are diluted. Meaning, you only have so much time to give over to branding each of those names.
Read more about Roberts in Time magazine's "10 Questions" feature, page 6 of the Dec. 10, 2007, issue.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, is a multi award-winning novelist and poet and has a hard enough time keeping the identities as a writer in these genres separate from her work as the author of the HowToDoItFrugally series of books—one for writers and one for retailers. Learn more about all of them at where you can also subscribe to her free SharingwithWriters newsletter that's jam packed with writing and book marketing tips. She also blogs at,, and at You'll also find how-to articles and tips on every page of the Writers' Resources pages on her Web site


Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program
Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers
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The Frugal Book Promoter
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You pin one of my book covers, and I'll pin one of yours!

1 comment:

  1. I hope this bring some of your readers a new perspective on the secrecy for pseudonyms. (-: