It’s another Expert Briefs, where I ask really smart business owners to answer your burning questions.
If you've missed past Expert Briefs, you can click on the undies to see them all –>
This week we're talking about pen names. I asked our panel of experts …
Do you Use Author Pseudonyms (Pen Names)? If so, tips,
successes, utter failures? Dish it.
This could be on blogs, on Amazon, in EzineArticles.com or in general.
Why use a Pen Name?
There are many reasons why you might choose to use a pseudonym.
Some of them are…
1. Protect your privacy from your workplace (if there is a conflict).
2. Protect the privacy of your family (if they are subjects in your posts).
3. Protect your own privacy. Perhaps the blog is about something like yeast infections or impotence. (Sorry…)
4. Protect your “brand”. If you're known as the Nutrition Coach, but want to start a blog on parenting an Autistic child, you may choose to use a pseudonym to keep your brand clear on places like Amazon, especially.
5. Added credibility. If you're a woman, but you want to write to men, you may choose a gender neutral name to go by.
Just added: 6. You have a long, hard to spell and/or brand name. Thanks to A.J. Buonpastore for that reminder. 🙂
One of the most unexpected outings of a pen name was in 2009 when James Chartrand of Men with Pens uncovered that he wears women's underpants in this post. Yes, James is really a woman, not a cross-dresser. (That post is very interesting. I recommend checking it out.)
So, this week, I thought I would ask my friends for advice on this sticky subject. Read their answers below.
Ronnie Nijmeh of PLR.me (< -click for a special free offer from Ronnie) says:
Of all people, I probably should be one person who used a pen name when starting up online, haha 🙂
Being blessed with an unpronounceable last name (it's pronounced: “Nish-may” and means “star” by the way!) and being a content publisher doesn't give me great street cred at first glance.
But I didn't let that stop me… it just meant that I needed to up the ante: so I did face to face videos, did a lot of webinars (so people can hear me speak without an accent!), and I always mention that I'm a native Toronto boy.
It's worked out for me, but I can't help but wonder how many sales were lost because someone assumed that “Nijmeh” was a non-native English content publisher from overseas!
The only time I'd use a pen name is if I were to enter into a different niche that is entirely unrelated to my already established niche. I have clients who use pen names to avoid internet stalkers or their day job boss from finding out what they're doing online… and that can make sense too.
Jeanette S. Cates, PhD of Organize Your Online Business says:
I use a pen name on several of my off-topic sites and have done so for many years. The main reason is that I don't want to confuse the marketplace. After all, if someone searches for Jeanette Cates – I want them to find my information on Online Success – not some of my other unrelated topics.
So while I do use a pseudonym, I don't do a lot of article publishing or forum posts under that name. Instead it's used primarily for blog posts. In fact, “she” doesn't even have an email address of her own! So obviously I didn't try to hide it too much.
I think where people get into trouble with pen names is trying to pass them off as real people, instead of a pen name. For centuries people have used pen names, so there is nothing wrong with that. But adding a fake photo and trying to “be” that person is close to the edge. I'm not seeing it as much now as a few years ago, when people went over the line.
Most of all – have fun with it! You can “be” anyone you want to be!
Connie Ragen Green of Affiliate Marketing Secrets Explained says:
When I was just getting started I had a site about relationships. I'm divorced, so I thought that it wouldn't make sense for me to write on this topic using my own name. I chose a nom de plume and began writing.
I soon came to the conclusion that I would prefer to write everything under my real name and share that experience as a Case Study for my students. That became a part of my transparency in my business. My topics include small dogs, home repair, fitness, and, of course, relationships.
My recommendation for someone considering writing on a topic that is very different than what they are already known for is to decide whether the new niche would confuse people. Try using a nom de plume for awhile to see how it feels and plays to your audience before making your final decision.
And what name did I choose for this while I was experimenting? Cydney Greene. It was appealing because my gender could be ambiguous and it seemed to flow well.
Nicole Dean of .. here! .. says:
I get asked this question – often. Particularly, because I started off back in 2005 doing niche sites. Lots of them. So, yes, I have pen names.
In fact, I was asked this question just last week on my public Facebook page. You can read and or comment on that here: Should I use a Pen Name for Privacy?
In case you can't see the graphic clearly, she asks:
“Hi Nicole, I am just about to launch a blog, however, I am struggling with whether to post anonymously or not as I would like to share some of my personal experiences but I want to protect the privacy of my husband and children. My husband loathes Facebook and I have a 12 year old who would be completely mortified if I posted or shared images. Any suggestions or thoughts ?”
And, my answer is this.
“Hi Nat. In that case, just post as a fun name that's OBVIOUSLY a pen name. That way you can still “out” yourself down the road if you choose to do a book deal or something. You have more options. Like “The Mad Hatter” or something totally not a name. Hope that helps! N”
So, yes I have pen names. Is it ethical?
In my work, I strive to provide value and to “make the web a better place”. So, I have no fear of being outed for any of my sites.
Now, if I was using pen names to hide something shady, then that's totally different. But, really, if someone finds out that I've got a site about Romance in Marriage (which I do) or Recipes (which I do) – bit fat hairy deal. 🙂
So talk to me.
What are your questions about pen names? Have any experiences you would like to share?
I appreciate shares and I adore comments! Please share your thoughts.
Celene Harrelson | The HappypreneurNovember 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm
I’m in total agreement with you all. I have some niche sites that I use pen name on. It makes no sense to cause confusion with your audience. Great post! Thanks.
Mary SchillerNovember 29, 2012 at 2:30 pm
Thanks for this article, Nicole. I use a pen name to self-publish my fiction on Amazon Kindle. I made this choice because I plan to expand my fiction into two distinct markets (I’m only in one so far). I’d also like to reserve my real name for nonfiction books I’m working on. Successful? Not sure yet. I’ve just begun the self-publishing enterprise with fiction, so I’ll let you know in a few months!
WilliamNovember 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm
I am sure that sometime in the future I will think about using a pen name for something that I write, but at this point, I find that there is just so many places to be seen and heard that I am way to busy branding “Chef William” to have time to write under more than one name. However “Chef William” is sort of a pen name. I am a chef and my name is William so I never really considered it before.
Great post..until just now, I never about it. For 27 years I was known as “Mr. C” in the kitchens I worked so I guess my whole life I have been a pen name.
Leslie TruexNovember 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm
I use a pen name for fiction mostly to keep my non-fiction work separate. I’m not so worried about “confusion” as AJ mentions … I know the marketplace is smart. At the same time, I want to make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for. If people look for Leslie Truex, they’re looking for work-at-home, career, writing type stuff. They don’t have to weed through fiction as well. The biggest challenge I find is building a brand on a pen name. My alter ego doesn’t have a lot of friends or recognition (yet) that I have. In same ways, I might do better using my given name, because I have list etc. But again, people who know me one way might not be interested in my fiction. For that reason, it’s nice to keep them separate. I’m don’t blog with a pen name although I don’t have a lot of niche blogs. My blogs all sort of relate and therefore it makes since to just use my name.
NicoleNovember 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm
Exactly, Leslie. If someone searches for “Nicole Dean” on Amazon or even Google, I want my message to be VERY clear and not look like two different people. 🙂
The market is smart. But, I still want my brand to be totally obvious.
For instance, Nicole Dean = Online Business Success Specifically for Content Marketers
I don’t want to accidentally clutter that with my niches.
Thanks everyone for commenting so far. I’m really enjoying them all.
A.J. BuonpastoreNovember 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm
What I don’t understand is what makes some writers/authors think that using the same name for whatever they write would confuse their readers. I thought about using a pen name simply because my last name is to long and perhaps (“A.J. Buonpastore”) would be too difficult for my readers to pronounce. But that is the only reason I would have used a pen name. I don’t believe any writer/author should feel as though they are locked into writing in one genre. Or having different names for crossing the line into another genre. All writers/authors should feel free to write about anything they are comfortable with and be proud to sign their name to it. After all, a writers name is the writers brand and your readers will read your work if the subject is interesting to them no matter what it is you write. A.J.Buonpastore
Christina LemmeyNovember 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm
Great post (as always!) I’ve always been curious about why people would use pen names. I considered it once and thought it would be strange “being” that person or that I would be perceived as a fake if my pen name was discovered. It’s not really an issue at the moment but will tuck away this info for the future.
CorNovember 29, 2012 at 5:49 pm
The name posted here is a derivative of my real name. Actually my first name is rather unique and is used as a subject for all emails I send….basically I have branded this with my subscribers and my emails never get lost in the muddle of all the crazy subject headings that show up in people’s email accounts and they are opened.
Having said that, I am moving more towards creating and have decided to go with a brandable pen name. My reasoning for this is….
Time moves onward and so does age…if I brand my name what future is there for my heirs? Once I am gone, yes some of the products will still be marketable for a while…BUT…if the brand is done under a pen name then either my heirs can carry on under the assumed pen name with no question of the change of authors….OR….the heirs can sell the complete product line and the pen name to someone else to carry on. If I just branded my own name then on my demise all the work and business would eventually evaporate.
Just my take on pen names.
Bill NickersonNovember 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm
I’ve not used pen names in any of my published writing, yet. But I’ve thought about it. Sometimes I think it is hard to have my name on everything I do and it doesn’t focus me in any particular niche. But then again, I’m not focused, so maybe that shows the real me.
I have written some childrens’ stories and I use a pen name for them. None have been published yet although I plan to publish them in Kindle in the new year. The only reason I chose a pen name for them is that I felt it would be more exciting and fun for kids than my boring, stuffy old name.
One area where I think pen names might be a good idea is for writers who write for both children/teens and for adults. An example that comes to mind is Rick Riordan. He writes fantastic stuff for both age groups, but I don’t want my young teen daughter, who loves both the Olympus and Kane Chronicles series, reading the Tres Navarre series. At least not for a few more years.
GenesisNovember 29, 2012 at 8:56 pm
I do use pen names. Some are not really names (like Gourmet Mama) and others are separate “people.” The reason for this is that I’m extremely varied in my writing and prefer not to mix folks up. I use a variation of my real name for my YA fiction, my initials for my WAHM books and a completely different name for other nonfiction.
CarlNovember 29, 2012 at 9:41 pm
I have read through all the comments on using pen names and everyone makes a great point in their comments. I especially like the idea of using a pen name to create a saleable business for my heirs – what a fantastic idea.
But one question lurks in my mind and that is: If you use a pen name do you use your own picture when creating profiles and what about videos do you avoid showing yourself on camera? What is the best strategy with these methods – pictures and videos?
David Leonhardt (Amabaie)November 30, 2012 at 8:39 am
Not quite a pen name, in that I do not use it when writing, but I go by Amabaie in social media. I have the misfortune of having the exact same name as a very popular New York Times columnist and a somewhat popular entertainer. And social media sites tend to like single-word names. So I chose Amabaie and in most places I stick to it, since it is rare enough that the name is usually available when I join a site; it is the unofficial name that used to be used for the community where I grew up.
KellyDecember 3, 2012 at 9:24 pm
Hey Experts, thanks for this post. I’ve never used a pen name, but after reading all of this through and thinking about it, I believe I need to.
I want to publish some Kindle books about a non-business topic, but I do not want to muddy the water for my main brand.
Thanks for all of the great info!
Mary SchillerDecember 4, 2012 at 8:44 am
Kelly, you also made me think of another reason I’m using a pen name to write fiction for Kindle, which is that I still have a full-time job and don’t want the company’s brand (it’s a biggie) associated with my name in any way. But I think that could be true if you have your own company, as well.
SusanDecember 7, 2012 at 11:15 am
Another issue is that there are times in our lives when we do change our names. I must admit to being surprised to the reaction I have had to saying that I used to be a James. I was Susan James until got I married. It was not linked to long term medical treatment. When I got divorced one of the things I had to do was decide what name I would use. It came down to which name carried the least baggage my maiden name or my married name.
Add to that mix trying to think of a business name at the same time. That is why I came up with Lily the Pink. It was more than just name in a silly song but the name of someone who was a good role model. Susan even means lily so it was a good nickname. It also means that that if someday I do change my name again I can stay being a Susan and being Lily the Pink.
Kathy Henderson-SturtzMarch 4, 2013 at 2:22 pm
I’ve only used a pseudonym when one newspaper I worked (as an advertising rep) for insisted I use one when I published articles in a regional magazine. Never quite understood upper management’s reasoning since they made it clear they had no objection to writing for any other non-competing newspaper or magazine.
I choose to use a sort-of-real name. My middle name + my step-father’s last name: Susan Kaufmann.
Otherwise, I’m agree with you, Nicole. I’m okay being me.
HeatherMarch 13, 2013 at 12:05 am
I came across this post searching for advice on using a pseudonym. I have a unique concern. I am an RN and I have a specific thing I want to blog about that I think would be a great start up. I also have a goal of expanding the blog into a book or two. Because I am a nurse and will be focusing on a unique nurse experience, I feel that I should use my real name for credibility purposes. However, I am married to a police officer. Our last name is also unique and is hard to forget. It’s one of those names that always puts a smile on your face. So my ultimate concern is safety. Anyways, just wanting to pick your brains. How do you maintain credibility without putting yourself at risk?