Pseudonym – yes or no?

In the past, female writers considered it necessary to have a pseudonym that gave the impression they were male or at the very least made their gender unknown, for fear that their books wouldn’t sell to male readers.  The Bronte sisters did this, as did Louisa Alcott but perhaps the most famous recent example is J.K Rowling.  Although it’s not technically a pseudonym, she inserted a fictitious initial (K) into her writing name to appear more anonymous, rather than writing as Joanne Rowling who is quite clearly female.  As the books became successful and it was evident that both girls and boys were buying the books, her gender became irrelevant.  Recently, she has adopted a real pseudonym – Robert Galbraith – a man’s name.  In J.K Rowling’s case, she would have no trouble selling books under her own name now but in this instance, she chose a pseudonym for a different reason.  The reason she gave is:

The decision to choose a male pseudonym was driven by a desire to “take my writing persona as far away as possible from me”, Rowling said. By choosing as her hero a military man working in national security – taking a lead from former SAS solider and bestselling author Andy McNab – she created an “excuse not to make personal appearances or to provide a photograph”.

Robert Galbraith’s true identity was kept a secret for 3 months before a lawyer firm representing J.K Rowling leaked the truth.  J.K Rowling said at the time:

‘I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience.

 ‘It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.’

Another high-profile author to write under a pseudonym is Stephen King.  When asked why he wrote as Richard Bachman, he gave the following answer:

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 but I think that a number of writers have disproved that by now.

There are a variety of reasons why writers have chosen to use a pseudonym or nom de plume.  I would like to think that men/boys would not be put off buying a book written by a woman in this day and age but I could be wrong.  I understand J.K Rowling’s thinking behind becoming Robert Galbraith.  She is in a good financial position, she can write what she likes because she doesn’t need the money.  She wanted to receive feedback as an unknown writer and it was good while it lasted.  She sold 1500 copies before anyone realised JK Rowling wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling.  Stephen King, I suppose, also falls into that category.

Would you use a pseudonym?  If so, why?

I’d love to hear what you think about that or anything else I have said in my post.

Leave a message!

Diane 🙂



12 thoughts on “Pseudonym – yes or no?

  1. I do use one. My real name is Jonathan Ronnquist. The original reason I chose to use a pseudonym is actually both ridiculous and a little conceited. I wanted to kick things off with a series of books that were more mainstream than those I hoped to write in the future. So I decided to hold my real name “in reserve” for this purpose. I also concluded (erroneously I’m sure) that writing under a foreign name – my parents are both Swedish – might lead people to the conclusion that my books were translated. I have since concluded that my reasoning may have been a little premature on both accounts, but with the first book published and the second in the pipeline, it’s too late to turn back now. That said, there is a liberating aspect to being someone else, and aside from the initial confusion in my own mind, I think it will work out. Nathaniel Dean James are the first three names of my son.

  2. Most writers, me included, are relatively shy. I would prefer to hide behind a fake name, but I used my own when writing my books. I know some writers who change their name when writing romance, or other genres. I guess it just depends on the person. It’s sort of a strange tradition when you think of it. It’s one of the only places where you can just change your name to anything you want.

    • I’m not at the novel-publishing stage yet so I’m not sure what I’ll do about my pen name. I assume I will adopt a pseudonym (or multiples) if I go genre-hopping 🙂

  3. I’m not a published author yet but I’m close to finishing my first book and the issue of pen names is upon me. My main reason for considering it is close to that of Nathaniel – I’m afraid that my obviously eastern European name will put off too many western readers, because of Americans’ distaste for translated literature. It’s also quite hard to pronounce for most people so I’m thinking of “translating” it into Jordan E. Irons (Zhelyazo=Iron in Bulgarian, so it’s a direct translation).

    However I plan an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign so I don’t hope – nor intend – to keep my nationality a secret. I just don’t want it to be on the cover of my books, expelling readers from first sight. I am concerned that maybe I’m being a bit paranoid and there’s no need to worry and bother with a pen name. I’m still not certain. Any advice will be appreciated. 🙂

    (I’m writing in the fantasy genre.)

    • It’s a shame that in modern times, people still worry about discrimination. Unfortunately, I think you are correct, it will put some people off – not because there is anything wrong with your name but because we still live in a discriminatory society. The old adage “Never judge a book by its cover” really isn’t true in the case of actual books because people do judge books by their cover, names included. I do like that you have chosen a direct translation. I will be looking out for Jordan E. Irons’s books 🙂

      • Thanks for the reply! I did make a U-turn in the last two weeks, actually.. After getting a lot of feedback and weighing things down, I’ve started thinking about going with my own name. As I said, with the crowd funding and all that I don’t plan on keeping my identity a secret but instead just to “cover it up” a little, which doesn’t seem like a good enough reason … Plus I do like my name to be honest. Y. Z. are cool initials, at least imo … I’m still not sure so I’ll definitely give it some more thought. Thanks a lot for your input, sadly it is a valid concern. We’ll see … 🙂

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