The Pen Name

4 May

Why? <— The number one question I always get when people ask me if I write under my real name, and I inform them that I have a pen name (names).

Why use a pen name? Are you ashamed of your writing? Do you want to hide it? Do you think it’s bad for people to admit to their writing? How will you be rich and famous if people don’t know you?

Okay. Let’s step back a bit and go over a few of the more common reasons for why authors (not just myself) might choose to use a pen name. Some of these might be my own, some might not concern me. But let’s examine anyway.

1. Someone already uses it. Yes, it’s true. Someone could already be using your name (or something extremely similar) to publish with. To avoid confusion, sometimes it’s best to pick another name. That’s just a part of building your brand.

2. Your name is too hard to pronounce, remember, or spell. This one is pretty obvious. If a friend is talking about this great book she read by author X, and the other friend wants to google them when she gets home to look up the author’s latest works, but the name was so obscure she can’t seem to figure out how to find it…lost reader.

3. You write in more than one genre. This one should be pretty simple. To help readers more easily identify your different books, maybe you want to pick another pen name. Jayne Ann Krentz is a great example of this. You know when you pick up a book by Amanda Quick, it will be historical. Jayne Castle? Futuristic. Jayne Ann Krentz? Contemporary. She’s made it easy for her readers. All three pen names “acknowledge” each other. It’s no secret that she writes under the three names. But using those three names as a brand, as a way of quickly identifying to the reader “This is Jayne’s latest historical” there’s no confusion. Nora Roberts is another good example. She also writes futuristic suspense (with romantic elements) under a different name. JD Robb.

4. Control. You want to be able to control who knows about your career and who does not. This is not born out of shame, not for me. But at the same time, I am well aware that there are people who do not only dislike erotic romance, but they consider it downright wrong. That’s their opinion, and they are welcome to it. But sometimes people are not able to let it die there with a “To each their own” attitude. I’ve definitely heard of writers whose children have lost playmates because the parents thought it was “wrong” to write the genre they did. That’s sad to hear. But while I have no shame about my writing, I do tend to put out feelers first before I let people know my pen name. I have a child, and I would be horrified to know that my career was affecting her in a negative way. I have yet to run up against this myself. I’ve heard more than one say it wasn’t something they read, and that’s fine. But I do keep my eye out.

5. Privacy. There can be some, well, lets say there are always interesting individuals out there. While actors and actresses don’t have the same sort of luxury as authors do (their full birth names are often released to the public…just check IMDB, almost every actor’s page has their birth name), authors still have that sort of invisible wall there. We know where George Clooney lives. E! could easily point you to the villa in Italy. But with authors, things are a step removed. Nobody knows where I live. They don’t know my real name (which could, of course, lead them to my address). There’s that sort of division, and I’m grateful for that. I’d be willing to bet most actors and other celebs would covet the same thing.

And many more. All this to say…people don’t choose pen names because of shame. There are practical, rational, business-related reasons to pick a pen name. And if that person wants to reveal their pen name, it is their choice to do so or to not.

Last week, the internet blew up with the story of Judy Mays, a fellow Ellora’s Cave author. She is a teacher, and apparently some parents found out that she writes erotic romance under a pen name. (Mays is the pen name.) Whether this teacher liked it or not, her name was now out there. The choice was taken out of her hands. And I am horrified for her. I’m sure she stands by her writing, as well as her career as a teacher. From accounts of previous students, she was a great teacher. The two should have been able to remain separate. And would have, but for a few disgruntled parents.

A former student of Judy’s stepped forward with this fantastic video giving his thoughts on the matter. I leave you with this funny guy explaining what pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to was thinking.


KJ Reed is an erotic romance author. She writes sexy contemporary stories featuring alpha men and the women (and men) who can’t resist them. You can find out more about KJ, get behind-the-scenes glances at her books, and catch up with her blog by visiting her site:

6 Responses to “The Pen Name”

  1. Jeannene Walker May 4, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    That is some video!! Great point.

  2. Marilyn Campbell May 4, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Another reason (only remembered by us old-timers) is to choose a name or at least letter of the alphabet that would place your physical books at an eye level shelf in the bookstore (A’s are often too high for a lot of people to see easily) OR to get your book next to a bestselling author (like, uh, Jean Krantz could get accidentally picked up just because it was next to Jayne Krentz). The other old-time thing was that some publishers, like Harlequin, required a pen name and then retained ownership of the name after the author moved on & could have someone else write under that name (no longer legal unless agreed to in the contract). That’s one of the reasons my first category is under a pen name. And finally, I’ve used a pen name for books I’ve co-written with my daughter.

    • Nara May 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

      I had started to think maybe I was too cautious about keeping my author life separate from the rest of my life. The whole Judy Mays thing reminded me caution is justified.

  3. Karen C May 4, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    I believe in an author’s right to write under a pen name and I don’t believe they are required to give me a reason as to why they do.

    I wasn’t able to get through the Judy Mays video – probably my computer – but I am glad that some of her students stuck up for her and I’m dismayed that they had to do it.

    Did we just take several backwards steps?

  4. KJ Reed May 5, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Jeannene – I agree. I love this video. Fantastic! The guy is so funny.

    Marilyn – other great reasons, necessary or forced, for pen names. Sometimes the author simply has no choice!

    Nara – I don’t think, in this day and age, you can ever be too cautious. I’d be willing to bet if actors and singers could have the same sort of anonymity for their personal life, they’d grab at it in a heartbeat.

    Karen – I don’t think we as society took steps back. I think some people (like the parents who were originally outraged by Judy Mays’ work) never took the original steps forward with the rest of society. 🙂 Luckily, they seem to be in the vast minority. But they still exist, sadly.


  1. The Pen Name - May 4, 2011

    […] with a few reasons (some mine, some other authors) for why an author might be using a pen name. CLICK HERE to read the blog post and watch a funny video as well. Posted in […]

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