Should You Use a Pseudonym?

To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym

Guest post by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

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 because she writes quickly that 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, 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 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 because you are 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.

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


Book Marketing – To Niche or Not to Niche
Use Social Media to Promote your Blog Posts
Commenting on Blogs Still Works


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Hope this helps your readers, Karen. It's not that pseudonyms should never be used, but they sure can make the marketing of a book lots more diffiult!


Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Excited about Magdalena Ball’s and my new Sublime Planet poetry book released to celebrate Earth Day coming in April. The e-book is on Amazon in the US ( in Europe and Japan, too. It's also available in paperback to be used as a gift for the tree huggers you know. All proceeds for that benefit the World Wild Life Fund.

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, I'm sure it will be of help to my readers. I haven't had the need to to the pseudonym route yet - I wouldn't want the added challenge of marketing two names. LOL

Thanks so much for guest posting each Friday this month!

Magdalena Ball said...

Very useful for anyone considering using a pseudonym. It seems kind of glamourous, but it's a full time job just promoting under this name. That said, I know cross-genre writers who do very well using a pseudonym. It's no secret - everyone knows who the writer is, it just helps differentiate the genres.

Joy V. Smith said...

Good point about marketing two names! My three blogs and my posts in a number of forums would be wasted if I started using a new name. (However, I keep one in reserve.)

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

So many think that using a pseudonym will "protect their privacy" or "their anonymity." But it usually doesn't do that,either! (-:

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, how true. In today's digital and easy info access world, it's near impossible to keep anything secret or private.

Thanks for joining in the conversation, Joy.