Why Use Pen Names if Not For Privacy?

on September 11, 2012 in Ghostwriting / Books
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You know me as Jennifer Mattern. That's my "real" name, or at least it was before I got married. And it's the name I'll continue to use here and in running the bulk of my business. But I'm also pursuing fiction, and for that I use two pen names. I don't stress over keeping those pen names private though. In fact, I've noticed a trend lately where more and more authors seem to be sharing the different names they use publicly.

Aren't pseudonyms largely about privacy though -- hiding who you really are? To a degree it started out that way. And for many writers I'm sure that's exactly why they do it. But not me.

I don't use pen names for privacy. I use them for a marketing advantage. And a part of that marketing strategy is to publicly share those names among my different reader groups.

I'm currently writing the first in a murder mystery novel series under the name Aria Klein. And I'm prepping my first horror novel under the name A.J. Klein (A.J. simply combining my other pen name and my real first name). Obviously I don't care that those names can be tied together. They're similar for that very reason, and the genres mesh reasonably well. Chances are good that I'll write under yet another name when I start my first children's book -- the only type of creative writing I've formally studied.

Why bother with the pen names and maintaining new websites and social media identities if I'm going to tell people "we" are all the same person anyway? As I noted, it's about marketing. Here are some of the specific reasons this can work to your advantage if you aren't using a pseudonym just to keep your real identity private.

  • You won't screw with your own search engine rankings. I've spent years building search engine rankings for my name and site brands. I don't want a new, only mildly-related, site coming along and knocking them down a few pegs.
  • It allows for more targeted social networking. Not everything I say to freelance writers applies to horror fans for example. It might even annoy the hell out of them. At the same time, most freelancers probably don't care about the novels, research for them, or even me yapping about horror films I'm watching on any given day.
  • You can present yourself as whatever "individual" you want. For example, let's say you write fantasy novels and you go to a related convention. Would you rather give out business cards tied to your pen name in the genre or one for your real name which you use for your freelance writing services? I'd opt for the former.
  • Depending on the types of projects you take on, there might be tremendous opportunities for cross-promotion. Again, this works for me because mysteries and horror can tie in nicely. Even something like this blog can tie into my fiction work because I can talk about the publishing arm of my business, sales and marketing, etc. -- things other freelancers might have an interest in if they'd like to publish books as well. I also have an indie publishing blog (under my real name) that would be a logical cross-promotional tool.

For these and other reasons, you might see me mention those pen names and related projects here more in the future (although not more than freelance writing). And if you're interested in following the projects or connecting via Twitter, here are the new sites and profiles:


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Do you also write under multiple pen names? If so, do you share those pen names publicly? If you find any marketing benefits to using different names for different projects or genres, let us know what those are. Do you write under pen names but keep them private? If so, tell us why you prefer to go that route and if you've ever considered the more public approach.

Thanks for sharing!
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.

12 Comments

  1. Jon Stow September 12, 2012 Reply

    It may be about branding, Jenn, though I haven’t felt the need. Maybe I should.

    Among the best sellers, Iain Banks writes contemporary fiction under that name and science fiction as Iain M Banks. He writes in both genres very well, but no doubt likes his followers and fans to know what they might be buying even before they read the reviews. See http://www.iain-banks.net/

    • Jennifer Mattern September 12, 2012 Reply

      Branding is definitely the big issue with me. I kept a more feminine version of the pen name for my mysteries, because I’m writing cozies with a female lead. For horror I went with a name that’s going to be more ambiguous on a book cover even though I’m not hiding the fact that I’m a woman on the site or social media profiles. My hope is that keeping them tied together will let me focus on some crossover material too. For example, I have a half-written mystery novel that I’d like to finish and publish under the horror author pen name simply because it doesn’t fit in with the lighter mysteries. If I’m going to take on something just a bit too dark for that brand, I can push it to the other. But I can still use the Aria name for marketing in saying “if you like A, you might like to know about B.” That’s my plan anyway.

  2. Amandah September 12, 2012 Reply

    Jenn,

    Thank, thank you so much for writing this post. Not many people, ironically other writers, understand why you’d want to use a pen name or even legally change your name for that matter. If using pen names works for Nora Roberts, Dean Koontz, and Jayne Ann Krentz, they can work for us. :)

    I’ve contemplated changing my name for many, many years and finally had the courage a year ago to adopt a ‘new name.’ I haven’t legally changed my name, yet, because I’m weighing the pros and cons of keeping my legal name of Rebecca Sebek and publishing writings underneath it. However, my writer website reflects my ‘new name or pen name’ of Amandah Tayler Blackwell.

    When I was querying my children’s picture book and non-fiction book for teens, a literary agent reminded me that branding and marketing are important and that I may want to consider using a different name. I hired a nameology company (it’s fascinating) located in Vancouver, B.C. Canada; they’ve been in business for over 80 years. I worked with a specialist and chose Amandah Tayler Blackwell as I stated above. I love the name (it makes me smile) and think it suits me better than my legal name. The good news is that I have many other names to select from should I choose to write under pen names or if I need character names. I don’t want to go crazy with pen names but I may use one or two.

    Thanks again for writing this post. You made my day!

    • Jennifer Mattern September 12, 2012 Reply

      Using my real name just didn’t make sense. First, my maiden name is already tied to a business, and that previous business is largely unrelated to the fiction work. Second, my maiden name just doesn’t “look right” in the genres I wanted to write in. Third, I don’t want to use my married name professionally because I want to protect my husband’s (and future children’s) privacy a bit more than I protected my own when I started out. Pen names have been around so long, it’s hard to believe we still have to justify using them.

      I’ve never heard of nameology companies. That sounds pretty interesting. Do you mind sharing their name or website?

      I think having a name you’re comfortable with is so important, and I’m glad yours makes you smile. :) I know what you mean. It’s how I feel about the name “Aria Klein.” I came up with it while going through a baby name book brainstorming character names (her name ended up being Grace Atwood). I saw Aria, and immediately fell in love with the name. It’s like a subtle nod to my past in the music biz and my ongoing passion for making music. I’m not sure where Klein came from. But when I said the name aloud, that’s what came out of my mouth. So I kept it. And I love it. Interestingly, my husband also adores the name. And he insists that we’ll name our first daughter that too. Women don’t often name their daughters after them anymore, and I sure wouldn’t name a girl Jennifer. But I like the idea of doing it through my pen name tied to something I’m passionate about. If we’re going to revive an old tradition, that feels like a good way to modernize it a bit. :)

  3. Anne Wayman September 12, 2012 Reply

    Jenn, this is truly helpful. I’ve always written under Anne Wayman which is how the world knows me… but I’m considering a children’s book… maybe a pen name would make my life easeir. Thanks.

    • Jennifer Mattern September 12, 2012 Reply

      No problem. Just make sure we know it’s you (even if privately), so we can check it out! :)

  4. Chimica R. September 12, 2012 Reply

    I only use pen names. When it comes to freelancing people know my name but for information based products ( which is my speciality), I only use pen names. Most people don’t know it’s actually “me” and I perfer it that way to avoid drama and weird questions. Currently I write under 12 different pen names… and yes more are coming up. Great article.. super helpful to those wanting to step out of the freelancing field and try something much more creative.

    PS. I recommend Kindle ebook writers use pen names because it can build your brand 20times faster!

    • Jennifer Mattern September 12, 2012 Reply

      Okay. I have to ask. :)

      What kind of drama and “weird questions” have you gotten that make you not want to share your name? And why do you think those things happened?

  5. Amandah September 13, 2012 Reply

    Hi Jenn,

    The company is Kabalarian Philosophy, Society of Kabalarians http://www.kabalarians.com You can sign up for a ‘free’ name analysis report. I was surprised how accurate the report was and not just for me. My mom, sister, niece, and nephew had their names analyzed and the reports were spot on. If you decide to use their services, the company assigns you a ‘name coach’ who’ll work with you to find names that work you. I have pages of names because I wasn’t connecting with some of the names. By the way… I still keep in contact with my name coach.

    I’ve asked my immediate family to call me Amandah. My niece, nephew, and sister have no problem with it, but my mom still has to get used to the idea.

    You hit the nail on the head with “my maiden name just doesn’t “look right” in the genres I wanted to write in.” This is how I felt. When I met people I never gave my last name, only my first name. Now I introduce myself using my newly adopted first and last name. Plus, it never helped that my mom shortened Rebecca to Becky. I never resonated with that name. I still have to ask her not to call me that.

    @ Chimica… Wow! You have 12 different pen names. I may use one or two.

    I understand about drama and weird questions, which is why I’ve only told my immediate family about my name change. I knew my niece and nephew, who are teenagers, wouldn’t have a problem because they think a name change is cool.

    I changed my Facebook personal page and explained ‘why’ I was changing my name. Some people read it and some didn’t. Instead of giving my entire explanation, I say my name change is for writing purposes, which is true. I feel my new/pen name is better suited for the YA genre and children’s market.

  6. Ella M. February 5, 2013 Reply

    This is really great info, and something I’ve been wondering a lot about. I’m interested in going by my real first and middle name (which is traditionally used as a last name anyway), and just dropping my actual last name altogether. The reason is that my last name is difficult to spell and pronounce — I don’t have any concerns about privacy. But people I’ve mentioned this to seem to be confused — “how will you keep it secret?” they want to know. It really hadn’t occurred to me until they asked that I would be expected to keep it secret. It’s nice to hear you’re having success with this, because I was starting to worry I was wrong about planning to be transparent.

    I do have one big concern with pseudonyms though… how do you deal with social media (facebook, twitter, etc.)? Is it tough to juggle a separate account for your pseudonym, and to decide which name to tell people when they want to friend/follow you? Say you’re at a mixed dinner of writing and non-writing folks — when someone asks you publicly what your last name is so they can add you on facebook, which name do you announce? I’ve just been wondering what the potential complications are, since I have enough trouble balancing my online life as it is!

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