Pseudonyms Part 1 – Choosing A Name

Many of our favorite authors don’t actually exist! I don’t mean they’re fictional characters (shout out to Lemony Snicket – the “writer” of A Series of Unfortunate Events), I mean they’re using a pseudonym, or a pen name.

There’s a plethora of reasons a writer might want to write under a false name – so many that Buck Off decided a mini series was needed to cover everything.


Since the dawn of writing, authors have been using pseudonyms. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of world-famous writers’ birth names. How many do you recognize?

Julie Pottinger, Eleanor Marie Robertson, Joanne Rowling, Samuel Clemens, Stanley Martin Lieber, Eric Arthur Blair and Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum.

None ring a bell? What about: Julia Quinn (Pottinger), Nora Roberts (Robertson), J.K. Rowling (Rowling), Mark Twain (Clemens), Stan Lee (Lieber), George Orwell (Blair) and Ayn Rand (Rosenbaum).

Yep, even the creator of Spider-Man and Iron Man used a pseudonym, and Clemens used more than Mark Twain – some of his work was credited to a man simply named “Josh”.


One of the most popular reasons to chose a pen name stems from public interaction. Rowling famously chose the gender neutral “J.K”  because her agent said boys wouldn’t read Harry Potter if it was written by a woman.

Pottinger chose a last name that would put her books near Amanda Quick, a fellow romance novelist that was already famous. At the time, Amanda Quick novels were frequently on the New York Times’ Bestseller list. And because bookstores (and libraries) stock books based on subject then author’s last name, Pottinger knew that by choosing Quinn, her novels would be next to in-demand books. It’s not improbable to imagine someone grabbing the latest Amanda Quick book, seeing the cover of book next to it and impulse buying it. We’ve all done it.

For that reason alone, it makes sense for supernatural writers to chose Rice as a last name. Who doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of Vampire Queen Anne Rice?

Genre Jump

Another reason for a pseudonym is if the author has a new story that doesn’t really fit in with their brand. J.K. Rowling published The Cuckoo’s Calling under the name Robert Galbraith because the murder mystery novel is not exactly teenager wizards.

Nora Roberts temporary left romance storytelling for futuristic crime thrillers as J.D Robb since it’s a bit of a jump to have heroines go from realizing true love on stormy beaches to shooting guns, jumping out of planes and flirting with their crime-solving partners.

There’s nothing wrong with genre jumping – but for some authors it’s safer to use a pen name than risk alienating readers.

Part 2

Turn in next week for part 2, which will focus on the legal reasons a pseudonym might be warranted.

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