September 26

Pen Names, Pet Peeves and Publishing

wrong way my way right wayI’ve been toying with the idea of doing a blog post about pen names for a while, but, to be honest, there’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said somewhere else about them. I will say that, when I was trying to make myself feel better about using one for my cozy mysteries, I discovered that some people hate them vehemently, while others assume that writers who use them have something to hide. I’d like to set the record straight on why I use them, and start a whole ‘nother debate about one of my other pet peeves, indie authors who argue amongst themselves.

I never set out to write books, at least, not at first. When I wrote my first non-fiction book about saving money by ditching cable television, I sold a handful of copies and thought I was hot stuff for writing a book that was probably 10,000 words long, if that. I used my real name, or at least my initials and real surname, because I was convinced that I was on my way to building a career as an internet marketer.

Later, I used my real name, no initials, on my children’s books, but linked to all the non-fiction books as well on my Amazon author page. I didn’t even consider things like Googling my name to make sure that nothing embarrassing came up when I typed it in, but lo and behold, I later saw some topless model with the same name as me, and I just hoped that if my children’s books became a hit, no one would confuse the two of us. (Though, to be fair, I’d kill for her figure, lol!)

When I decided to try my hand at writing grownup fiction books, I knew I wanted a different image and name for my books, so I set about choosing a pen name. My pen name, Ruby Blaylock, is my mother’s maiden name, and Ruby was just a name I liked that sounded sweet and southern. My grandmother’s name was Shelby, and Ruby always reminded me of that, so that’s how I landed on that particular moniker.

I know some people want absolutely everything they write to be under their one, true name, but I plan on crossing several genres, and to me, that wouldn’t be good business. I mean, would you trust a children’s book author who also wrote steamy romance or gruesome horror stories? Well, you might, you cheeky thing, but others might not. To me, some instances just call for a pen name, but I can’t fathom why some people get so wound up about NOT using a pen name.

I’ve heard authors say things like, “It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” and “it’s cheating or lying to the readers.” Um, hello…it’s not. For many authors, writing isn’t our only day job, and if bosses or coworkers were to find out about our writing habits, we might be called out or even lose jobs because of it. (For the record, I don’t have another job. I also have very little money, but that’s neither here nor there, lol!)

It just annoys me when indie authors bicker among themselves about best practices, like “you’re not a real author if you’re using a pen name.” And it irks me to no end when indie authors try to undercut each other, complaining about the way they do things.

I have had several other writers comment to me that they don’t feel ebooks are “real” books. They are so mired in the myth of traditional publishing, even though they self-publish, that they convince themselves that ebooks are just not worth it. Let me tell you, they most certainly are.

While it’s probably the dream of every indie author to see their books gracing the shelves of places like Barnes & Noble, the reality is, unless you are really good and really lucky, it’s hard to get noticed by these big bookstores if you are an indie author. For those of us just starting out in our journey, writing and publishing ebooks offers us a chance to grow and hone our writing skills in front of a “live” audience, improving with every book that we write.

I do offer my books in paperback, because I’m a sucker for a physical book, but the majority of my sales (and many other indie authors’ sales) are in ebook format these days. Ebooks are great for so many reasons, but I’d never stand up and say people are foolish if they choose to publish only physical books as an independent author.

I’ve begun to realize that this post is a bit of a long rant, so I’ll wind it up. I just wanted to remind you, my fellow authors, that we need to stick together. We’re all in this together, this storytelling lark. And we should be helping and encouraging each other, not bickering like my kids over whether cats or dogs are better pets. (And while we’re at it, we should stop bickering about things like which religion, sex, race or social system is better, but that’s a whole ‘nother set of pet peeves for another post, lol!)

So, whether you publish paperbacks or ebooks, use a pen name or lay it all out for the world to see, I invite you to comment and share your own links to your work in the comments section below. Let’s support each other and slowly make the world a better place, one word at a time.

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Posted September 26, 2015 by Jessica Woods in category "novel writing", "Self-publishing", "Traditional publishing vs self-publishing", "Uncategorized


  1. By Wendy Barrett on

    A very interesting post Jessica! I hadn’t even realised that people had a problem with pen names. Pen names have probably been around forever, and you made good points on why they can be a practical way to go. Also, think of all the women writers in the past – Georg Eliot and the Bronte sisters – who had to adopt male pen names in order to be taken seriously. Like you say, when you have several different and disparate genres it can make sense to write under different names to avoid confusion and disappointment by readers.
    Good luck with your ongoing writing and publishing!

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      Wendy, I guess some people just feel that a pen name is somehow cheating or fibbing, but I agree, for some who write in mixed genres, it really is a good thing. And, thank goodness we gals don’t have to hide behind male monikers anymore, though I’ve heard that the reason JK Rowling didn’t use her first name (Joann) on her Harry Potter books is because the publishers believed that no one would buy fantasy written by a woman. Can you believe that in this day and age? Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  2. By Sue on

    What you say about using pen names does make sense for sure, especially if you want to write in different genres. Currently I have two cook books for sale under my own name, Three Guys and a Cake, which is just a collection of recipes that I always made for my husband and two boys.

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      I love that title! And I think that pen names are a great tool, especially if you happen to have a name that is really common or that just doesn’t “fit” the genre.

  3. By Helene Malmsio on

    Good post Jessica… it just makes sense to use pen names when you are mixing genres. I’m using my own name for a series of how to health books, and for a series of personal development books, but when it comes to some niche books I have I don’t want to confuse readers and be one of those publishers who try to be Jack of all Trades master of none.

    Once I finally get time and inclination for fiction, it will be under a pen name. If I ever get any success in it, I can always switch boats and begin a series in my own name and let that take its own life… I think people stress too much about it all.

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      I wanted my cozy mysteries under my name, too, but then realized that it would be confusing to some people who knew me as the lady with the kids’ books, which, ironically, haven’t done as well as my cozies. I want to write older kid (middle grade, YA) fiction eventually, so I think I’ll stick my “real” name on that, and keep my pen name busy with Southern humor and cozy mystery-style books.

  4. By Patti on

    I think the issue with pen names is a personal choice–and it’s no one’s dang business why an author chooses to use one…or not to use one.

    We need to all do it the way that feels right to us—pen names, plotting, pantsing, style, etc.

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      Totally agree with you. Personal choice, necessity…it’s all a matter of what works for each individual author. In the same vein, no two launch strategies produce the same results for any two authors, because everyone is unique. I say, do what works for you, and don’t worry about what other people think!

  5. By Bonnie Gean on

    Hi Jessica,

    I don’t see anything wrong with using a pen name if you want to cross over into a different genre. I know Stephen King uses several pen names because he knows that his readers of mystery would want to know he writes elsewhere.

    But, I have to admit, when I first got started online (and I was hiding from a physical abuser), I used a fictitious name to protect my identity. Unfortunately, I built a following of 11,000 fans that I had to leave behind when I started being ME.

    I regret that decision (using a pen name), even though it was necessary to protect myself. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t. 🙂

    But that’s me.

    – Bonnie
    P.S. Your comment luv isn’t working. 🙂

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      Bonnie, thanks for the headsup about my CommentLuv…I’ll try to figure out what’s wrong with it! That totally sucks about losing your following…but your privacy and safety are way more important in a situation like that. I wish my reasons for using a pen name were the same as King’s–apparently he was just so prolific, his publishers told him people wouldn’t respect him for putting out too many books every year. I laugh at that now…look at James Patterson!

  6. By Jenn Alex Brockman on

    How funny that people get upset over this. I was vaguely aware of pen names – kind of like off in another galaxy or something – but I’ve never worried about it as a non-writer reader (distinguishing between books and blogs here).

    You make a valid point though, that the way our societies think, someone who writes kids books might not be taken seriously as an adult fiction writer – but I think society is screwed up anyway.

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      Oh, yeah…society fell off the normal train a while ago. I think the whole issue is a matter of preference, but authors should use common sense. If you write racy erotic fiction, don’t do it under the same author name and brand you write your kids lit under. It just opens up a whole can of worms that shouldn’t be explored…

  7. By Tom Dean on

    I’ve always used my real name and photo for my blogs, in forums, list building etc. I think it helps in engagement and branding your name. That said, I use pen names for two genres that I write in.

    “It just opens up a whole can of worms that shouldn’t be explored…”

    Pen names are often necessary for the above reason.

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      Pen names give you a lot of freedom, for sure. I’m the same…my PLR and even a couple of my little niche sites are in my real name because it’s stuff I don’t mind being associated with. If I were blogging about something terribly embarrassing, I’d have to use a pen name, or my teenager would kill me, lol!


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