Do You Really Need a Pen Name?

Posted by Brittany Lavin
Published On Sep 27, 2014

by John F. Harnish

Some authors write under a penname for a variety of good reasons. Once upon a time, authors who were under contract with one publishing house for a series of books in a particular genre would assume an alias in order to write in an entirely different genre for publication by another publishing house. A common belief was that an author would use a pseudonym for work they weren’t all that eager to have associated with their major body of serious writing.

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Ben Franklin made creative use of several nom de plumes. Under the guise of “a concerned reader”, he would write letters to various editors, commenting on the very editorials that he had written in order to present another point-of-view. One of his more frequent pen-names was Silence Dogood. He assumed the convincing writing persona of a respectable widow to express her concerns on various issues of the day. Anne Rice used a penname to write some explicit erotica that was in a different style than her popular vampire stories.

Authors may use a penname for the anonymous platform it provides for their writing. I wrote Enjoy Often!!! and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About POD But Didn’t Know Who to Ask under my legal name, John F. Harnish. Enjoy Often!!! is a collection of odes, essays, ramblings and short stories; and Everything…About POD… enhances my professional stature as an acknowledged expert on this evolving method of author-originated book publishing. It was in my best interest to have my legal name shown as the author of these books to capitalize on my name recognition and reputation in the publishing industry.

However, when I wrote my political satire about the 2000 presidential election as an adult fairytale, Blue Moon Over Miami, I cloaked myself as John Franklin, my legal first and middle names, to show my family’s direct connection to Ben Franklin. The rawness of my style and depicting the rank foulness in politics needed a wee bit of assumed protection that the association with my famous ancestor might provide for me.

You can publish your book under a penname, but it’s important for you to keep a consistency with the name you use on your books and its promotional material. Branding your written work with your name is vital in creating your writing persona. I always use my full name on non-fiction efforts written for publication. My “John Franklin” pseudonym is reserved for my frankly-fun-fiction stuff that’s not necessarily written for publication at this time.

Pennames provide no protection from being sued for libel. The author is responsible for what they have written, regardless of what name it was published under.


Photo courtesy of shho.


Topics: self publishing, self publishing companies, publishing, publishing industry, how to get published

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