Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why use a pen name?

I confuse people on purpose. Any of my published works have me listed as “J. Lloyd Morgan.” But that’s not the name I go by in real life. My first name is Jason. That’s what most people call me, aside from some aunts that call me Jakey.

Why then do I use a different name when I write? There are two main reasons. First is branding and marketing. That’s right, branding and marketing. “Jason Morgan” is a very common name. However, “J. Lloyd Morgan” is much less common. In fact, if you Google “J. Lloyd Morgan,” you’ll find my books.

The second reason is privacy. There are some readers that are a bit, well, persistent when it comes to their favorite authors. We’ll leave it at that.

But those two reasons aren’t the only ones why writers use pen names. And this is where it gets to be a bit sticky. Some writers are going to be ticked off that I bring this up. So be it. It’s not the first time I’ve brought up something that makes people uncomfortable, or at the very least consider their actions.

Another reason for using pen names, which I think is legitimate, is that some authors write for different genres and will, at times, use a different name for each genre. Let me give you an example: A person who writes horror might use the name “I. B. Scary” for their pen name. The same person may also write romance. Would “I. B. Scary” be a good name for a romance writer? Probably not. Instead, the same person may use a different pen name for their romance novels like “Lotti Kissez.”

So, what’s so controversial? Nothing, yet. This is where I’m going to rattle a few cages. I know of some authors who profess to follow a certain moral code. Most of their written works lines up with that moral code. For example: they don’t believe that people should be slaves to other people. Therefore, nothing in their written works glorifies or promotes the idea that slavery is good. Get it?

However, there are those who then write stories that may indeed include elements that diverge from their stated moral code. Because they don’t want people to know it’s them, the same person who writes stories that sticks to their code, they use a different pen name.

That’s a concept I struggle with as a writer. I’ve written in several different genres: historical fiction, medieval fiction, contemporary fiction, and fantasy. My next two books are different genres from others I’ve written. One thing I’ve been consistent about is sticking to my moral code. There are no swear words or descriptive sex scenes in any of my books. It’s a line I won’t cross—no matter what I write. To that end, I have decided to use only one pen name.

I bring all of this up based on a couple of situations I recently encountered. The first one was at a meet and greet of authors I hadn’t met before. One of the ladies told me she wrote sweet romance under a certain pen name, and erotic fiction under a different pen name. When I asked why, she said, “My mother would have a heart attack if she knew I wrote erotica.”

The second situation came from my kindle. There was an advertisement for a book on the front of the kindle. The cover said something along the lines of “New York Times Bestseller Jane Doe writing as John Doe.” It struck me as odd. Why, oh why, would you have two different pen names if you would openly announce both pen names on the cover of your book? I figured they did that because Jane Doe was a popular author, and John Doe wasn’t, so in an effort to sell more books, the writer had to tell the world they are the same person.

I guess it all comes down to this: each writer has stories they want to tell. Some writers are willing to compromise on their core beliefs for the sake of making more money by writing books that are considered “in demand” by some publishers.

This point was driven home to me one day when I was a guest author at a high school. One of the students asked me, “Do you make a lot of money from writing?” I gave my vague answer of “I do just fine, thank you.” Another student in the class spoke up. He said, “I’ll bet he could make a lot more if he wrote porn. He could even use a different pen name, like Buck Naked.”


  1. Interesting and insightful. I often wondered about SAG/Movie Star monikers. I heard there can't be repeat names registered for SAG so some people change their name. Also some agents suggest more catchy names to make them stand out in the audition pile (not sure a name will help when you have to act to get a job). Good thing I have a unique name and I'm not well known enough to get creepy stalker readers ;), and have a strong writing/life moral code. I get to stick to my own name!

  2. Another reason I'm aware of is that women often go by their initials so as not to lose boy readers. K.A. Applegate and J.K. Rowling come to mind. Because I guess boys don't want to read books written by girls. :) It's something I've often wondered. I'm writing a MG Fantasy, but I really want to use my everyday name: Kimi Pieper. I figured I'll just wait to see what my editor thinks.

    Thanks for the thoughts! I think I'll follow your blog now.

  3. Thanks for your post, Jason. Timely for me as I start outlining a new series in a new genre. I plan on sticking to my moral code, but I wondered if I should use a pen name not to "confuse" people, but I like what you've said and I'd love to keep using my own name. Glad to hear it's worked for you!

  4. No one can spell my real name and no one can pronounce it. Death sentence for an author.

  5. Interesting information! I've batted around the idea of using pen names for different genres, even spoke to Dave Farland/Wolverton about it, (he has no regrets for using a pen name) but I haven't jumped into that lake yet because some tell me it would take twice as much marketing. (That's something I don't need!)