Is a Nom de Plume a No-No?


Dear The Writer Behind the Curtain…

Whenever I hear news of yet another privacy violation in this all-access world we’ve created, I get a knee-jerk “I should’ve used a pen name” feeling. But I’d already established a career in publishing under my own name, so a nom de plume wasn’t a consideration. If you’re just starting out, you’re clear to go with a pen name—and there’s no reason you shouldn’t. As long as you consistently use it in your promotional/networking/social media existence, there won’t be any confusion. Agents and editors don’t care. As for picking the right pseudonym, you’re not trying to be conspicuous a la “Lemony Snicket,” so choose a name that sounds normal so no one will question it. Consider using your real first and middle initials or your nickname, though, so that you can comfortably respond to it when you’re in a book-related encounter.

Happy writing!
The Editor


  1. Thanks for your take on this issue. As someone with a very unique name, I have considered the pros and cons of this, as well. I think you are right that privacy is a concern for everyone these days. So far, I have gone ahead with using my real name. (I may need a pseudonym for other genres in the future.) But, my follow-up question to this post is this–what about author bios and photos? I was hesitant to put a real photograph of myself out there, but read much advice insisting that online contacts want to know they’re dealing with a real person, not a cartoon. So, if you use a pseudonym, or multiple pseudonyms, how does this work? Surely, an author photo would give away your true identity at least to some? And then, how long does the pseudonym truly protect your identity?

    • The effectiveness of a pseudonym in terms of flawless identity protection is debatable these days. I tend to think that if someone wants to know something about you, they can find it online. Pessimist? Probably.

    • Regarding your author photo: Unless you’re planning to go all Thomas Pynchon on us, you’re going to have to show your face at writers events, etc., some time. The reality is that if Thomas were to start his career today, he’d probably be out there promoting himself in person and especially online because that’s the way you have to do it now. And online, people want to see a photo of a real person. But no, you don’t HAVE to provide one–just use your book cover as your avatar online, and offer the covers electronically to anyone who wants to do a blog post or review about you. And not too many publishers put author photos on the books themselves these days. Should you choose to have a pen name to conceal your gender for some reason, then this is the strategy you should take. Do consider that if, knock on wood, you start developing a fan base, they’ll want to see you at some point. You’ll have to make a decision about how far to ratchet up the “alter ego” thing then.

  2. Dear Editor,

    Thanks for the topic…
    I have recently had my first novel accepted for publication, and have had to explore the pros and cons of a pseudonym.
    My reason is a bit different. I don’t want my abusive ex-husband’s surname on my novel cover!

    I have started a Linked-In profile under my pseudonym. It’s very weird to have people call me by it when they answer my posts. I feel like I am lying to them though, in a weird secret agent kind of way.

  3. This is a great topic. We all have to be concerned about privacy and identity theft issues. It took me quite a while to find decent pen names because I didn’t want a name that really existed (everything I googled kept coming up with Facebook pages. lol). Re the photo thing, I use an avatar, but may use an old photo if I have to. Thanks for all the info! 🙂

  4. Perhaps one could take a mysterious photograph of yourself, with very little of your face showing. It could be used in an author bio. Have people who know you look at it and see if they can tell if it’s you.

  5. When you wrote about using a pen name for concealing your gender, it reminded me of when I would send articles to women’s magazines. I would use my initials – R. J. Starkey. I guess I thought I may have a better chance if the editors couldn’t tell it wasn’t written by a woman.

    I also have a couple of ideas for YA novels with female MCs. I had wondered about how to approach them. These days though because of the promotion and all, “when” (thinking positive using when) one of them make it, I think it would be a bummer for the readers to find out R. J. Starkey is not female. Guess I should stick with Rick.

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