On Writing: Are Pen Names Sleazy?

By March 25, 2014 April 4th, 2014 9 Comments
The writing desk, oh my.

The writing desk, oh my.

Yes, this is my desk. The laptop, the writing stand, the corrected manuscript. All the cords, the timer for forced productivity. The scissors? Perhaps I was cutting out horrible plot lines. The pencil, the sharpie, the hundreds of sticky notes. Even the calculator had its purpose. The idea notebook, the filing trays. That poster? It’s Mary Carroll Moore’s three-act structure, of course.

And then there’s all that other stuff like a tin-can robot because as a mom, that’s where all the other family stuff gets dumped, too.

As horrendous as it looks, I look fondly at this picture taken two years ago. It represents so much hard work. It represents an achievement I never thought I was capable of, and many tears.

It represents all those days I scurried to the study during a child’s nap time, all the late nights and early mornings with little sleep, all those small moments I took to write a sentence when I could have been doing something else.

You write “The End.” It is done. You’ve done something remarkable. You’ve written a story. And then what? What do you do with this precious piece of yourself? Do you actually try to – publish? After all, that’s what novels are for!

Here’s the gut wrenching part: No one might ever want it.

All the love, years, emotions, hope, and energy…there are just no guarantees. Statistically speaking, it’s actually very unlikely that it will ever sell. I’m sorry to write that. You might send it to a hundred different literary agents and not one of them will say Yes. You will get a No over and over and over. And then most will just give up. What’s the point of writing if no one wants it?

You must stink.

Nay. That’s actually not what it means at all.

Writing is a business. Frustrated, writers took matters into your own hands.

The self-publishing industry was born. And so were stars in the literary world. Now, Indie publishing is HOT and it’s changed the way writers can do business. They write. They publish.

They Stop Waiting to Get Picked.

Most people in the world would like to write a novel. Are you one of them?

Will you try to go the traditional publishing route with a literary agent or self-publish? There are huge pros and cons for each.

I have an acquaintance who sold 40,000 books last year going the self-pub route. She uses multiple pen names to protect herself. If you’d like to read a lively discussion on the subject, head over to 4 a.m writer, a terrific writer and friend who has edited, encouraged, and pushed me along the last six years. It’s likely that this is a discussion you’ve never heard before. Is it sleazy to use a pen name? head on over and see what you think of “Sheba”!

And whatever you do, keep writing. Don’t ever, EVER give up.

I’ve got the guts to die. What I want to know is, have you got the guts to live? -Tennessee Williams

When he was 21, Tennessee Williams (born March 26, 1911) was a struggling writer with a job he hated at the International Shoe Company. Determined to succeed, he wrote a story every single weekend for three years. (Goodreads)

More good writing links HERE.



  • 4amWriter says:

    Your desk is tidier than mine! I love the light colors in your workspace. Very inviting. Thanks for allowing me to post about “Sheba.” I know I came off strongly, but some of the things she said seem so wacky to me. I will be interested to hear what she has to say in part II.

    I still think that if you feel in your gut that your books are ready, you should go indie. I really don’t feel you need to have a pen name, but I understand your hesitation.

    One of the women in my writing group is an indie author, and she has some interesting tips on being successful. She writes full-time, supports herself, and she does not use a pen name! 🙂 If you are interested in knowing more, let me know and I’ll email you.

  • At least you have a desk! I don’t. My laptop and I are nomads.

    I didn’t think pen names were sleazy, although when I popped over to read the other post, the author described as “Sheba” is using them pretty sleazily — that is, to write crappy work and then hide from the bad reviews by changing names and continuing to publish un-edited crap.

    I respect self-published authors who work hard at each book — revise and polish and revise and polish, repeat several times — before uploading to Amazon. Writers who churn out a marginally edited first draft and then throw it up on Amazon … not so much. And when the throw-it-uppers self report their thousands and thousands of sales? Well, I doubt their math as much as their devotion to the craft!

  • Mary nelson says:

    Did you ever know that you’re my hero?

  • Julie Burton says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Amy! I am in this struggle right now with my non-fiction book. The rejections are so hard and I am looking seriously at self-publishing but… I will check out “Sheba” for sure! Glad to connect with you! Your blog and your writing are wonderful and inspiring!

  • Julia Tomiak says:

    I appreciate you sharing these posts. I’m still gonna try the traditional route first. Getting ready to meet with some beta readers tonight. (Do not take comments personally, do not get upset.) I have vowed to get my ms out this year, although I suspect I’ll edit some more first. Have you heard of hybrid publishing? It combines the benefits of self-pub with those of traditional and addresses, I think, the issue that Dianne brought up.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Go for it! I think artists and writers are always hardest on themselves. I would love to read it!

  • Kira says:

    Ah, your desk looks a lot like mine. I am new to your blog so I’m not up to date on how much you write or what you write, but just knowing you DO write is inspiring. I used to, even planned to BE a writer. Now I have my little blog and that’s about it, but it’s still in my mind. One day, one day. But I have to sit and do it. I like following other writers to see how they fit in the time to get the words down.

  • I’m glad I stopped by here – at least now I know that I have the same birthday as Tennessee Williams, lol.

    When it comes to pen names, I really don’t see anything wrong with them for novels. Take my last name for example (Rathjen.) Does that look like an easy name to remember, or even to pronounce? (wrath-gin) Maybe something like Joseph Powers or Joseph E. Elroy would be easier to remember?

    I think when it comes to personal branding for freelance writers, however, you are better off using your birth name. I believe it presents more authenticity and trust-value to prospective clients. After all, who wants to hire someone who hides their last name?

    Some people are blessed with easy to remember, or catchy surnames, so it is easy for them to preach to others. Others don’t have that luxury.

    I’m not a novelist, but I think you should go with what makes you comfortable, as long as you don’t keep changing it along with the four-seasons.

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