Written by A Guest Author February 24th, 2022

Why Famous Authors Use Pen Names – And Why You Should Consider Using One

By Rod Martinez

JD Robb, Richard Bachman, Robert Galbraith, Mark Twain. You’ve heard of them; they are renowned names in the literary world – pen names of famous authors. But what causes an author to not want to use his or her real given legal name when writing?

Authors have many reasons why they do it. Many female authors, knowing the sexist nature of the industry back then, started out using an abbreviated name where the reader (or publisher, or agent) would never know the author was female. Other authors, because of the nature of their day jobs, didn’t want people close to them to know they were writing. Example, a CEO of a major corporation who just happened to love penning Harlequin romance just didn’t fit his ego – at least that’s what he assumed. Although now it is always very important to disclose ones legal name to a publisher, even if you are planning on publishing it under a pseudonym.

How about sharing a name with someone already known? Suppose you had the fortunate incident of being named Stephen King, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin or James Patterson at birth. Do you really want to enter the writing world using your given name? Yes, you might get some quick sales, but then you’d probably get a lot of hate mail and worse – social disgrace online, and maybe even a letter from one of them or their estates.

I started using my pen name – Rod Martinez – in honor of my grandfather. His last name was Martinez. When I speak at schools, I like to tell the kids about inspiration right at the beginning of my speech. My grandfather told me at a very early age “Son, here in this country you could grow up to be anything you want; a ballet dancer, basketball player, astronaut – why you could even be president.” “I don’t want to be President.” I whined. “Well either way, you can choose to do anything, and whatever it is, I will support you.” Think about that, an eight-year-old being told by a grown up that he can grow up to be anything he wanted. Of course, at the time, I wanted to be Spiderman – but that is neither here nor there.

I will share my pseudonym horror story. I began my writing career in earnest in 2009 after the publication of my first book. Soon after, I was invited to speak at local schools and libraries. Then something scary happened. I was scheduled to do a school visit and the librarian pre-ordered several of my titles. I write middle grade and young adult… but I also had two adult titles out there. She didn’t know this – and she ordered both of them. Talk about panic. The good news was that she had held on to them and asked me to autograph them before adding both to the collection. When I realized the mistake, the first thing I did (after confiscating both titles) was to start a rebranding of a new pseudo – just for adult titles.

This is probably not a tried and true method for most authors, but I didn’t want to chance a child picking up an adult title by Rod Martinez. Can you imagine picking up a copy of “Maria Does Miami” by any well known children’s author for your kid to read?

So, you might want to add a “save your neck” tick to the list of why to use a pseudonym. In the end you are creating a brand with your name and your titles. And that brand will follow you around your career.

Why choose a pseudo? Maybe your name isn’t something you feel would fit the genre. Maybe you write spy novels and want a cool name like – well – think of something. A great example is western adventure novelist Zane Grey. His real first name was Pearl. There are no bad horrible sides to using a penname except that you might want your publisher to know – so the royalty checks go to your legal name – unless your bank is ok with split personality customers. But as with anything else in life – there are always two stories. For example, many publishers and agents working with first-time authors stress the importance of brand and it seems some of them like working better with a true name. I have not run into this problem, but it is out there. But I can tell you of another issue I faced recently. As recipient of a creative grant a few years ago, the Grant Coordinator had issue with who she was speaking to whenever I called her. Because I submitted everything under my pseudo, but every time we spoke on the phone I used my real name – I really had her going for a while until we met in person. She was not a happy camper. 

How do you come up with a pseudo? According to Stephen King legend, a Bachman-Turner Overdrive song was playing (he listens to rock while writing) and a Richard Stark novel was close by. Why he chose Richard Bachman instead of Stark Turner is unknown. Same with Nora Roberts/JD Robb – the initials “J. D.” came from her sons, Jason and Dan. “Robb” was a sliced version of her last name.

The choice of whether to pseudo or not, of course, is a personal one. But don’t give up the idea if you truly feel against using your birth name. So, get creative, come up with a name – and write on.

About the Author: Attracted to words at an early age, Rod’s first book was created in grade school, his teacher used it to encourage creativity in her students. His high school English teacher told him to try short story writing, he listened, and the rest – as they say, is history. You can learn more on his website, or follow him on Facebook.



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