Pub Rants

An Interesting Reason For A Pseudonym

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STATUS: This week is actually rather quiet. I’m checking off lots on my To Do list. Next week, after the holiday, will be zany I’m sure.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LOVE SOMEBODY by Schuyler Fisk

One of my new to-be-published authors recently decided that she might publish her debut novel under a pseudonym and she had an interesting reason why.

She had gone to lunch with a few of her author friends and one of them was in the job market but having trouble landing a job—even after a good interview. Prospective employers were Googling her, discovering her writing stuff, and then questioning her commitment to their job or wondering why she needed a job in the first place. These employers were erroneously assuming that all writers with a couple of books published were making a living from it.

Okay, I could hear the guffaws from here about that assumption. I imagine most authors would love to make their living solely from the writing bit and yes, it does happen but it’s not the norm for the majority of writers.

And I have to say that this reason for a pseudonym had not occurred to me but I don’t doubt this story. For my author, she’ll be in the job market again right around the time her novel publishes so this is a concern.

I imagine some of you could end up in a similar position so I thought it worthwhile to mention.

41 Responses

  1. Joanna St. James said:

    I think they are just looking for an excuse because the job market has been over-saturated lately.
    A few years ago prospective employers felt better if you had hobbies outside of work it showed you were stable and had a life.
    Would they say the same thing if she were vigorously engaged in volunteer work?

  2. Angie Ledbetter said:

    Employment is a good reason, even though I’d probably hate working anywhere that was so narrow minded about authors. Don’t they know how well we multi-task? How great our imaginations and problem solving abilities?

  3. Saranna DeWylde said:

    I chose a pen name fairly young, but I was thankful I had when I started working in a prison for my day job. In that environment, the less they associate any sort of man-woman dynamic with me, the better. Especially sex. That’s all I’d need would be to have a whole cell house of guys reading my own words out loud to me.

  4. Anonymous said:


    From the employer’s standpoint, the difference between volunteer work and being a professional writer (not a hobbyist) is the money. It’s similar to an employer being leery of hiring an overqualified person — as soon as a job with better money comes along, they’ll leave. In this case, as soon as your next book does well, you’re gone. Or your focus may be split in making money for them vs. making money for yourself.

    Plus, non-writers seem to think all published writers are making big money and living the glamourous life. I imagine the employer may also think the writer views the day job as the “hobby,” instead of the other way around.

  5. Sommer Leigh said:

    I had never thought of this before, but I can also see it being a problem if an employer finds your books to be inappropriate or weird or they worry about your need to take time off for what is essentially your other career.

    I actually chose to use a different last name because my husband is a high school English teacher and I’m writing for teens. We thought it would be better for his job.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I have a pen name for exactly this reason – I’m afraid it would very much adversely affect my current job search if the hiring committees knew I’d been writing fiction. And afterwards, it wouldn’t do much for my chances at tenure, either.

  7. Crista said:

    I write under a pen name for a similar reason. I’m a doctor in real life, and I don’t want my patients googling me and knowing what I write. Think about how awkward that conversation would be over a pap smear. 😛

  8. Ju Dimello said:

    That’s the main reason why I chose a pen name too 🙂

    What we write shouldn’t affect our existing day-job and future prospects..

    As a principle, I wouldn’t allow my writing to affect my job and vice versa..but try convincing others / bosses the same..No siree !

  9. Kaz Augustin said:

    Yep, that was one of my reasons too. And it was exactly as Ju mentioned. Try to convince your boss your writing won’t affect your job! With thousands already out of work in IT, it was an impossible task.

  10. Joanna St. James said:

    this is sad I wish no one had to go through this, I do understand ditching your day job to go on a book tour though. I chose my pen name when I was a kid because I thought it was fun and i thought that was what everybody did

  11. Anonymous said:

    I had a similar problem with a guy who gave me an estimate on some foundation work.

    He googled me and decided money was no object.

    I blame J.K. Rowling.

  12. Nicole Chardenet said:

    And this is just another good reason for a freeze on H1-B visas, since many companies are whining that they can’t find “qualified” workers (read: cheap desperate Third World peons). This is just another shoddy excuse to not hire Americans.

  13. Cathy R. said:

    Interesting. I work for a small publishing company that publishes a lot of first-time authors, and we usually discourage authors from using a pen name for a variety of reasons, one of them being that when they are marketing a book, they are marketing themselves; and when people go searching for the book, they’ll likely be looking for it by the author’s name. I didn’t think that’d be the same reason for not using a real name.

  14. Angela Robbins said:

    Yeah, I make millions of dollars writing and that’s why I’m interviewing for a job that makes pennies to that… yeah… that’s it…

    My boss knows that I like to write, and she encourages me to seek classes or workshops and has even found some for me.

    I don’t think what people do in their private life (baring anything illegal or in conflict with your employment) is your company’s business.

  15. Anonymous said:

    I chose a pen name for this reason except I’m on the other side (I’m a corporate recruiter). The last thing I want people to see when they Google me as a company rep, is my writing. I’m not ashamed of what I write, but it’s irrelevant to the networking I do for my day job. I’d rather cut that confusion out and go with a pen name.
    And I’ll go on a limb and say that it’s not necessarily a “money” thing that might discourage some employers, but more so a question of how much time and focus (and overall longevity) will a prospective candidate be able to commit to the company and the job if they’re seeking a professional writing career. Isn’t it every aspiring writer’s dream to be successful enough that they can write full time? Maybe I’m being presumptive, but I’d like to get to that point one day…

  16. Bonnie C said:

    My critique partner is published under a pen name because her career as an elementary school teacher would be gravely and adversely affected if she were googled and it came to light that she writes erotic paranormal fiction. Most parents and school boards are not very understanding about extracurricular activities like that.

    OT – if “google” is being used as a verb, is it capitalized? Just curious. 🙂

  17. Karen C said:

    If I ever publish, I will want a pen name too. (I’m a girl scout leader.) Like I need a bunch of scouts flipping through my books to find the sex scenes and laughing during meetings!

  18. Sun Singer said:

    I learned early on that it was a big mistake–when asked about hobbies during job interviews–to even mention fiction writing.

    They assumed, then, that I might actually do it at work or otherwise treat the job as a throw-away until my HARRY POTTER MEETS CAT WOMAN novel was snapped up by HarperCollins.

    With today’s social networking, our personal lives are easy to find. A pen name might deter a few of the human resources folks.


  19. bookfraud said:

    excellent, excellent point that young writers (in particular) may not realize. when i was right out of college, i made my writing aspirations public to anyone who would listen; my boss questioned my commitment to my (paying) job and i really never recovered, status-wise.

    from then on, i never mentioned to anyone at work that i wrote fiction. once, when interviewing for another job, the interviewer mentioned offhandedly she’d seen my name attached to a short story online, but didn’t press further. i kept my mouth shut and got the job.

    and, as sun singer mentions above, our personal lives are on display for all. keep your creative and workplace endeavors separate, always.

  20. Kelly Wittmann said:

    Oh, I can believe it. They don’t want eggheads who actually have their own ideas about things, and they see writers as too individualistic. They want “team players.”

  21. Shelley Adina said:

    They want people who are committed to the job (read: available for overtime). With cutbacks in staffing, everyone gets a bigger load, and the workday gets longer. This has already happened to me:
    Employer: Can you work a couple of extra hours tonight?
    Me: My book is due on Monday … um, no.
    Employer: ::long stare, waiting for right answer::

  22. Stephanie said:

    Wow…never thought of this reasoning. It does make a lot of sense.

    Luckily, we are in the position for me to stay home and raise our kids. Lucky meaning my husband makes enough money for us to get by…but trust me, we are by no means floating in cash. Anything I make from my writing helps, but it is my only paying gig at the moment. Who knows what we’ll do when my youngest starts full time kindergarten.

  23. Anonymous said:

    Wow– I wouldn’t’ve expected anyone could find an excuse for an anti-immigrant rant in this post, but it seems somebody managed to.

  24. C.D. Reimer said:

    I’ve been out of work for 18+ months since being laid off from my non-writing job. The inevitable question I get from recruiters is, “What have you been doing during that time?”

    If I tell them I been looking for a job, the conversation goes downhill from there. Only a few will come out to say that they think I’m a lazy bastard. Then the conversation really goes downhill.

    If I tell them I published 16+ short stories and revising a 700-page first novel during that time, then the conversation goes uphill from there. I had disappointed more than a few people when I told them that I wasn’t making $50,000 per screenplay because I write only fiction. (Everyone in California is supposed to be writing screenplays these days.) There’s no money in writing fiction, which is why I need a non-writing job to pay the bills.

    On a side note, I use a shorter variation of my legal name as my author name to avoid confusion with another writer by a similar name. If you Google either my legal or author name, you will need to go through the search results to find a connection.

  25. Tiger said:

    I am in an interesting position as far as pen name. I have a name I am known by, both on a personal and online basis, and then I have my legal name which I never use.

    I want to be published under the former, but I worry I might be forced to use the latter.

    Hopefully authors have some control over that kind of thing.

  26. Claire Dawn said:

    My blog is under a pseudo pseudonym, because I don’t like my last name. However, I recently discovered another author with the same name from the same country. She’s even lived in Japan, like I do.

    I don’t think using my real name is an option any longer…

  27. Kathleen said:

    I had a few reasons for considering a pseudonym and work was one of the biggies. Not because I thought people would assume I was making a living at it but because some companies in the industry I work in don’t like their employees to have commitments outside of work/family. I had one acquaintance who wanted to start teaching ballet lessons on weekends and was scared to because she thought her employer would be upset.

  28. Bria Quinlan said:

    This is a great reason! I actually was turned down for an HR position in the academic branch of a PUBLISHING HOUSE because of this — I’ll confess how confused I was. To me, as a hiring HR professional, I would have thought, “How often are we going to find an HR person with that much industry knowledge.”

    People of all professions (and the most time consuming one: mothers) write every day. It’s called balance. It’s a real shame creative people are expected to turn off all career-oriented ambitions at the end of their 9-to-5.

  29. Ariana Richards said:

    This is a very valid point, I’m glad to see it brought to light. I’ve personally experienced something similar. It’s never kept me from getting a job. However, in interviews when it comes up that I also write, the very next question is frequently “oh, is that something you’re planning to quit and do full time?”

    I certainly wouldn’t scoff at the chance, but my retirement goals aren’t based any more on that than winning the lottery. Something I always assure them of ^_^

  30. JohnO said:

    Pernicious employers! Pernicious Google! I’d much rather WORK under a pseudonym. Think about it: I’ve worked hard for a long time on my book. I’m proud of it and want to stand behind it!!

    On the other hand, I go off to sit at a desk and do a lot of tedious work for someone else. Who wants to sully their name by being associated with that!?

  31. Aoife.Troxel said:

    I never thought it would impact getting a job negatively, if at all, I thought it would impact it positively. I will have to consider this…
    I can see where the employer is coming from though.

  32. Janet Kay Jensen said:

    so . . . . if you are already published but want to write in a different genre or use a pen name for any other reason – – – how do you switch, and how do you deal with the bio?

  33. Anonymous said:

    This is actually very much an issue if you think you’ll be job hunting.

    I’ve been job hunting for over a year now, and every interview, every conversation I’ve had comes around to my writing career and what that involves, looks like.

    My first book was published last year under my own name. At the time, it made me proud but now– I wish I had separated my personal/corporate self from my writing self.

    If a potential employer googles me, ALL they will find is romance fiction related links — from my website to social media to blogs to reviews. It’s all very focused, so it becomes very much a “is she only biding her time?” question as to whether I’ll stay with the job.

    At this point, truthfully, I WANT to change to a pen name, but I hate the thought of losing all the momentum I’ve gained as an author. Not to mention, all the existing stuff is already out there so what good will it do, really, at this point?

    It’s something anyone who works in another field needs to seriously consider. At some point, you may be searching for a new job, and by then, it could be too late to make the switch.

  34. Mags said:

    When I interviewed for my current day job (seven years ago), when they asked me the inevitable “what do you see yourself doing five years from now,” I said I wanted to be published, but most published authors don’t make a living at it, so I would still need to work. Turned out the ex-husband of the manager who interviewed me was a writer and didn’t make a living at it, so she was down with that.

  35. Tawna Fenske said:

    What a fascinating (and timely) post!

    My agent landed me a three-book deal for my romantic comedies just a few weeks after I was laid off from my day job. It actually worked out well to give me a few months to get my ducks in a row building some some social media platforms and writing the third book, but now I’m back to serious job hunting. Without a doubt, my book deal is one of the very first things that comes up in an interview. Prospective employers assume I’m rolling it dough (ha!) and that there’s no way I could balance writing and a day job (I’ve ALWAYS balanced the two, I just didn’t have the contract before!)

    A pseudonym isn’t an option for me at this point, but I certainly see the appeal. Thanks for this post!


  36. Anonymous said:

    If you did use a pseudonym, what would you publish as a bio (for those publishers that want a bio). Should you refuse, or tell some details for that pseudonym (real or made up)?