Pen Names: Sleazy or Savvy Writing Strategy

One of my writing friends, Amy, told me about a self-published author she met. The woman – let’s call her Sheba – apparently supports herself and her husband publishing sci-fi and non-fiction. She sold 40,000 books last year.

She researches and outlines, learns about new subjects, watches headlines for new topics. Her biggest hits are “lunch reads” with word limits of 8-12,000 words, appealing to people accustomed to reading the internet. Her constipation quick read was one of the books that sold the best.

Sheba admits she is not a very good writer. She writes fast and does little editing. If she finds typos later, she might take the book down to fix the errors, but only if the errors are glaring. Sheba advises never to read your reviews.

Here’s what really caught my attention: She has 10+ pen names.

 

pen names: sleazy or savvy writing strategy 

Self-published, full-length novels can sell for .99 as an ebook, so a lunch read shouldn’t cost as much. Sheba’s selling her books at .99, 2.99, and 3.99. Even at .99, her lunch reads are overpriced (in comparison to full-length novels).

With a pseudonym, Sheba doesn’t carry the “scarlet letter” of bad author from book to book. People buy her books not knowing that previous books of hers received bad reviews. Her advice? “Insulate yourself with pen names otherwise you might as well be playing on the freeway.”

Don’t get me started on her careless attitude on proofreading.

Sounds to me like Sheba writes crap.

if you're writing crap, get a pen name

No wonder her constipation quick read was a huge seller.

I may not be completely sold on the merits of indie publishing, but the indie books that I have read are written by honest people who truly care about what they write and how well their work is received. Yes, they’d like to make money but they care about the way they are making their money.

My friend, Amy, has queried two novels. I have read them both, and they are worthy of publication. Solid writing; fun, interesting characters; smart plotlines. Even though she received partial and full requests, nothing more has happened down the traditional publishing route.

When Amy told Sheba that she was considering traditional publishing, Sheba told Amy to get a pen name and go indie.

Amy is considering it, and I can see the allure. Testing the indie waters with a pen name, so as not to mar her real name. If her book tanks, then she saves herself a lot of embarrassment, right? And if it soars? Then she can remove her disguise and admit proudly that she’s the real author. It’s an option for writers who are worried about how their books will fare in the public eye.

For Amy, this could be a solution to her publishing dilemma. Her books are quality writing, where no one would feel cheated. And if she uses a pen name, at least she’d be doing it for legitimate reasons.

Such a scenario brings to mind JK Rowling of the Harry Potter series fame. Afraid boys wouldn’t buy books written by a woman, she was marketed as a male author. When her true identity was revealed, were boys disappointed? Did she lose readers? If she did, it was barely a scratch on the surface of her fame and fortune.

Then, apparently, she did it again with Cuckoo’s Calling, publishing under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. Sales were minimal until it was revealed that Galbraith was really Rowling.

In no time, sales shot up. Rowling explained she wanted to “publish without hype or explanation.”

Other famous authors have published under pen names. Nora Roberts, Michael Crichton, and Agatha Christie are a few examples.

Obviously, pen names come in handy. Authors can hide behind them to allow their work to be judged without prejudice. If Rowling and Roberts and any other writer feel their gender, race, age, or inexperience (or experience in Rowling’s case) would hinder sales, then I can understand the desire for anonymity.

Maybe Sheba’s simply a savvy businesswoman. After all, this is a subjective field and not everyone is going to agree on whether a book should be published or not.

But if this so-called author is using pen names because she knows her books aren’t very good, then maybe she ought to try harder at the craft.

87 thoughts on “Pen Names: Sleazy or Savvy Writing Strategy

  1. It sounds like Indie publishing could be a good toe-dipping in the water for Amy, as a kind of trial run for someone with a solid writing style. But Sheba, with her 10 + (?!) names to hop from book to book and minimal proofing, don’t get me started. She may support herself and her husband well enough, but that doesn’t make you a good writer.

    • Isn’t it mind-boggling? Why would anyone think that’s a decent, fair way to make a living? I do feel in some ways that she is cheating her readers. Then again, when we make ebooks so cheap something like this was bound to happen.

      Thanks for swinging by and commenting!

  2. I have been thinking about this a lot lately (wrote about it myself recently). There are legitimate reasons for using a pen name, I suppose, but I would rather take pride in my work and believe in myself.

    • Unfortunately so, Darren. You know, her lunch reads are an interesting idea and I don’t know how many people write short-shorts like that. I can see where there’s a market for that kind of a book. I just wish she respected the business more. The funny thing is, I bet she’d make even more money if she took the time to write well!

  3. As you know we write under a pseudonym & have since teaming up. But we are meticulous with our books as it drives us crazy to find mistakes on anything we publish. Also our motives we’re reasoned by our mentor who believed the first book we published wouldn’t be received as well by 2 female Authors let alone a MOTHER/DAUGHTER team writing about 5 teenage boys & coming of age. We take great pride in our work and to us, it shows a lack of respect for the field & art for those who just don’t give a crap. And it’s part of the reason Indie / Self pub get’s such a bad rap!! :) great post

  4. “But if this so-called author is using pen names because she knows her books suck, then maybe she ought to try harder at the craft.” Obviously, she doesn’t care about the craft. It sounds as though, for her, it’s all about the money and devil take the rest. I opted not to take a pen-name when I went the Indie route because, succeed or fail, I’m responsible. If I fail, I hope I learn from it.

    • Kathi, you are spot on. She obviously doesn’t care about the craft, and it maddens me to see someone like that make a mockery out of the business. Self-publishing is risky. It’s not a place to dump your crap and see who will pick it up.

      I LOVE your reason for not taking a pen name. That’s exactly how I feel. I am not in a position where I really need anonymity to write (whereas some people legitimately need that privacy). I think if a writer is considering a pen name because he is feeling wobbly about whether his book is ready, a pen name isn’t going to help matters one bit. Wait until the book feels ready, when you know you can’t do one more lick to it. Then, publish under your own name and be proud of your accomplishment.

      • I can certainly understand there are times when a pen name is prudent. If I was given to writing something I knew my family and friends would raise their eyebrows at, I might consider one. ;)

        That is the biggest thing that made me hesitate in my Indie decision: the crap dumping ground. But, artists have the same issues to deal with. Maybe since my background is in fine art, I was able to accept that more readily. Artists have always been ‘indies’ and there’s crap right along with the good stuff.

  5. An interesting dilemma, especially for the newbie.

    I’ve often thought of using a pen name because I simply don’t like the aesthetic look of my name (it was fun being known as the Axis Powers at college, but not in a professional arena). I know one author who’s taken multiple pseudonyms because she has different contracts with separate publishing houses, and there’s some legal hoo-hah about having only so many titles under a single name. But the use of 10+ pen names to give yourself a protective skin seems a cheat. As much as we might cringe to get it, critical feedback helps us grow. “Sheba” seems like she’s not so much interested in writing well as writing for a quick buck. In all honesty, I hate that, even if it’s the bottom line for so many writers. Hopefully, “Amy” has more integrity about her writing – and for her readers – than “Sheba” does. (I’m on my high horse, I know, but I don’t care. We’ve all got to be passionate about something. For me, it’s writing well.)

    Good post, Kate!

    • Great to see you back here, Mayumi. :)

      I will happily hop up on that high horse with you. You can’t believe the stuff I wanted to write in the post, but I felt I was on my soapbox a bit too much and figured I can use the comment section to talk a little nastier. ;)

      I totally agree with what you say about the critical feedback. I don’t know if authors generally do or don’t read their reviews, but I think I would make myself when I reach that point. Not all reviews are helpful or worthy, but they can guide a writer in certain ways. The fact she says not to read reviews tells us she must be getting terrible reviews!

      I have no problem with pen names as long as they aren’t used unfairly or disrespectfully. Even JK Rowling has a good reason for using a pen name. She wanted to see if her crime novel sold based on the story itself, not her name. Even though it was her name that created the skyrocketing sales, I understand her motivation.

  6. I use a pen name because I also publish scholarly articles or contribute to business journals for my day job (and I’d rather the clients I work with don’t know about my poetry and crime fiction). But I certainly intend to take that pen name very seriously.

    • Another great example of using a pen name for the right reasons. I totally understand the need to keep your two jobs separate. I think that, in general, it is tricky to “mix company” when it comes to what might be termed as serious, intelligent writing and creative writing. A lot of people think writers can’t do both, or at least, can’t do both well.

      Your desire to take your pen name seriously will hold you in good stead if it should ever come out that you are *that author*. I have wondered what might happen to Sheba if anyone found out she’s the brains behind 10 different “authors”.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  7. Argh! People like this just give the indie brand a bad name, and spoil it for everyone. I have no problem with pen names per se – they have a valued, tried and true purpose. At the same time, using our own names may demand of us a better standard. And, hopefully, set us apart from the (albeit far wealthier) phonies!

    • I agree, Alarna. When Amy first wrote me about this, I was intrigued until I realized she had the 10 pen names and how she used them. It’s horrifying, and I’m sure she’s laughing all the way to the bank.

      I think you’re right — putting our real names on our work means we are holding ourselves accountable. There can’t be a stronger driving force to want to do our best.

  8. Hard to see someone getting such success in terms of supporting herself without any care for the quality of the writing and those of us who will maybe never get paid but spend so much time trying to get it right. I think there’s a case for pen names, but not as an excuse for poor writing. I wonder how many repeat sales she gets for each pen name – why not try to build a following instead if you have the time to be so prolific under so many names – but then I suppose if she’s being rewarded for what she’s doing there’s no motivation to change.

    • I would love to know her pen names and then Google her to read those reviews she says not to read! Obviously, her desire to strike it rich fast is more important than doing the best job she can.

      There is always a rotten apple in every barrel. Yes, pen names can be necessary, even a comfort zone, but if we’re trading in good writing for that safety net then I think it’s cheating.

      Thanks for swinging by!

  9. This is a new one for me. Didn’t realize some authors flip around so many pen names. I’m with you–if you use a pen name, that’s fine, but if you’re doing it because you’re worried your book can’t stand up on its own two feet, then maybe you need to reassess the final product. (And I’m referring to a collective ‘you’ here.)

    I’ve heard of authors using names of successful writers to get people to buy their books. The reader thinks it’s by their favorite author, but it’s not. I guess Amazon is on the lookout for this.

    Too bad. All that energy spent trying to disguise one’s self could be devoted to improving one’s writing instead.

    • Hey Carrie,
      I had no idea authors used so many pen names, either. I kind of equate it to poor sportsmanship. Then again, we have to take a look at those readers too — maybe they simply don’t care about the quality of the books they download. At .99 a pop, it’s easy to shrug off poorly spent money.

      The fact writers use the names of successful authors to sell their books is just as appalling. I’m glad Amazon is watching this, but with so many indie authors out there, I wonder how many slip through the cracks.

      These instances might be a forewarning of things to come. Amazon and other venues for indie publishing may have to lay down some stringent rules before people can upload their books. I can even see some fines being handed out if writers aren’t more careful. Of course, in the case of Sheba, I use the term ‘writer’ loosely.

  10. Wow, who would have thought someone would be so careless and thoughtless about what they write and print? For a minute I thought this author found a new way to do Indie publishing with the quick lunch read. It’s a good concept but not if she doesn’t care about her work. Not if she’s pumping out words for the sake of getting paid without a care for the reader who is investing their time and money into her “books.” I hope Amy doesn’t take her advice and stays true to her work – even if she takes a pen name at least you know she cares about what her writing and her reputation as an author. I’m wishing Amy luck!!

    • Hi Arlene,

      When I think of how many hours, months, years I put into Ms. Bossy, plus all the time I spent on other projects, I can’t imagine not caring about the final product. Those words came from my brain, and if they don’t sound halfway decent, I sure as heck don’t want them out there in the public eye! The idea of hiding behind a pen name because the work isn’t very good is mind-boggling to me. Why not try harder?

      I had the same thoughts as you regarding the quick read. A 12,000-word book is equivalent to almost 15 of my blog posts. I think about the time I spend writing and editing a blog post — I do not throw those up on my site lightly. Even for a blog post, I care about what I write and sound like. In fact, I edit more than I write, which is why putting one together once a week is monumental work!

      I don’t know what Amy will do — I hope she stops by and reads this (I told her I was going to post about this, so at least she’s prepared). I think that Amy can have a good future in self-publishing, and she really doesn’t need to do it with a pen name. However, if she does choose a pen name I know that she won’t do it Sheba’s way.

  11. I like the idea of trialing a work through self-publishing; however, I’m totally against what this “Sheba” does. That is where self-publishing gets a bad reputation.

    Pen Names can be good. I’m planning on using abbreviations of my name only for the sake of my day job. I work with youth but some of the content of my novel would be . . . questionable . . . to my clients. I have to protect myself. I want to keep my careers separate if that makes sense. Many romance writers do it because the stigma affiliated with that genre. (unfair but it’s there). I know several romance writers and they get a lot of flack from those who know what they write.

    • Hi Kylie,

      Yes, I think these situations are exactly why self-publishing gets a bad name. I’m feeling pumped that so many commenters are feeling like I do — at first, I was nervous that maybe I’m too old-school and that I need to get with the way things are done these days. Sheba’s methods leave a bad taste in my mouth. I really hope there aren’t too many like her.

      Your reasons for using a pen name are fully understandable. A commenter above mentioned she uses a pen name to keep her two jobs separate, too. People do have to be careful when they work with children or adolescents, especially these days. I think you’re smart.

      It’s too bad about the stigma associated with the romance genre, but I know exactly what you mean. Romance writers aren’t taken seriously, and a pen name is a smart way to go.

      Thanks for swinging by and commenting!

  12. I can’t imagine dealing with so many pen names – mostly because then you’d supposedly have to be on Twitter, FB, Goodreads, blogging, etc. under those names – no thanks! I can’t even keep up with all the social media outlets with the one name. It’s tempting to do the trial run thing, but no matter what name is used I’d still want it to be the best it can possibly be. Putting anything out there that’s filled with typos gives self publishing a bad name and that messes things up for everyone because eventually it could cause people to stop buying self-published books.

    • Haha! Good point, Sheila. I never thought about having to keep track of those names. Although, I don’t know how helpful it would be to have a lot of social media accounts associated to her pen names if she doesn’t have a following or if she’s getting bad reviews. (I’m assuming she’s getting bad reviews because of her advice not to read reviews.)

      I think if push came to shove and I did the indie route (trust me, I have thought about it!), I still would publish under my own name. I am not in a situation where I require anonymity (as far as keeping my writing separate from a day job or writing about my next-door neighbor or anything like that). But above all, I’d do it because I believed my book is the best it can be.

      You raise a really good point — people who behave the way Sheba does could impact the self-publishing biz negatively. And that’s not good for any writer, self-published or traditional.

  13. I think you’ve nailed it that “Sheba” uses the pen names to get unsuspecting readers to keep buying her shoddy work. Some readers must not take the time to sample a chapter on Amazon before downloading a book, or perhaps she doesn’t make any samples available. Probably a smart move if she knows her work is crap. I’ve never understood anyone with a mindset of “It’s all about the money. Who cares if it’s good?” mentality. I’d hate to put out anything for public consumption that wasn’t any good. But I guess that’s my personality type and not everyone else’s.

    If I ever get good enough to publish, I plan on using initials and my real surname, such as you see here on my gravatar and blog. But that’s because my name is rather long to fit on a book cover!

    • I wondered the same thing about the sample chapters. I don’t know anything about whether or not you can do that for “lunch reads” — a sample chapter might be half the book! But, I think it would be a red flag if an author didn’t offer a sample of some length. You get to thumb through books in a bookstore to get a feel for the writing and the story, after all.

      Then again, perhaps she does offer samples and readers are buying regardless. At .99 a pop, most people are willing to try anything once. Even at $2.99 or $3.99, ebooks move with the right logline or blurb.

      I am with you — I could never write a crummy book, stick a fake name on it, then sell it. Pen name or not, I’d still know I wrote it. Heck, I can’t even drum up the courage to self-publish a book I’ve been told is good ;) . I’d be really lousy at marketing a crappy book.

      Haha, I love your reason for using initials. That’s the best reason yet!

  14. What she is doing is why self-publishing has such a bad name! There are some great writers out there who self-publish, and they are lost in the sea of badly edited books.

    Pen names are a subject that keeps getting tossed about, I can understand the use of them, but don’t think I would ever use one.

    Great post, very interesting :)

    • Yes, Harliqueen, I agree. Self-publishing earned such a stigma because of people recklessly publishing books without truly understanding or learning the craft. In terms of indie publishing, It’s no longer a badge of honor to be published because *anyone* can do it.

      I don’t think I’d use a pen name either. I don’t really see why I’d need to because I don’t write about people I know, nor do I need to keep my writing secret from anyone for any reason. But, yes, I agree that pen names can be useful for some writers.

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

  15. That’s so sad what Sheba’s doing. It’s not savvy marketing…it’s shady marketing when she’s putting out trash she doesn’t even bother to edit well.

    • It is sad. And maddening! When I think of some of the things she said to Amy, especially about insulating yourself with pen names or else you’ll be playing on the freeway — what a farce. To me, that’s a sign of a poor sport who didn’t even try her best before finding a quick, easy way to make a few bucks.

  16. Sheba’s strategy is the reason I am wary of spending money on indie-published books. That’s sad because I know there are good ones out there. It makes me think that some sort of “quality gatekeeper” would be good for readers’ sakes. Not that I know what that might look like. Just sayin’.

    • You and me both, Jagoda. I have yet to buy a self-published book by anyone other than a blogger I follow here. Truth be told, I’m the same way with traditionally published books. I borrow without worry from the local library because if it’s terrible I can just return it, no money spent. But buying books? I buy after I’ve already read them, or I buy books written by beloved authors, when I know they won’t fail me.

      I feel the same way about the need for a gatekeeper. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but someone needs to crack down on people writing without a license, for Pete’s sake. ;)

  17. Using several pen-names definitely sounds like trying to avoid being tarnished with the brush of previous failures! One pen-name, fine, there are good reasons at times, even two maybe if there’s a genuine reason, but 10, really! I’m all for freedom and choice, but when people do things like this that negatively affects others, it’s not on.

    • Totally, it’s not on. 10 pen names is over the top and a clear sign that she’s scamming people. That may be a harsh word, but I feel pretty strongly about what she’s doing. I don’t think it’s fair or good sportsmanship.

  18. Woo-hoo! What a discussion. Thanks for the great post, Kate. I really appreciate this discussion. “Sheba” (that made me laugh) is giving her Part II presentation on self-publishing tomorrow night and I can’t attend, but have a friend taking notes. I will fill you in :) I have to say, I’m still intrigued by the whole concept of pen names, especially when switching around genres. Part of Sheba’s point was that writing with one name for non-fiction is just not great for her sci-fi fiction crowd, or her middle grade readers, or her self-help lunch reads. She says they feel a little cheated. They’re confused. And I do get that. If I’m writing about health, it’s jarring to switch to fiction for the reader who is still expecting “health benefits from eggs.” You know?

    I’m also intrigued by a pen name because, yes, I’m scared. And though I really feel in my gut that my two completed(!) manuscripts are good enough to be published, why wait for 1, 2, 3, 4, YEARS (or never?) to get one book out with a traditional publisher? Self-publishing under different names sounds like a breath of fresh air.

    Unfortunately, Sheba won’t tell me her pen names because I, too, would like to know what exactly the writing looks like. But the fact she is supporting herself, is admittedly, very tempting!

    I’m glad to get your perspective, Kate, as I know what a good writer you are and how much you love the craft.

    I still feel stuck. Keep querying or just upload to Amazon? And with what name? Er.

    • Hey Amy,

      Glad you could stop by and weigh in. Sheba’s point about switching up names across genres makes sense at first, but I got to thinking about authors like John Grisham and Neil Gaiman. They kept their names while writing for adults and children. No one got confused. I think a lot of a writer’s success has to do with marketing. People aren’t going to be confused as long as the books are marketed clearly. Readers aren’t that numb! :)

      I think that if you are ready to take the plunge, you should go ahead and just do it. You can always take the book down if it doesn’t do well. But, if you feel in your gut that the books have an audience why wouldn’t they do well? If Sheba can make money off her half-assed attempts, then you will have no problem!

  19. Ha! I’m such a naive little indie. Had no idea people did things like this! I don’t even have time, or the lack of integrity, to cook up such harebrained schemes.

    I don’t write smutty or offensive books, so I have no reason to hide behind a pen name. The only thing I did was shorten Brittney to Britt, because I thought it not only sounded more professional, but also encompassed the nickname my friends have always called me. A nice play on molding professional with personal.

    I always knew I would write with my own name, even though nobody can pronounce or spell it, which is potentially fatal for marketing. But…oh, well! I wanted my kooky name on my work. Pretending to be “Betty Spelling” just wouldn’t bring me the same joy.

    • I wondered if other indies knew this was going on. The idea of 10 pen names is overkill. I can see one pen name for non-fiction if you use your real name for fiction because you don’t want to “confuse” your readers, but I think it’s neat when I hear of an author who writes across genres. Just because our specialty might be crime fiction, it doesn’t mean we can’t write anything else.

      When I first learned that John Grisham wrote books for middle-grade readers I immediately picked up the book. This is because I knew he was a good writer, and I was intrigued to see how he’d do with kids. If he’d written that book under a pen name, I would not have been as intrigued because it would have sounded like just another author.

      The upside to your name is that it is unique and memorable. And I agree — half of the satisfaction of publishing a work would be to see our own names on the cover.

  20. Wonderful topic. There are so many good reasons already mentioned why an author might want a pen name, but using it to make money off of bad writing isn’t one of them. This money making scheme might work well for “Sheba”, but it does a disservice to the indie self publishers that are creating solid work and it only further perpetuates negative stereotypes about self publishing.

    • Hey Kim, if Sheba cared more about the craft, edited her stuff, and really tried to churn out polished material, then I wouldn’t necessarily care about all the pen names. In the comments, Amy added that Sheba does it because she writes across genres and Sheba thinks readers would be confused. I don’t know about that. I know I’m impressed when I find out one author has written a book in a different genre. And look at JK Rowling. No one was confused once they found out her real deal — rather, they all flocked to the sales lines to buy her new book!

  21. There is always someone who is willing to forego quality for the almighty buck. Unfortunately she is making it more difficult for those of us who are genuinely interested in producing quality work that people will actually enjoy. If her self-esteem is so low that she must hide behind 10 pen names, perhaps there is something deeper going on…multiple personalities comes to mind. Just a thought.

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  23. I’m fascinated by this debated, but also concerned too. I’ve read through as many of the comments as my phone would allow and no one appears to be in a similar situation as me.

    First, I’ll say that what Sheba’s doing is really quite awful and it’s exactly that sort of saturation which will hide the indie books worth finding. She clearly cares nothing for her readers and, so long as she makes money, is happy. That’s okay for some, but not for me. Not by a long way.

    But pen names…
    My name here is a pen name in that I use it online and will be on the spines of the books I publish. It doesn’t match my birth certificate, that’s for sure.
    But it’s not just a pen name, it’s *my name*. I feel like I’m always one step behind as I had a post played for May which covered this in a bit more detail.
    The name ‘Ileandra Young’ became special to me when I was at the younger end of the teenage spectrum and I’ve treasured it since then. There are still great friends who still know me and refer to me as that name because that’s how I was introduced to them so long ago and they just can’t remember my birth name. Which is fine. I love that.

    There was even a point, when I was 17, that I was all set to change the name on my birth certificate by deed poll. I didn’t in the end, because I thought I could do honour to emotional weight I attached to the name by writing under it instead. So that’s what I’m doing.

    Lots and lots of pen names are unnecessary. Even if you write in different genres I think it’s a choice. I fly in the face of my own opinion there, as I do actually use a second pen name to write erotica and my blog is full of nonsense about how all that works. But that name doesn’t have the weight this one does. Not yet anyway.

    I think the point I’m trying to make (at last!) is that for me, a pen name is actually a very personal thing. There can be lots of reasons behind choosing to take one (or more) and those reasons can (sometimes) be less than savoury. But both of my names have strong emotion attachments. I thought long and hard about why I wanted them, what they mean and what they stand for. ‘Ileandra Young’ in particular, is a name for which I would need an entire blog post to explain the depth of meaning and promise it holds.
    So… while a pen name isn’t at all ‘necessary’ it’s up to the individual writer to know and understand why they want one and how they intend to use it. If they can make peace with that within themselves, then that’s enough, I suppose.

    • I love this comment, Ileandra. I never thought about the possibility that a pen name could be personal, but indeed, it makes sense. Your background is really fascinating! :)

      I think a pen name can serve authors well. I don’t know that I’d ever use a pen name other than the silly fact I think my real name is too plain! :) Sheba’s methods are discouraging because obviously, if she’s doing it then others are doing it too. And you’re right — the crap hides the good stuff because, frankly, there’s a lot more crap out there than good stuff. The reason for that, simply, is that writing is HARD. Unless you’re gifted at birth, no one can put out quality books every month. The fact she churns out as much as she does shows me that she simply doesn’t care about the craft. That pisses me off.

      Even across genres, I am not sure about the need for multiple pen names. Erotica might be the one genre I can understand about the need for a pen name–so your situation makes complete sense to me.

      But aside from that, I look at authors like John Grisham and Neil Gaiman — both have written books for adults and children — they didn’t change their names and I think that’s because they do have that confidence in their writing. They are proud of their work, so why not put their names on it!

      Thanks so much for your words. I can’t wait to read your post when you put it up in May. :)

  24. Interesting read. I don’t really agree with the work ethic of writing stuff and not editing and thinking a pen name will camouflage the author. There are many good reasons to use a pen name, particular for genre changes in writing but it makes me wonder: If we as authors work so hard to build a platform and following, by changing names we have to rebuild all those platforms once again with every different name we use.

    • Good point about the need for multiple platforms. Considering the amount of time it takes to cultivate even one, I am not sure how many she manages (if any). This would be interesting to research – maybe a platform isn’t as important as we have been told?

      • Most publications I read say to focus on two to three platforms max to get the most out of them rather than being sparse on too many. I work on FB, twitter and google pages mainly and probably don’t check in to LinkedIn enough. I am acquainted with an author who uses three pen names, has four blogs and I try to keep up with all her pages and sometimes when I comment on some of her posts I get mixed up which name I am addressing it to. It makes me think that there is just so much work managing too many names and platforms. :)

      • Good grief! 4 blogs? I can’t imagine. As far as maintaining all the social media venues, my blog is my main one because I can keep up with conversations easier. Twitter and FB don’t have the same feel of building relationships. But, they are great to get a quick word out about something. Trying to come up with more than one platform would be very difficult for me.

  25. Very interesting…I suppose much has to do with your end goal. If it’s supporting your family, then quantity might win over quality.
    What’s that saying? Something about ‘even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.’ :-)

    • I like your positive spin, Denise. I guess if I was forced into a method like hers out of the need to support my family (not just a hubby, but kids), then I would do it too. Though it would really break my heart to do it.

  26. Somehow I think Sheba might be full of ‘Sheba’ ;)

    Some authors use pen names (as you said, some very famous ones) but an indie who doesn’t edit sounds a little too off the mark for me. The other problem with pen names is the author giving themselves rave reviews under the guise of another.

    I was thinking of writing under a pen name only because there is another Dianne Gray who is an American Author. Unfortunately, I’d already established myself and my name before I discovered her. Bummer! Sometimes people contact me and tell me they loved by book and then realise I didn’t write it. At least the other Dianne Gray is a good author and not a hack! :D

    • Another fair example of the need for a pen name. See, more and more I feel like if writers tried hard enough at the craft, then a pen name isn’t problematic or viewed as “hiding.” How interesting – I didn’t consider the possibility of an author using one pen name to write reviews for another pen name. That is just as bad as asking family and friends to write fake reviews.

  27. Pen Names serve one main purpose “Hiding”. There is nothing morally wrong or right about it. It just is. Hiding can be useful or not, as with J.K. Rowling.

    Here’s an interesting thing. I’ve never heard of Lunch Reads until now. Curiosity is itching my brain. I wanna scratch it. I wanna buy. Controversy still sells.

    Another thought, how much effort should be put into a .99 cent book when many popular books are selling between 8-12 dollars electronically? What is she doing to draw the attention of readers in the first place (other than charging .99 cent to $2.99)? I’m willing to take a chance on a .99 cent book. 40,000 sold at .99 cent, that’s not too shabby a return.

    I live in the information age. Words come a dime a dozen, but a good story, well that’s another thing all together. I’ve found errors in many bestselling books. It didn’t bother me (as long as they are minor), because the story was so good. The story was written by a human. Mistakes will be missed. Which errors are we fussing over most- grammar or story? Maybe her writing isn’t that crappy. I can’t compare her to myself; my craft is lacking, so maybe her craft isn’t too bad even without a lot of editing.

    Look at it this way. How does she get people to buy her stories? Find that out, take that awesome real writers full length novel that’s at 120,000 words, cut into ten stories, go Indie, and sell your really good writings for .99 (1.99 or 2.99) a license. Use a pen name or not. There’s no shame in it. Good writing or not, our manuscripts are still subject to others options.
    What say you!

    If we want to do something about this person giving Indie Publishing a bad name, let us not rely on big brother to sell our books. Go Indie! If a person can make money from selling fecal matter, then why not sell that milk chocolate for the same price. Hell, I might write short stories and sell them for .99 cent a copy. I just might do that.

    Aww- man!
    I think Coach used some reverse psychological-motivational-mumbo-jumbo on us. Smooth Coach, real smooth.

  28. I should hire you as my marketing guru, BBK. I could certainly chop up my book into 10 parts and sell it at .99/installment. Bam! My career is off and running!

    Lunch reads is intriguing, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s just like writing 10 blog posts anyway, and putting them together in a kind of anthology. We could get really creative with how we market ourselves…but why can’t so-called writers take the time to edit their material first?

    I am nowhere near perfect with my editing/proofing, but damn I sure do scour my stuff before I hand it out. That includes blog posts. And, yes, I have read plenty of highly acclaimed novels that have typos. My issue is that Sheba is churning out material so fast, she doesn’t bother proofing until it is up and she spots errors. She also admits she isn’t a great writer. Of course, that is all relative, and there are probably people who think she writes wonderfully. But when you can admit it yourself…?

  29. It’s funny, I went indie under my real name and I’m going traditional under a pen name. The reason was that I have two very different styles of writing. One is adult literary thriller with paranormal elements and the other is way more commercial YA that’s contemporary fantasy. I think the most important thing is to invest money and put out a quality product. Hire an editor and a proofreader and a cover designer. Make sure your book is a high quality product.

    • Very interesting. Because I wrote a MG novel (outside of my usual genre), now I am wondering after all of this discussion if a pen name is necessary. Not because I want one, but because that is the thing to do. Other than that, I was just going to happily use my real name for all my books, no matter the genre. Something to look into.

      Bottom line…regardless, pen names are perfectly fine as long as the writing is good and the book is the best it can be.

      • I think you should write the book as though your name and address are attached to it so you hold yourself to the highest standard. :)

        Because my adult books have sex, swearing and violence, my agent and my publicist both advised doing the young adult under a pen name because they are completely separate reading experiences and you don’t want fans to pick up a book expecting one thing and get another. I think if you write for teens and adults or tweens and adults, a pen name is something to consider.

      • Exactly. Well said. And that’s a good point about the style of writing across genres and potentially offensive material. So much to consider.

  30. Wow. Not so sure about this post, Kate. “Crap” is a pretty strong description for writing that you haven’t read. I hear what you’re saying overall, but the word and the toilet photo seem over the top to me. Maybe she is “crap” and maybe she isn’t. Both you and I really don’t know, and it seems unfair to present her in this way on a public platform. I’m a bit stunned, so help me out here.

    • Thanks for expressing your concerns, Darla. I’ll try to explain where I’m coming from. Sheba admits that she isn’t a very good writer, and that she doesn’t edit or proofread before she publishes. Right there, that’s a red flag for me. She shows a lack of respect for the craft as well as for her readers when she publishes books without editing or proofreading. I feel this way toward any craftsperson who sells her work knowing it isn’t ready. I think anyone would be upset if he bought a piece of jewelry or art or a table or a house only to find it was not quality work. It’s shoddy craftsmanship, a rush job, and I think books and their readers deserve more than that.

      When I read something and find that it wasn’t proofread, I become extremely upset. Writing is a multi-fold process; editing and proofreading are an essential part of that process. Of course, I’m not saying there can’t be any errors in a book. We are human after all, and we’re bound to overlook things. But, to deliberately skip those steps simply because an author needs to get as many books out there for sales? That’s simply wrong.

      I used the word ‘crap’ because she doesn’t try to put her best work out there. Partly, also, this was a pun – I was playing off the fact she wrote a constipation quick read. I’m sorry I offended you.

      I truly appreciate your comment. I admit that I can be outspoken. Part of that is my nature; part of that is due to the passion I feel for the craft. Again, I apologize for putting you off. Kate

  31. I feel some real anger under all the statements made in the post.
    I have to say that the only thing so far I dislike about Kindle is some of the very poor writing that gets put out there. I can deal with thin plots, no plots, whatever, but when the spelling is atrocious, especially with the existence of spell check, I just get tired of it all.
    Now, I am not against pen names. I read JD Robb (Nora Roberts) because I didn’t know it was her. I even stepped into the arena. I published a book last week on Kindle using a pen name. It was because the subject matter was not something I wanted to discuss with most of my friends or family, so it’s hidden. I am preparing to put out a collection of my horror short stories next week under my real name.
    Anyway, good post.
    Scott

    • I think pen names in and of themselves are perfectly fine. It’s when they are used to get away with half-assed work that I get angry. Writing is very difficult work — I know you can attest to that, Scott. And to see people abuse the system is frustrating. I guess I shouldn’t expect everyone to play fair, but it rankles me nonetheless.

      • Oh, I can understand that. I think I have used the pen name option for the right reason. However, I see what you mean. I have read a lot of Kindle work that is very sup-par in the grammar department. In fact, one book I read on how to publish a book on Kindle, basically, said grammar doesn’t matter!

      • That’s just crazy to me. How can people think that grammar and punctuation aren’t important skills to hone — not just for authors but for everyone?

        I think you used a pen name for the right reason, too. And I wish you much, much success with your book…Frank?…George?…Horatio??? :)

  32. I would hate to release my books out into the world without them being the best they can be. That includes being well proofread! I just don’t like that attitude.

    I used to think I would use a pen name and I can understand why people do it. I’d want to use my own name.

    • I’m with you, Pete. After all the time and energy we put into our books, why wouldn’t we want to stamp our names right on the suckers when they’re published?! :) But, yes, there are certainly legitimate cases where pen names are necessary or beneficial. As long as it’s above board, I have no problem with it.

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