This week, the show isn’t by us, it’s by Nitro Jenny Jo, Hydrogen Z, and Little Deuce Lawley.  Because we’re talking all about Pen Names on the show this week. We got a cool email from David Cross (but not that David Cross), and it was written so well, we’ll just get out of his way: dcross Thanks for the email, David Cross (but not that David Cross)!  We feel your pain–well, not Baker, because nobody else has that name…  But Tommy and Jody have both seriously dabbled with the pen name dilemma, and Baker knows a lot about the backstory of pen names in publishing, so we loved your question and we took it on as best Hydro, Nitro, and Little Deuce could.


  • Tommy cops to using a pen name in his past, and talks about why he chose to use a pen name for those publications.
  • And Jody had a pen name when she was 8.  Harold and Gloria Twindletwig.  Yep.  But she’s been thinking about a pen name more recently because…
  • Jody’s got a book coming outmark twain in the Fall from Cosmo! It’s called Bombshell, and hopefully there’ll be an excerpt in Cosmo.  She talks about why she thought about a pen name for that book, but decided not to in the end.
  • Sometimes pen names are a branding issue for authors; other times it’s a personal decision to keep your writing secret from your mom.
  • Other times a pen name is for when an author changes genres–when they change genres, they often don’t have the same range, and the books just aren’t as good, so the authors need to use a pen name to separate the reader’s expectations.
  • We talk about the way that having a weird name sometimes can be an author’s asset or a detriment.
  • We talk about Stephen King and J. K. Rowling’s use of pen names for when they changed genres.
  • Baker talks about the history of pen names, when publishers started including non-compete clauses in contracts, but the pulp writers could write much faster than the clause stipulated, so they just published under several different names because they could write that fast.
  • There’s also a political history, when writers in the 1950s would use pen names to publish works and avoid persecution under the House Un-American Activities Act.
  • Apparently Baker was born with the golden typewriter in his mouth, being given the perfect writer’s name.  Still waiting to cash that one in…
  • How do writers with plain names distinguish themselves? Tommy’s mom suggested that he change his last name to something starting with an H or an M so you’re in the middle of the bookstore instead of the end with the Zs.
  • Tommy suggests “Beauregard Cornpopper.”  (Not really.)
  • Choosing a name that you feel connected with to use as a pen name, or a nickname, those names will still feel close to you.
  • It also depends on the genre, like Thriller writers often use initials as their author names.  Jody hates this, though.
  • But sometimes a pen name can free you to be an alternate identity and write more freely than if you were writing under the name you are known as.
  • We crush on writers’ names we love.  Z Z Packer.  Donna Tartt.  Baker Lawley.
  • The important thing is to choose a name you can live with for the long haul, because a writer’s career is based around that name.

David Cross, we hope we gave you some sliver of an idea here!  Please, folks, if you have an idea for David, let us know in the comments, and David Cross (not that David Cross), if you do decide on a pen name, we’d love to know what it is and why you chose it.  Thanks again for writing in! photo credit: andy castro via photopin cc