The Pen Name Dilemma

An Experiment With A Pen Name

About six months ago, I decided to do an experiment using a pen name. I published something under a fictitious identity just to see if it would sell. I deliberately picked a name that sounded like it belonged in the horror genre, but I did nothing else to promote my new book except price it at the minimum on Amazon. I was curious to see what would happen. Would it sell any copies?

I hoped for a couple of sales in the first week because it was a new title – but that was all I expected it to sell. After all, how would it sell if nobody knew about it? Nearly everyone says authors need to promote their work hard on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to get their work NOTICED.

I was sure it would sell nothing without promotion – but I was wrong.

My new title sold 15 copies in the first week in the US. That was not bad compared with some of the titles I sell under my own name. 15 copies is more than one title has sold since it was published in 2011. It was enough sales to get it listed in the Top 100 in the horror category on Amazon. Appearing there helped it sell more copies. The ball was rolling.

Of course, based on my past experience, I expected the book to sell fewer copies in the following weeks until it eventually disappeared from the Top 100 and then vanished into obscurity – but sales did not fall. They increased month by month. A couple of positive reviews appeared – boosting sales higher. More copies sold. It continued selling steadily.

In December my pen name’s book remains in the Top 100 Kindle horror books. In the US his book currently ranks far higher than one under my own name in the same category. And in the UK his book was exactly one rank higher than mine the last time I checked, which felt weird. They were side-by-side on the same Amazon page, with his outselling mine. I could not believe it. He is more successful at selling his horror stories, though he does nothing at all to promote them. Only the name has changed.

My experiment proved to me a good pen name really does make a difference.

I won’t jinx my experiment by revealing my pen name – but I will tell you I now have a dilemma. I have some new horror stories ready for publishing – but I don’t know what to do with them. Which name should I use?

If you would like to take part in a poll that will effect my decision, or tell me about your own experience of using a pen name, you can use the space below. Thanks for taking part!


Author: John Moralee

John Moralee writes crime, horror and science fiction.

4 thoughts on “The Pen Name Dilemma”

  1. Great experiment. I am still unpublished to date. I have considered using a pen name with anything I self publish and use my real name for anything I submit to traditional publishers.

    Can you include books published under a pen name on your resume when submitting to an agent?


    1. Yes – I don’t see why not, though you might have trouble proving they are your work unless you reveal your real identity on those titles, which might defeat the purpose of using a pen name. Your agent will want to know your real name, of course, for business purposes.

      Your idea for using a pen name for self publishing is a good one if you are worried about how your material will be received by reviewers – especially if you want to give away free copies via KDP Select. A nasty review by someone wanting to sabotage your sales can feel like a personal attack – so a pen name can make the process less personal. That’s what I found when doing it.


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