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The Conclusion of an Experiment: Writing With a Pen Name

Updated on October 26, 2014

For a little over a year now, I've been conducting a science experiment of-sorts with my online writing. I decided to create a pen name and online persona to go along with it. Up until then I'd been using the avatar "reprieve26." In fact, I've had the avatar for more than fifteen years. I've used it on other writings sites, fan web pages, and in chat rooms. The name is a combination of my favorite word in the English language and my favorite number.

I had two main reasons for giving a "proper" pen name a try. First, a guest writer on one of the many writing blogs that I follow wrote a compelling article that argued against using a casual avatar, such as "reprieve26," which use odd word and number combinations. Basically, she argued that this type of avatar wasn't as formal and, as such, readers were unlikely to take those writers seriously. Instead, she recommended that writers use their real name or a formal sounding pen name.

After reading the article and the online discussion that followed it, I came across another thought provoking article. This one was published in a print magazine. The article discussed the stigma against self published writers. The author argued that traditional publishers (and agents) were less likely to give authors that had previously self-published books a chance.

Personally, I have successfully published a book through a traditional publisher. But, trying to make a living as a writer is hard work. When I read these two articles it had already been over a year since my book was released and, despite my best efforts, I didn't have any other writing contracts.

On the other hand, I had a few completed manuscripts that were nearly print ready. I knew that they needed some more editing, but I thought that they were pretty good. Unfortunately, I was having trouble finding a publisher for them.

So, after taking all of this information into consideration, I came to a decision. In order to avoid the stigma against self-publishing, I decided to create a pen name and experiment with my new online persona.

The Experiment

For the next year I published numerous articles, blog posts, and even self-published my first e-book under the pen name: Suzie O'Neill. I chose the name for two reasons. First, my middle name is Susan-- so it was an easy choice. Just for fun, I decided to go with the casual version of the name, but changed the 's' to a 'z.' As for the last name, I'm a certifiable science fiction geek. I got "O'Neill" (with two l's) from the name of one of my absolute favorite television show characters, Jack O'Neill on Stargate: SG1.

Since it was an experiment, I approached the project like it was the real deal. I created a Facebook page, plus Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to promote my new pen name. I utilized the most popular social media outlets to advertise the writing career of my new alter-ego.


What I Learned

  • So long as you take yourself seriously, you can become a successful online writer-- regardless of what name you choose to use.
  • As for the arguments against self-publishing, further research has convinced me that it really depends on the publisher. Yes, some traditional publishers do frown upon self publishing; but, other publishers see it as beneficial. After all, if an author has already successfully self-published their own book(s) then they'll already have their own following and an established fan base. In addition, self publishing demonstrates that a writer is both serious about their craft and motivated to succeed.
  • Finally, choose your e-publisher wisely-- it turns out that the one I tried was a dud. Oh well, you live you learn. I won't be using that company again, but it was a good learning experience.

Honestly, trying to balance my real writing career as well as the career of my pen name was a lot of work. After a while things became complicated. I intentionally told my friends, family members, and online subscribers about my pen name at the beginning of the experiment. I even wrote two online articles-- one under each name-- explaining the change. But, even with all of my explanations, several of my friends remained confused. Inevitably, whenever I published a new article and posted the link on my Facebook page, I'd have one of them ask me, "Who's Suzie O'Neill?"

I've never done as well selling online as I've done in person. So, when the e-book flopped, I returned to the idea of self-publishing it as a print book. I do pretty well at book fairs, farmers markets, and festivals. I enjoy having the opportunity to meet my readers and chat with potential buyers. Face to face, it's easy to share my enthusiasm for the books that I've written. It's harder to do that over the internet.

But I ran into a serious complication as I was planning to self-publish the book: which name should I put on the cover? Ideally, I'd like to sell all of the books that I've written at the same venues, but having books with my real name on the cover side by side with books with my pen name would only create unnecessary confusion. So, after much consideration, I decided to give the pen name up as a failed experiment.



Getting published through a traditional publisher is always hard. I'm not giving up on publishing more of my work traditionally, but I've discovered over the past year that I enjoy the creative freedom involved with self-publishing. Besides, the general consensus is that the publishing world is changing with the focus shifting away from traditional publishers.

As for using a pen name, the fact is that when it comes down to it, I'd rather take full credit for my work. As every writer knows, writing a book is a lot of work. It's not far off to say that it takes "blood, sweat, and tears." As writers, we pour our hearts into our work. It's only fair that in the end we get to take credit for it.

So, for now on I'm shelving my "Suzie O'Neill" pen name. Hub Pages won't allow me to change the name on my account, so my hubs will still be published under "Reprieve26," but my print works will be published under my real name, H. S. Contino-- or, Hannah to my friends.


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    • Reprieve26 profile image

      Reprieve26 5 years ago from Oregon Coast

      Hi! I definitely plan on writing hubs on these topics, but you know how it goes with time... I never seem to have enough of it! As for farmer's markets, they usually prefer vendors with either produce or hand crafted items. Since I'm a combination writer and crafter, I qualify. Most of the managers of the local farmers markets are okay with me selling my books too-- since I'm a local writer. But I always ask before displaying the books.

      The festivals are quite a variety-- I live in a small town on the Oregon coast. The area is gorgeous in the summer, and we get a lot of tourists. It's the perfect time of year for festivals and street fairs! Most of them are celebrations of local issues-- for instance we have seafood and cranberry festivals since both are harvested in this area.

      As for the book fairs, no most don't require antique or collectable books. Each event if different, but there are lots that welcome a variety of writers-- both fiction and non-fiction; multiple genres, etc. Plus I find that the public like meeting and chatting with the authors when they buy the books. They also like to pick up one of my business cards. I've had several read my book on local shipwrecks and then contact me later with follow up questions.

      Anyway, I hope this answers your questions! :)

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers.

      Thanks for the explanation of the appearance and disappearance of Suzie O'Neill.

      I hope you will write one or more hubs on "I do pretty well at book fairs, farmers markets, and festivals." Like, how does a writer get to have space at a farmers market? What sort of festivals? Aren't book fairs only for antiquarian and collectible books?

    • Reprieve26 profile image

      Reprieve26 5 years ago from Oregon Coast

      I agree with you completely! My own experience was very similar. I'm in the process of self publishing a book through Create Space. So far so good. The e-book version is already out but I'm currently enting the print proof. So far I like Create Space. I've also heard good things about them from other self-publishers. I think you'll like them too when your current contract runs out. Good luck! :)

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 5 years ago from New Jersey

      I started with an avatar, but since I wrote in a certain niche, and had self published a book, decided that I wanted all my work to be under my real name so I would get recognition. It worked, although my self publishing experiment didn't go well. When my contract runs out I want to redo it on CreateSpace. Best Wishes

    • Reprieve26 profile image

      Reprieve26 5 years ago from Oregon Coast

      Thank you!

      I've been experimenting with self publishing. So far I like it overall and there really is much more creative freedom than when you go through a traditional publisher (I didn't even get to choose the cover of the book I published traditionally). But, it is more work self-publishing since you've got to everything-- the writing, editing, promoting. I think it's all worth it in the end though! :)

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      Hello susie or Repreive 26.. I am a published author I go by my maiden name and married name.. I started out with my maiden name but my while name is on Facebook.. I am not self published I would not be successful at that.. but I understand what you mean.. great hub