My Decision to Write Under a Pen Name

As much as it would have been nice to be born with the angelic surname of ‘Willow,’ in real-life that is not the case. Don’t get me wrong; I love my real last name (it’s definitely a conversation starter.) But having something a bit simpler would fix a lot of mispronunciations and mix-ups.

My real last name is Polish. It has a weird pronunciation. When people ask how to spell it, I jokingly give them the first few letters and then tell them to slam the keyboard. It’ll be close enough. Overall, it’s in not easy to pronounce or remember. 

When I decided to write a book, I knew that my last name was going to be a bit of an issue. It’s nearly impossible for someone to remember something as long and complicated as my last name is. So how would a reader who was glancing on a shelf or on a website be able to do it? I watched some videos and read some articles on how people chose pen names and why they would choose to do write under one. Once the decision was made, I had to decide what my new name would actually be.

If you decide to translate my real last name, it actually means ‘white willow’ (I’m sure you can see where this is going). I knew from the start that I didn’t want to completely create a new name. I wanted to find something that was easier to say, but still have connections to my family’s roots. So I began experimenting with ‘white’ and ‘willow.’ I checked online, and Julia White was already a published author. Julia Willow was an option, but I thought it sounded too much like a romance author. For someone who was writing a book involving drugs, that was not the audience I wanted to attract. It was then that I decided to use my initials, J and L. From there, I checked online for a J. L. White (it was already taken) but J. L. Willow was not. And here I am today, J. L. Willow!

There are many reasons why people choose to write under a pen name. Some people would prefer to have a different name to fit their genre. Joanna Penn, a fellow author who runs the website Creative Penn (be sure to check it out, she has some awesome tips!), actually writes under two names. For her non-fiction, she’s Joanna Penn. For fiction, she’s J. F. Penn. It’s simply a choice made to help attract more readers.

Others write under a new name for a new start. They don’t want to be known for their previous work or actions and create a new name to hopefully start over. J. K. Rowling attempted to do this a few years after the last Harry Potter was published. She wrote The Cormoran Strike series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith in an attempt to move past the fantastical genre and into a new one. In the end, though, people found out her real identity.

For me, the decision was purely marketing. It’s much easier for a reader to remember The Scavenger by J. L. Willow rather than The Scavenger by Julia W-something. I love my real last name, but it was something I chose to change after a lot of thought.

Are you thinking of writing under a pen name? If so, what’s your reasoning behind it?

Hope this helped clear up some questions!

— J. L. Willow

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