• Mark Twain
  • Richard Bachman
  • Robert Galbraith
  • Anne Rampling

Avid book geeks will know what those four names represent. Those that don’t know, here are a few more names…

  • Samuel Clemens
  • Stephen King
  • JK Rowling
  • Anne Rice

Let me help you out…there are eight names, but only four people.

The first four are the pen names under which the latter four have all published work for a variety of reasons. The point here being that pen names are not uncommon, and are often used for very innocent reasons.

Often, being the operative word.

This past week the #WritingCommunity on Twitter had itself a scandal, all centering around the usage of a pen name for what IS a very nefarious, and reprehensible, purpose.

Here’s the headline for those that missed it:

A male Twitterer, who shall remain nameless for this blogpost, set up a twitter account using a pen name that identified as female in order to sell more books in his preferred subject of Lesbian Erotica.

Now, regardless of how you feel about this as a concept, whether you consider it deceitful or not, it is NOT what the crux of the scandal is about. It is what happened next that pushed this over the line from dubious to despicable. He used that name to prey on and deceive members of the LGBTQ community for his own gratification.

Not cool.

In fact…NOT in any way, shape or form acceptable.

Pen names, by their very definition, have an element of deception to them. The author, is for whatever reason, pertaining to be someone else. It’s not unusual in modern society – there are literally hundreds of examples of celebrities who are plying their trade in film, or music, or writing by using a nom-de-plume.

Here’s a few more names for you to demonstrate the point…

  • Reginald Kenneth Dwight
  • Thomas Mapother IV
  • Norma Jeane Mortenson
  • Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta

I’ll leave you to Google those if you don’t know who they are. Suffice to say you can see why these VERY famous people use a pseudonym.

What happened this week, however, showed the danger of what happens when someone who doesn’t have a very famous face uses a pen name for a purpose that is other than professional. It’s one thing to want to present your work under a different name; it’s another thing entirely to play into that alter ego for deceptive purposes. To prey on the vulnerable.

There is a line of appropriate behaviour, and what this person did this week vaults across that line. 

As I read through the thread on Twitter, as I saw more and more comments regarding what had happened, how it had happened, and how many people it had affected, the angrier about it I got. That there were people actively defending this behaviour, frankly boggled my mind.

Nikki Anderson posted an entry about it in her blog just after the event. It’s a well thought out and measured piece. Go check it out on her website by clicking this link.

It made me think for a moment about how I present to the world, which I think is a warranted reflection. As a male writer, I really don’t want to be misrepresenting myself in any way, shape or form. Especially, in light of what happened this week.

That’s my Twitter profile page right there.

At first glance I could see why someone might jump to a quick conclusion that I’m a female writer, simply by taking a look at my avatar.

My Twitter avatar that is the painting of one of the antagonists from my book. It’s a profile shot of Gayle Knightley, as drawn by the very talented Tyler Wilson. I put it as my avatar because I love it as a piece of art that is related to the books I’m writing.

However, a look at my name should dispel this illusion and point you immediately in the right direction. Jon is short for Jonathan, and that’s the truth. I can’t even think of a female name that starts Jon…

Click on the link to come here to my website and my visage in all its cowboy hat-wearing glory greets you. I lay myself pretty bare here on my website (not like that, get your mind out of the gutter!) because this place represents all I am. My hopes and dreams.

My stories.

It is MY responsibility to see that the people who come to my site, to read my work, are not drawn here under any kind of false pretenses. THAT is important to me. I want an honest relationship with my readers. It should NOT be up to them to be vetting every author they decide to follow, to decide whether we are a genuine person of interest, or if I’m a potentially dangerous predator posing as a writer online for nefarious purposes.

The gender mis-identification issue is something that I’ve been very aware of for a long while now, and I’m try to be careful to ensure that I’m not mistaken for something I’m not.

‘Hunters’ (my book) has two main characters. Gayle (as mentioned above) and Michael. Both of those characters were inspired by game avatars that I created in the game City of Heroes. The game is a sandbox MMORPG where you can create any character you like, and for a person like me, it is manna from heaven.

So, I went NUTS!  Creating characters of all shapes and sizes, colors and race. I even had a character called HypnoCow!  Who was…a Cow!

Gayle, very quickly became my favourite character to play. Mostly because I adored her power-sets. But, when playing as her, I had to be very careful. There is an assumption made that if you’re a female character, you must be a female player. Especially in a game, where initially all your communication is done via text in a chat window..

VERY much like Twitter.

It’s EASY to be taken in by someone’s well-crafted lies. 

I was always up front about being a male player, right from the get go. But I was taken in by more than a few players who maintained to be something they were not. I actively met players who said they were female in conversation chat, and turned out to be lying from outset. The advent of voice communications for use in-game (like TeamSpeak, Skype, Discord, etc.) made it harder for these people to hide. 

And if they didn’t come on voice comms, then it was considered pretty suspicious. Voice comms was a way to affirm your identity.

Twitter does not have voice communications. 

The Direct Messaging in Twitter is a place where friendships are made, cemented and developed. But because all you see is hard text on a screen, it depends on TRUST.

The #WritingCommunity discovered this week how easy it is to abuse that.

I’m not adverse to using a pen name myself in the future. I’ve talked with Nikki, for instance, about possible collaboration work. Likely that would be under a pen name to separate that work from my work on Songbird. If I do, it won’t be something I’ll hide behind, pretending to be something I’m truly not.  My pen name would be more like those listed above…

Like Elton John, or Tom CruiseMarilyn Monroe or Lady Gaga.

The one thing about alter egos…you can try to hide them all you want, but sooner or later people will know the truth.

If you are one of those people, someone who’s moral compass is skewed toward the possibility that you might want to do something reprehensible under the mistaken guise of anonymity, then I’d urge you to ask yourself a very important question…

When people do inevitably find out WHO you are behind the avatar and pen name, did you carry yourself with integrity and honesty? 

Because if you didn’t, your whole brand likely goes…

Love & Books

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  1. As someone who loosely uses a pen name for my own safety as I write about a violent crime in my memoir, I appreciate this candid look at this recent scandal. Thank you for going there!

    • Jon Ford

      Hi Magnolia, welcome to my blog.
      And thanks for the lovely comment.
      I was really in two minds about putting this one out there, but I did feel quite strongly about what happened, and to be honest, it was your words to me the other day, urging me to be more ‘me’ in the blog that inspired me to actually write this.
      So, thank you!

  2. Paula

    Therein lies the problem with the Internet – you can essentially be anyone you want to be, and not all people are genuine and kind people like you are, Jon. Sadly, there are many people who have nefarious intentions. I mean, look at all the predators out there, for instance. Parents, especially, must take steps to protect their kids from such people.

    I try to be a little skeptical of those I connect with via social media. And I’ve learned to trust my gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.

    Just keep being the awesome person you are, Jon!

    • Jon Ford

      Thanks Paula,
      I’ll do my level best to be as awesome as I can! LOL
      Right back atcha!

  3. DesireeS

    What a sketchy thing to do! Talk about dishonest! Some people will do anything to make a buck. I’m glad they were “found out” and ousted!

    I didn’t know that all of those writer’s went by a pseudonym.

    • Jon Ford

      There’s a lot of them. Those few were just the tip of the iceberg and perhaps the most famous. 🙂

  4. Flashyf

    Hi Jon, I actually was fascinated by this post, and that of Nikki Anderson.
    It has made me change my way of thinking about nom de plumes. ( and it takes a lot to change my way of thinking!) I now think that, while they will always be used, one shouldn’t create a whole new persona behind one, especially now readers have more of a “relationship” with an author due to social media.
    I also have a bit of an issue with fake news. I can see a trend where misinformation is posted, mistakenly or otherwise, and it can unwittingly be re-posted in reputable media, like newspapers.
    For instance, a poem called “And the people stayed home” was read aloud by celebrities who believed it was written in 1869, but was relevant to the coronavirus. Later it emerged it was written in March 2020. It seems like there is so much information out there, we struggle to differentiate fact from fiction.
    Anyway Jon, looking forward to your next updates!

    • Jon Ford

      Thanks Flash,
      It was a serious issue last week that I really thought needed some light shed on it. Nikki wrote a great piece over on her site, and I wanted to touch on the subject too a little, but wasn’t sure if I could do it justice.
      I’m not against people using nom de plumes for professional purposes, there’s loads of professionals that do. But creating a second persona with the clear intent of using it to catfish the innocent into…that’s just wrong.
      And you’re right, there’s far too much in this world that’s false.

    • Suese

      Wow, I didn’t know that the poem they read was really written in 2020. I thought it was written much earlier too (as did the celebrities). You are right though, there is way too much fake news.

  5. Thomson

    I figured that deceptive pen names were mostly used by women because they couldn’t get their foot in the door unless they pretended to be men. I guess that’s how it historically started at least. I see no harm in that really. Where do you the draw the line though? It would feel like a betrayal to be the reader who is trying to support female authors by buying their work, only to find out that it’s a bloke behind the pen name. I see your point.

    • Clemmie

      Male-on-male erotica is usually authored by heterosexual women, many of whom use a pen name. What they don’t do, however, is fabricate an entire persona and lifestyle for that pen name. They don’t use a profile headshot meant to aid in their deception either. That’s where I draw the line personally.

      • Jon Ford

        Pen names seem pretty common across the entire writing spectrum to be honest, for one reason or another. I’ve often thought about it myself, having some sort of professional name. Yet, I don’t think I’d go as far as to gender switch the pen name, I can’t see a reason for doing that myself.

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