Businesswoman imagining to be a super hero with a pen name

What’s in a Name?

J.J. Clarke

What do J.D. Robb, Robert Galbraith, and J.J. Clarke have in common?

Read on for hints. . .

I write my Kate Anderson Mystery Series under the pseudonym J.J. Clarke.  At book clubs or author events, I often get the question, “Why do you use a pen name?”

Why do the hard questions always come first? Grinning, I say, “Because it’s fun!” adding, “Julie Johnson is a very common name and I want people to find my books easily on Amazon.”  I write books using a different persona than “the shy girl from rural Missouri.”  The author J.J. Clarke entertains and promotes engaged conversations, about writing, mystery, white collar crime in small towns, police procedures, character development, and story line.

I’ve reached my goal. I want to chat with readers about one of my favorite topics—writing in today’s world.

Warning, Warning!

To prepare for this article, I read blog posts about the pros and cons of writing under a nom de plume. Many strong opinions were against the idea. One article went so far as to say, “editors and publishers frown on it.”  Occasionally, so-called experts have advised, “You should just use your real name.”

Most cited four legitimate reasons for using a pen name: 1) Work: You’re hiding your side hustle from your boss 2) Family: Your children, relatives and descendants don’t know you’ve spilled their secrets 3) Political: No one knows you have certain political views 4) Gender stereotyping: Yes, it still exists. Writers like J. K. Rowling, author of the highly successful Harry Potter series, worried that male readers wouldn’t read her book if they knew she was a woman.

Add Sparkle

Here’s my plug voting for the use of pen names. I grew up close to Hannibal, Missouri, the birthplace and residence of Mark Twain. When I first imagined writing as a career, which was in the fourth grade, I knew I would write like he did, under a pen name. I created a character in my mind who could write and market books. Perhaps I was tapping a muse who used another name. It’s the addictive quality of the superhero—mild-mannered person by day, superhero at night.

Today, Indie Writers Are Publishers

Samuel Clemens had the right idea for his book marketing plan. As he said, the nom de plume “Mark Twain” was the “sign and symbol of petrified truth” on the Mississippi—a brand that could publish and sell books. He was not constrained by the name Samuel Clemens.

I’m an Indie Author, and also an Independent Publisher. I had to decide on the best name for my publishing business, bearing in mind that people search by author on Google and Amazon. My name, Julie Johnson, is one of the most common in America, and it didn’t fit my mystery/thriller genre. It’s a fantastic one for me, personally, unless I forget my discount card at the clothing store, and the clerk needs to look me up. There are usually several Julie Johnsons on the screen. Today on Amazon, there are several books listed under that name. I’m sure those Julies are glad I didn’t add another one to the list. Buyers make quick decisions. No one wants to scroll through a stream of authors with the same name. I did not want to hear, “I bought the wrong book.”

A Way to Acknowledge Others

J.J. Clarke is an inclusive term for me. It reminds me that Julie Johnson didn’t write these books by herself. It includes the hard work of my editor, my editing group and the generous time they have given me; my beta reader team, who have had the awkward job of delivering bad news; and my family and hometown fans who have shaped my work.

Don’t Pass Up an Opportunity

I add credibility to my mystery series because I draw on my extensive experience in law enforcement in the Department of Corrections in Missouri as an investigator, parole officer, and administrator of the largest penitentiary in the state.

My entire professional career, my name was Clarke. Not Julie—just “Clarke.” Very few people in my professional career know me by my legal name, yet they find me quickly on my social media pages under J.J. Clarke. My work friends are some of my best fans.

What about Problems?

It’s true, it’s not always easy. A key to marketing is the utilization of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). We promote the series through book clubs and social events. Most club presidents who submit articles to newspapers use this formula: “Julie Johnson, writing as J.J. Clarke, spoke at our monthly meeting.” This builds the SEO under the name Julie Johnson instead of J.J. Clarke. How much of a problem is it? Both roads lead to my books.

As far as finances, I’ve filed all documents under my legal name. There may be a day when I need to open a bank account “doing business as” J.J. Clarke. We’re hoping that day will come! I’ll smile all the way to the bank.

If you’re playing with the idea of a pen name, do your homework. Watch all the videos, read the scholarly articles, and make an informed decision. Consider jumping over to Reedsy.com where you can punch your information into the pen name generator. It’s fun.

Who are Robb, Galbraith, and Clarke? They are women using pen names to creatively market their books.

JJ Clarke headshot


If you come up with a great pen name, please shoot me an email. I love to hear from fellow writers and readers.

J.J. Clarke, Author of the Kate Anderson Mystery series


7 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Thanks for the interesting article and I love your spelling of Clarke (with an E).
    Very British and not as common as CLARK (without the E).

    Being a big reader of mysteries and helping out indie writers, especially the ones I read about via
    The Hallard Press Gazette, I will soon order a few of your books from AMAZON.

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