Please bear with me, the question really is for writers. I'm authoring software that manages ebooks. I'm to the point of representing the "profile" of authors who choose to use pen names.

How should I handle images? Should I allow a headshot at all? If the intent of the pen name is to actually obfuscate the legal identification of the writer, then any image of one's self in this day and age completely defeats the purpose (c.f. reverse image searches via TinEye.) Facial recognition software is getting good enough that, if someone really wanted to know, even using an earlier image of yourself would eventually identify you.

I could go into things like the legal issues of using a stock image (bad...) or simply allowing an avatar image (what would be the point?), but they don't actually address the issue.

Now, to complicate matters, pen names are anything from a simple diminution of your legal name, ("Matt Smith" is technically a pen name for "Matthew Clay Smith") to a fully obscure branding. Since a legal name is required by the site for payment/tax purposes, all ebooks must be assigned a pen name as a matter of programmatic policy. Thus, "Matt Smith" may want to use his selfie.

Further, authors using multiple pen names is not uncommon.

So, I'm actually talking about the case of an obfuscating pen name(s). From a writer's perspective, do you want the ability to load an image, even if you won't load a personal headshot?

  • 1
    Would the images be uploaded/provided by the authors themselves or by third parties? Assuming it's the authors, if you allow uploading images but some pseudonymous persons don't want to, then (judging by the fact you said "allow" and not "require") they'll still be able to not provide an image and there won't be any problem; on the other hand, preventing people from uploading images when they actually want to upload is a problem.
    – jwodder
    Jul 29, 2017 at 6:01
  • @jwodder, you're correct, I am not requiring images. I am asking whether or not I should prohibit them. Could you post your explanation as to why the prohibition is a problem as an answer?
    – JBH
    Jul 29, 2017 at 6:10
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    @JBH Prohibiting them serves the same problem as requiring an image. For some people, they want their face with their books. It brings a personal feel. While you can do pen names, others may opt to still keep their name. If it's generic.. Say John Smith. The picture allows them to differentiate between potentially several other authors with the same name. Keep it optional and then place restrictions on the type of images that can be loaded if you are worried about the content of pictures being provided.
    – ggiaquin16
    Jul 29, 2017 at 17:47

4 Answers 4


I would not assume that the reason for using a pen name is the desire for anonymity.

Sometimes it is about marketing. If your name is Rock Hardplace and you write sweet romances, you probably want to use a pen name.

Sometimes it is about disambiguation. If your name is Jonathan Kieth Rowling, you probably want to use a pen name.

Sometimes it is about dividing your professional career from your fiction writing. If you are published in an obscure technical field, you may not want your technical books and your fiction jumbled together in people's Amazon search results, so you use a pen name for your fiction.

None of these imply a desire for anonymity. On the other hand, an author who is using their real name may not want their picture shown on their book, for all sorts of reasons.

In short, don't assume one data point from another imperfectly correlated data point. Collect the two data points separately.

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    Yes, that's why I suggested for it to be optional not required so that they can choose ^.^ But you are correct in that it isn't always for anonymity.
    – ggiaquin16
    Jul 28, 2017 at 21:44
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    Iain M. Banks is the name on a number of science fiction books, while Iain Banks is credited for a number of (non-SF) novels. They were, in fact, the same person, just using the middle initial as a form of self-disambiguation there, I suppose.
    – KRyan
    Jul 29, 2017 at 1:01

Speaking from personal experience, as one who as published under multiple pseudonyms, I would have relished the ability to have a non-identifying image in place of a headshot. So many creative ways to have fun with this that could actually enhance the reader's experience by commenting on the work. We are in the post-modern era, after all. (Not to mention, a little dash of mystery could be good for sales;)


Some writers put their image on the back of books, some don't. I think in the end as long as you provide it as a choice and not make the image required, you shouldn't have an issue.

Some people may not want their picture up at all because they don't want their appearance to decide if they should read the book or not. Someone may not want to read the book for race or sex reasons, maybe the author has defects or scars from an accident. You just don't know and all of these petty things are sadly reasons someone very well may put a book down.

Also, the whole idea of having a pen name is so that you create a second identity. Whether to hide their real identity for writing or personal reasons, having them put up a picture kind of defeats that purpose if they can associate the 2 different authors by the same picture.

So in the end, don't make it required to have a picture. Simply have it as an option.


If you've implemented the possibility of including a photo at all, you should make it optional for both authors publishing under their legal names and those using a pseudonym.

People's stances on a) whether they want to sign the work with their legal name or a pseudonym and b) whether they want to upload a photo or not will vary, and their reasons for those stances will vary even more. Any combination is possible.

So, respect those stances, and let the choice be theirs.

And if I may suggest, allow a drawing for a portrait, too. (Not a stock avatar, but an actual portrait of the author... or of their alter ego persona.)

Also, don't coerce people by placing a default placeholder image in the profile of those who haven't provided any. No image provided by the author should mean the profile will look complete without it, like a book that just doesn't contain any illustrations.

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