Are Pen Names Ethical For Review Bloggers?
Most of the time, they are. A lot depends on your intent and motive – if your purpose is to cheat Uncle Sam, slander someone or otherwise
go against every principle you publicly stand for, then morally it would be wrong – no bones about it! If you merely want to use a pen name because you’re afraid of confusing your readers by mixing your posts on green products with reviews of rat rods (old classic cars deliberately customized to look “rough” around the edges), well… you’re doing them a service!
You’re also in good company. For example, have you ever heard of these writers?
A. M. Barnard
I’m betting “no” (unless you’re a writer, that is). Nope, it’s not a group of characters from J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series (though it certainly does sound like it!). These are all the different pen names used by Louisa May Alcott, the beloved 19th-century American writer whose children’s book “Little Women” resides forever among the ranks of other classics, alongside Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.
Why did she do this? Well, at first it was to protect her reputation (women just weren’t supposed to be writers, in those days). And she adopted the pen name “A. M. Barnard” to write lurid, racy melodramas – for cash.
And she’s not the first author to have done so (though many were not motivated by descending into lurid, racy melodrama!)
What Does That Have to Do with Review Blogging?
There’s a far sounder psychological reason to use a pen name if you’re reviewing products in a niche far afield from your usual one, however: And that has everything to do with the way people's brains work.
Ever watched a movie from a totally different culture? Ever found the plot “poor”, or the ending too abrupt and unsatisfying? People from those particular cultures would most likely roundly disagree with you. You see, it all comes from conditioning.
We humans think in “patterns”. Our brains want everything to progress in an orderly, logical progression – but not just any old orderly progression: One we’re used to. If you were to stick the odd post on Rat Rods in the middle of a bunch of green cleaning product reviews (maybe throwing in an article you wrote on ski wax because you think it’s a fine one), your readers would not only be confused, you’d lose your “branding” power – it would weaken what you are known for. I guarantee you’d soon begin to lose readers when people expecting articles on green laundry detergent found themselves reading about the virtues of hemis.
If readers want “Little Women”, they pick up Louisa May Alcott. If they want steamy Victorian stories of forbidden relationships and revenge, they fall back on A. M. Barnard.
An even simpler example? The game of Tic Tac Toe. You’re used to seeing “X” and “O” in the little squares… If someone sticks a “P” in there, it simply doesn’t compute, stops the game cold and creates confusion.
Sticking to your main area of expertise works under your own name, and creating a separate blog under a pen name (even a variation of your own name) for any other subject that “changes the subject” – is the most effective way to use a pen name.