Many of the world’s best known authors have used pen names. Among them: Stephen King using Richard Bachman, J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, and Helen Goff penning Mary Poppins books under P.L. Travers. But why chose to use a name other than your own? There are a number of reasons.

Some of the pros:

  • According to Writer’s Digest, one of the most common reasons author’s use a pen name is because their first book was a flat out failure. A pen name provides you with a clean slate.
  • If you’re writing anything controversial (erotica or authoring political works), which may upset your family, a pen name keeps your privacy intact.
  • Protecting the privacy of someone close to you, especially if you’re writing about them.
  • If you’re a very private person and wish to remain so.
  • In certain industries such as counseling, education, or government, writing could affect your main career. For example, if you’re a teacher, parents may not appreciate their kids elementary school teacher authors explicit romance novels.
  • If you’re name is Stephen King or J.K. Rowling readers have high expectations for the words you write. A pen name for the ultra famous can provide more freedom.
  • If your real name is very common, it becomes difficult to tell you apart from authors with the same or similar names.
  • Sad but true – people still have sexist views on many topics. For example, a lot of readers think only certain genders can or should write certain genres. You rarely see a male author on a romance novel or a female name on a military or science fiction works.

Pen names do however, present some cons:

  • As an author, you already have a following using your real name. Using a pen name can throw a wrench into building your social platform.
  • There are legal issues associated with using a pen name that authors will have to deal with.
  •  Who are you in social situations? The author using your real name or the author under your pen name?
  • Using a pen name may complicate using entities such as PayPal.
  • It’s hard to keep the use of a pen name secret.
  • Suppose the novel you wrote under a pen name suddenly takes off. Then you’re promoting two separate personas, just as I am with an earlier book I wrote under a pen name, Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace.

There are good reasons to use an author pen name, but that also might mean there are unforeseen consequences. Ultimately, you’ll need to decide if the pros outweigh the cons.


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