To your average person, a name is whatever your parents decided to call you.
But to writers, it can make a huge difference.
It can affect how your audience sees you.
It can even impact your book sales.
So, should you use a pen name?
The truth is, it’s up to you
I chose to use a pen name because I don’t like my surname, and I never felt like it was particularly ‘writerly’.
I kept my first name because I like it and changed my surname to ‘Adams’ after my nan’s maiden name.
J.K.Rowling was advised to use her initials and add a middle initial to make her sound more professional and gender-neutral.
Sadly, it’s still an issue when females write about male protagonists.
Likewise if they write about something particularly gory or that’s seen as a ‘male’ genre, such as horror.
J.K.Rowling chose to write her Cormoran Strike series under the name Robert Galbraith because she wanted to write something completely unassociated with her current author brand. She wanted to write something that would stand on its own and pick up reviews and accolades based on the writing quality, not who she is.
She’s not the only author to do this—she was just unfortunate enough for it to leak before any of that could happen.
Many authors over the centuries have used pseudonyms including George Eliot, the Brontë sisters, Lewis Carroll, and Meg Cabot.
We still use some of these today (Lewis Carroll and George Eliot, for instance), whilst others choose to merge their books into one name/brand when they hold enough clout (like Meg Cabot, who initially wrote as Meg Cabot, Meggin Cabot, Patricia Cabot, and probably a few more).
Stephen King openly admits to using pseudonyms, but he’s never revealed what any of them are.
Many authors write in multiple areas. If yours are completely unrelated—for instance romance and horror—it would be worth considering using a pen name for at least one of your endeavours.
Because romance readers probably aren’t interested in horror, and vice versa.
If you write in a particularly controversial or sensitive genre, like erotica, you may also want to consider a pen name depending on how you feel about people knowing what you write.
Pros of using a pen name
You can keep your writing life and your ‘real’ life separate
For writers of certain genres, this is important.
Not many erotica writers want their corporate day job colleagues to know that they also write about their characters getting hot and heavy, for example.
You can create multiple identities/cover multiple genres and markets
Readers are often loyal to certain genres.
Writing in unrelated genres can confuse algorithms on Amazon and hurt your author brand.
When Amazon knows where to place you, it knows who to recommend you to. This can really help with your book sales.
It also means your erotica readers aren’t going to come across your psychological horror.
You can change whatever you don’t like about your name
Don’t like your name?
Now is the time to change it!
You can pick a name based on what you like, not what your parents liked.
You can use it as a persona, like Beyoncé does with Sasha Fierce
If you struggle with confidence issues, this can be a great way to boost your confidence when public speaking.
It puts you into a different psychological space, almost creating a protective shield around you.
People aren’t judging you, they’re judging another one of your creations.
Some authors—such as Lemony Snicket—take this to the extreme and build a whole brand and identity around their pseudonym.
Cons of using a pen name
Can be confusing if you’ve got too many
Each pen name requires different types of marketing and has different reader expectations. So the more you have, the harder it is for you to juggle.
It can also be confusing for your readers if you’re not consistent. You have to set up clear barriers about what’s entertaining and/or educational for each audience.
Having multiple ones can be difficult to balance—you only have so much time, after all
It’s not just about confusion, though. You only have a limited amount of time. The more pen names you have, the harder it is to juggle each of those.
If you publish two books a year and have two pen names, that means one book a year under each pen name. That means less exposure for both of those pen names in Amazon searches.
For each pen name you create, you need to build a new audience
For every pen name you create, you have to start from scratch.
And that isn’t getting any easier.
The more pen names you have, the harder it is to get your audience to know, like, and trust you.
Building all of that takes time, and the less content you produce for each of those names, the harder it is to build that brand loyalty.
Potential to offend family members
Family members may not like that you’re changing your name.
Some may not even like that you’re using part of their name in your name.
My nan didn’t like that I was using her maiden name because she didn’t feel that she deserved the accolade.
She has since got over it, but she did try to talk me out of it for a long time.
Now, though, everyone in the family is used to it, and accepts it.
There is of course the other option of not telling them.
Really it’s up to you who knows your pen name and who doesn’t.
To use a pen name, or not to use a pen name?
Like I said at the start: the decision lies with you.
The most important thing to remember is to be consistent.
By all means have more than one, but make sure you can manage them and don’t except to be able to put significant energy into the marketing of more than one or two.
Marketing is difficult and time-consuming, but also incredibly important.
The thinner you spread yourself with marketing, the harder it becomes to get anywhere with any of your endeavours.
That’s why your decision to use a pen name—or multiple pen names—is so important.
It could make or break your author brand.
Over to You
How do you feel about using a pen name? Would/do you use one in your writing? Does it make a difference?