Pen name or not?

Should authors use pen names or their own names?


Like many decisions a writer must make, the choice to take a pen name or not is an entirely personal one.  There are many people who will give you advice on this, but it boils down to what you want and your own comfort levels.  Here are some things to consider before making a decision:

1)  Do you want to separate your day job from your writing?

For me, the answer is YES.  I am a woman working in a male dominated industry and in a male dominated field.  So, do I want every one with the help of powerful search engines finding out that I write dirty, dirty smut?  No, no, a thousand times no.

2)  What genre do you write?

Certain genres tend to have more authors using pen names than others.  Judging by the names of authors on Amazon, I’m guessing that a lot of erotica authors use pen names.  Depending on your genre and how it would interact with your personal/professional life (see #1), you may want to use a pen name.

3) Are you trying to break into a new genre? 

If you’re moving from one genre to another, a pen name (or a different pen name) could be helpful.  You wouldn’t want to read your kids a bedtime story written by Stephen King, would you?  

But then again, there are advantages to a sort of brand recognition (assuming you have a brand).

4) Are you trying to hide your gender?

Female authors have been pulling this trick for ages – you’ve written a great story, but you worry it won’t sell because of your gender.

Some authors may also use a pen name if they want to conceal their gender due to genre novel stereotypes.  Ever wonder why nearly all romance novelists are women?  …or are they?

One solution to the gender issue is to create a pen name.  Another is to market the hell out of yourself and your story – break down the gender barrier, crash through the glass ceiling!  Prove all of those haters wrong!

5)  Are you a private person?

If you value your privacy and don’t want your personal life (virtual or actual) intertwined with writing, then a pen name might be the way to go.  There is definitely something to be said about keeping your public persona separate from your private one.

Of course, don’t necessarily have to solve this problem with a pen name either.  If you find yourself crushed under the weight of extreme popularity (oh, champagne problems), you can always follow J.D. Salinger’s solution and become a recluse.  🙂

In the end, it’s up to you and what you want.  As for me, I’ll go with a pen name.  But the next question is, how do you come up with one?  I’m thinking the stripper name formula (first pet + street name) won’t work for this one.  😉

*Be aware that if you do decide on a pen name and copyright your work through the U.S. Copyright Office, you have the option to write in both your pen name and your actual name, just your pen name, or just your real name when you register the work.


4 thoughts on “Pen name or not?”

  1. I thought about this one long and hard and had several pen names that I had developed. Finally decided to just use my own name.


    1. I’ve come up with a ridiculous amount of pen names and test out my love of them by signing them in cursive (reminds me of when I was in elementary school and had crushes). I’m tempted to use my real name as well, but the need to keep my writing separate from my professional career kind of kills the temptation. Do you ever worry about your job and your writing life intersecting?


      1. I had been worried about it in the past, but I do not think there is much to be too concerned about it. I maintain a professional career and write too. Thus far [knock on wood] there has not been any issue. 🙂


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