Should You Write Under A Pen Name?

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Good question.

Whether you’re a new writer trying to establish your brand or a published author trying to plot your next move, you should consider the question of using a pen name.


Because the business of being a writer is about selling your books, and your name is part of that. But, it’s a decision that requires careful thought. A pen name can serve you well, it can be a great tool to give you more control over your professional options in the publishing world. On the flip side, though, taking a pen name for the wrong reasons could hurt you if you don’t think carefully and strategically about why you’re publishing under a different name.

Below are some of the common reasons a writer might want to assume a nom de plume, complete with some dos and don’ts about how to approach the decision.

Your real name isn’t marketable.

Do …

Consider using a pseudonym if your name is already used by someone famous, is too hard to spell, or isn’t a good fit for your genre. The first two are pretty self-explanatory, but have you given the third reason some thought? Your books—with your name on the cover—will be sitting on a shelf (or standing in a virtual queue) alongside thousands of others. If your name is Candy Sweetums and you’re writing crime fiction, can you stand out (in a good way) among your fellow authors in that market?

Don’t …

Decide to change your name for the simple reason that you don’t like it or that you feel it doesn’t fully represent you. Those might be good personal reasons for changing your name. But taking a pseudonym isn’t personal, it’s about doing what’s best for your professional writing career.

You want to branch out into a new genre.

Do …

Conduct thorough research. This reason usually applies to established authors who are well recognized in their genre. In that case, this is a conversation you’ll have with your publisher to determine your options. Many times authors do take on a pseudonym in this situation if it makes good business sense, but that’s not true in every case.

Don’t …

Make assumptions about your options. Taking a pen name might be best for you—say, if you’re writing erotica but want to take a shot at middle grade fiction—but maybe not. If the genres aren’t too dissimilar, it might actually work in your favor to keep writing under your name in order to retain your readership. One example is Rainbow Rowell, who has published novels in middle grade, young adult, and adult genres all under one publisher and using her own name. She’s been very successful writing cross genre by a single name, and has maintained a strong and growing fan base as a result.

You want to keep your day job.

Do …

Be realistic about the effects on your professional reputation. There are definitely times when you want to distinguish your identity as an author from a career you’ve worked hard to build in another field. This is especially true if writing fiction wouldn’t garner respect from peers or authorities in your profession. Writing under a pen name can be a great tool for authors who need to keep their creative and professional identities separate.

Don’t …

Be shortsighted or closed-minded about the possibilities, though. What if there’s a link between your career and your writing that you haven’t considered? If you tapped into that relationship, might your current professional community be full of future readers? Think outside the box; look at your situation from all angles. If there’s no way the two worlds can coexist, then yes, use a pen name, but don’t abandon a potential fan base just because you think it might not work.

You want to keep your personal life private.

Do …

Think about the realities of becoming famous before it happens. So you might not become the next J.K. Rowling, but what if every time you went to the grocery store, someone stopped you to talk about your books? Some people might love being well known, but others might resent such an intrusion into their personal lives. Now is the time to decide what you want, before it’s too late to go back.

Don’t …

Use a pen name to hide from what you’ve written. If you’re writing something scandalous or controversial and you’re hoping you won’t have to face up to the consequences—good or bad—you’re likely setting yourself up for disappointment. As writers, we have the amazing privilege of being a public voice in our time and culture, but that comes with the responsibility of standing by what we’ve written.

You need a clean slate.

Do …

Take advantage of this anonymity. Sometimes you just need to start over. If authors’ early novels don’t sell well, they may have trouble getting a second chance under their own name. Taking a pen name is a great solution to that problem.

Don’t …

Waste it. If you do start over under a different name, make the most of it. Have a plan to avoid the mistakes you made the first time, otherwise you may find yourself with the same results. Using a pseudonym isn’t a quick fix, as I’m sure you’re aware. Just be strategic about what you’re doing, use the opportunity to your full advantage.

There are many good reasons to take a pen name. But the most important thing is how you go about it. Just changing your name won’t solve your problem, so be strategic about how to achieve your desired outcome. Consider your readers. If you have an existing fan base, is this change serving them as well as your future readers? The good news is, as an established author, your publisher, agent, or editor can help you navigate the decision. If you’re just starting out, though, reach out to your writing community and get their input. Do more research online or ask a mentor in the industry for advice. Your careful consideration won’t be wasted, it will help you carve out your own unique identity in the market.

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Did any of the reasons listed above resonate with you? Have you used a pseudonym before without getting the results you hoped for?


12 thoughts on “Should You Write Under A Pen Name?”

    1. Hi boostwriter,

      Yes, a pseudonym is the same idea, another word for pen name. So, have you had a positive experience writing under a pseudonym?

  1. I am about to self-publish my first non-fiction book in an area very close to my professional job, yet my name is foreign. I have second thoughts about using my name: the foreign difficult to pronounce name versus the professional experience behind my real name that I could put to good use by foregoing a pen name. What would you do if you stepped in my shoes?

    1. Hi Rebekah,

      First off, congratulations on your book! Second, you’ve raised a great question here. If I were in the same situation, I think I’d stick with my own name if, as you say, my professional track record helped my book. If you already have a built-in audience and credibility associated with your name, I think the benefits likely outweigh the negative of a hard-to-pronounce name; especially if the alternative might mean forfeiting an established readership and potential book sales.

  2. My real name is Iyas Abuhasna and I am almost done writing my book. Do you think I should use a pseudonym? I want to keep it, but my entire life people had trouble with both my first and last name. What do you think?

    1. Hi Iyas,

      I know it can definitely be a tough decision when you’re talking about writing under a different name. I think the question you want to ask yourself is: Will using a pseudonym make me stand out in the market? The craft of writing is very separate from the business of selling your books. As an author trying gain a loyal and enthusiastic readership, you’ll have many factors to consider, and your name is an important one because it will be your brand. So, if you can, try not to think of the decision on a personal level, but more as a business strategy. Best of luck to you!

  3. My name is Marina van Wyk. I want to start my own book series soon and I am doing plenty of research at the moment before I start. I am getting married in October and surname will change to Barnard. I have always thought about using my own name as an author and I am not ashamed of it. I am just wondering, is Marina Barnard a good name for multiple genres and is it marketable?

    1. Hi Marina,

      First, congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

      The first consideration of whether a name is marketable is: Is my name already in use? Just a quick Google search of both names turns up an existing author named Marina Barnard. While this isn’t the only consideration, it’s a big one. To take it one step further, when comparing the two names, van Wyk is definitely the more unusual of the two; unusual often means more memorable. So just based on availability and uniqueness, van Wyk would seem the stronger choice.

      However, I just want to reiterate that choosing a pen name is an incredibly personal choice and an important professional one. So, please do continue to do your own research, look into a few other considerations about what makes a name marketable (especially in your chosen genre and to your target audience), and in the end make a choice that feels right to you and in line with your career goals.

      Best of luck to you in making this decision and in your work going forward!

  4. Hi,

    I have just found your article, it is great! 🙂 I am in a confusion, I wonder if you could help. I am an intuitive life coach, intuitive painter, living in Hungary. I am writing a kind of self-help book (with personal stories) and would like to publish it (maybe firstly in an e-book format). The book will be in both English and Hungarian languages, but now I am wondering about using a pen name or not…. My name is Bátor-Hős Katalin, which means in english Brave-Hero Katalin 🙂 really…. what do you think… should I use this pen name in the english version of the book? Or maybe even use on my english life-coaching site? Hm… Thank you for your suggestions, I would like to figure this out really 🙂

    1. Hi Brave-Hero Katalin,

      I think the most helpful piece of advice when it comes to using a pen name is to be sure the name you choose is marketable. Given the fact that you’re a life coach, a painter, and are writing a self-help book, I think the English translation of your name fits nicely with the theme of your book and your work. It’s also going to be much more accessible to an American readership, and it’s unique, which will help you stand out. This decision is a very personal one, so it’s completely your choice, but I think you could make a very strong case for using the English translation of your name. Best of luck to you!


  5. I feel like I’m in a somewhat complicated situation. I work in defense/security & plan on writing both non-fiction & fiction in my profession at some point in the foreseeable future, however during the interim I intend to write fantasy fiction which also interests me. The professional writing makes sense under my real name, so I’m doing research & debating using a pen name for the writing I do now because of the vast difference in genres. I’m curious shat you’re thoughts are on the matter.

    1. Hi Mike,

      It sounds like using a pen name for your fiction writing might be a great solution. This is especially important if you see your nonfiction writing as potentially supporting or advancing your professional career, a situation in which readers will connect your real name with your expertise in that subject matter.


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