Question: Pros and cons of using a pen name. How would you actually do that?



A pen name is a fictitious author name that is used in place of a writer’s real name. Many writers consider using a pen name (also known as a “pseudonym”) to publish their work. What they often overlook are the various challenges that can come with using a pen name. These include branding, publicity, and marketing limitations, and managing a whole, separate persona online. Using a pen name to publish a book will require special planning and likely extra time and effort, so it’s important to first ask yourself the reason for wanting to use one.

Why use a pen name?

There are many reasons why a writer might consider using a pen name to publish his or her work, but these are the three most common reasons I hear:

There are pros and cons to using a pen name when writing a book.To protect your real identityMemoirists writing about sensitive topics often consider using a pen name to try and hide their identity from family, friends, and colleagues. Same with writers that include controversial topics or themes in their books.
You are writing in two, very different genres – For example, you write nonfiction parenting books and also dark fantasy fiction. These genres target different audiences.
Your name is common, or another author, influencer, or celebrity shares your name – If readers are given multiple options when they search your name online, they may end up in the wrong place and get frustrated or misinformed, or even give up looking for you.

Other reasons for using a pen name include wanting to disguise your gender, keep your day job, or replace a name that is difficult to pronounce. No matter the reason, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of using a pen name before determining if it’s the right strategy for you.


Some of the benefits of using a pen name include:

Creativity with your name and branding – Using a pen name allows you to choose an identity that can complement your writing or author platform. For example, author Derek Taylor Kent created the pen name “Derek the Ghost” as the narrator of his Scary School middle grade series.
Reducing reader confusion if you write in two different genres – While it is possible to successfully promote more than one genre under a single author name, it might be best to write under two different author names if the genres are vastly different with varying audiences or messaging, or, if you risk offending some readers because one genre is a bit risqué.
Allowing you to experiment or take some chances – Authors sometimes feel less constrained and more willing to try new writing styles, techniques, and topics or themes when using a pen name.


Some of the drawbacks of using a pen name include:

No guarantee that you will remain anonymous – While the internet has made it possible to connect and network with anyone around the world, it’s also made it very difficult to remain completely anonymous. If your goal for using a pen name is to hide your real identity, you must ask yourself, “What are the consequences if my real identity is discovered?”
No guarantee that you will lessen any legal risks – Changing your name and the names of the people you write about does NOT protect you from legal issues or getting sued. Again, what are the consequences if you are found out?
Limitations with what you can share online and attend in person – Readers like to get to know their favorite authors and have the opportunity to meet them in person. If you don’t want readers to make the connection to your real identity, you’ll have to be careful about sharing photos and personal information. In-person events such as conferences and festivals may not even be an option for you. Using a pen name could also exclude you from doing any media appearances or interviews, hindering any publicity efforts.
Managing separate websites, social media accounts, emails, and more – You may have to build an entire online identity that is separate from your personal one. In a sense, you are creating and managing a second person. Maintaining consistency across multiple channels with this new identity can be very challenging and time consuming.

How to Choose a Pen Name

If you decide that using a pen name is the right strategy for you, think long and hard about what that name should be. Does it benefit you to use something quirky or fun? Or, should it sound romantic, mysterious, or professional to match your genre of writing? Your pen name will become your author brand, so be sure to choose wisely.

In addition to careful consideration, do your research to make sure the pen name you’re choosing isn’t already taken, especially by another author or by someone that has garnered negative press. The last thing you want is for readers to think they’ve found you online, only it isn’t you, it’s someone with the same name that’s famous for the wrong reasons.

Using a pen name can be beneficial with good reasoning and planning. As long as the name is carefully chosen and you are prepared to address the associated branding, publicity, and marketing challenges, you can be successful.