Pen Names: Should You Use One to Publish Your Work?

A popular topic among writers is the use of a pen name, which is also called a pseudonym. But why do so many writers prefer to use a pen name when publishing instead of taking credit for their work themselves? There are actually many reasons an author would prefer to take on a second identity. Maintaining a hidden identity, writing about controversial topics, branding, and attempting to provide legal protection are just a few of the reasons an author may choose to write under a pen name. However, managing a second identity is not as easy as you may think.

If you are considering using a pen name for your work, first think of why. Do you want to be secretive? Are you a whistleblower? Are you revealing something of yourself that you don’t want your family to know? Here are a few pros and cons for you to consider.



Pen names are about branding. Book marketing expert and author Desiree Duffy chose to write under the pen name Vanta M. Black because her professional brand was vastly different from her author brand. She didn’t do it to keep her identity a secret, but some may choose a pen name for this reason. In that case, an author must consider how he or she is going to market and promote.

While pen names can be used to protect your professional brand, they can be used to protect your writing brand as well. One of the most common benefits is being able to create more than one brand when writing in different genres. Even well-known authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and James Patterson use pen names to avoid polluting their main brand. By creating a pen name for alternative genres, authors are also able to better target their new readers, both in-store and online, without confusing their primary audience. Author Jason Schmetzer states in an interview with the ALC, “There might be some crossover readers that purchase more than one genre from an author, but they are the exception and not the rule.''

Identity Protection

Another benefit of using a pen name is to protect your identity. Memoirists sometimes consider this approach due to the sensitive nature of their personal stories. We all have our demons and we don’t always want everyone to know about them, but may still want to help others with our story. With a pen name, you may be able to publish a book that contains the harrowing details of your life without your family, friends or coworkers ever knowing about it.

Authors who are writing about a dark childhood, upsetting divorce, or a double life can use a pen name to keep their families in the dark. Sometimes your story can be controversial. If peace around the Thanksgiving dinner table or in the office is a priority, you might want to explore this option.

Other Reasons

There are other less obvious reasons to adopt a pen name. If your legal name is difficult to spell or pronounce, a pen name may be a good option for you. Other examples include:

• Wanting your writing to be taken more seriously than your gender allows at the time

• There is another already published author with the same name as you

• Your legal name is too common and is easily forgettable

• Some male authors have used female pen names with the intention of increasing sales to women, who buy more novels

• Some female authors have used male names when writing in genre that is male dominated in order to be taken more seriously



Having to completely hide your identity will limit publicity opportunities. Podcasts, TV and radio interviews, and book signings will all be difficult if you want to maintain your protected identity. Speaking engagements, social media posting, blogging, YouTube videos, podcasts, book signings, pitching yourself to local media, launching online courses and hosting workshops are just a few examples of public appearances that will be limited if you choose to take on a pen name.

Multiple Identities

Using a pen name, secretly or not, also means you now have two identities to manage. You’ll have double the social media profiles, and possibly multiple websites. This can be a huge undertaking. You will have to treat it as a separate business and a separate brand, which will require extra effort on your part.

Adopting a pen name is a lot of work to maintain. Separate email addresses. Separate social media accounts. Separate personas. A pen name forces an author to split his or her personality, having to jump back and forth between two mindsets and communication strategies. When deciding if a pen name is right for you, think, “Is this a good reason so that some other parts of my life will be affected if I do not adopt it?”

Author and editor Elaine Ash, who writes crime fiction under the pen name Anonymous-9, says, “If your family is strictly vegan and you’re writing a drama about raising livestock on a ranch, you might want to use the pen name because it will make things more comfortable around the tofu-turkey at Thanksgiving.” Another helpful piece of advice Ash offers is to sit down with a pen and paper and write down the pros and cons of using a pen name and come to a decision from there.

Legal Considerations

Some writers believe that by using a pen name to publish their work, they will reduce their risk of getting sued. This is not always the case. Memoirists, for example, can’t assume that changing their name will protect them from a lawsuit. Even if the book contains their truth, the individuals they write about can claim otherwise. For more on these legal considerations, please see Libel Basics and Tips for Avoiding a Defamation Lawsuit as an Author.


While it’s not impossible to successfully write under a pen name, considering these factors and deciding how you will be able to handle it is an important first step. Every writer’s situation is different, but adopting a second identity is not an easy task and should be carefully researched.

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  • Yes, Authors have historically helped propel society towards more positive options for humanity. This is true for many great song writers as well. But we must all be mindful, that this has not worked out well for the. God Rest his soul, John Lennon, preaching peace, and cut down in his prime for it. Like so many oyher well intentioned individuals. If your publisher can provide you a safe space to continue writing, I think this is the safe and kind option.

  • The above article is very helpful as I'm unsure at this time whether to use a 'pen name' or fully disclose my identity.  It's something to definitely think about early on as I start on this first time venture of book writing.