One of the things writers tend to consider before they publish is whether they should write under a pseudonym (or a pen name). Some famous examples of authors writing under a pen name are Lemony Snicket (real name Daniel Handler), Robert Jordan (real name James Oliver Rigney Jr.), and Agatha Christie (real name Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller).
There are quite a few things to consider when choosing whether or not to write under a pseudonym. And a lot of it comes down to the genre you write and your life circumstances.
Pen names in the modern day
One drawback to using pen names these days is that, most likely, people are going to find out your real name anyway. A quick search on Google reveals the real names of most authors. Search for Richard Bachman and you’ll instantly find out this is a pen name for Steven King (and also one of his characters).
Be aware of this when choosing whether or not to use pen name. You’re probably less likely to have people learn your real name if you’re an author who isn’t as well known. But if you do become successful or very well known, it can become difficult to keep this under wraps.
One way of mitigating this can be to make sure your personal details are scrubbed from the internet. If you have an author website, make sure you purchase domain privacy! If you don’t, your name and contact details will show up as the registrant for the website on the WHOIS database. You can use websites such as who.is to check the privacy of your details for your domain.
Most authors these days also have headshots, on their website or book jacket. Someone may end up recognising who you are even with a pen name.
When to write under a pseudonym
There are lots of valid reasons to use a pen name. Here are some of the common situations for writing under a pseudonym:
- You’re writing in a genre dominated by the opposite sex and want to adopt a suitable name. This was common back in the nineteenth century, with female authors like the Brontës writing under male names. It’s still done today. Many female authors of fantasy/sci-fi write under male or androgynous names, and some male romance authors have a female pen name.
- To use an androgynous name. Similar to the above, you might not feel comfortable about people assuming what your gender is!
- Career separation. Maybe you teach small children and write raunchy novels on the side. Perhaps you have a completely different full-time job or a business in your real name already.
- A famous person shares your name. Competing with Danielle Steel probably won’t work out!
- Privacy. It’s completely valid to just want your privacy and not attach your real name to your art.
- Switching to a very different genre. You might have written children’s books and want to switch to adult, or you’re going from sci-fi to romance. It’s common for even established authors to use another name when they try out a different genre.
- Starting over. An author might need a clean slate. Perhaps their first book under one name didn’t do that well, and they need to look for a new publisher, so they go with a different name so as not to miss out on opportunities.
- Co-authoring. Husband and wife team? Two best friends writing a book? Using one pen name is easier than using two names!
- Your name is difficult to spell or pronounce. This one is very common! Or, on the other hand, the author might have a name that’s too common and not unique enough.
- You dislike your name. Coming up with a name that better suits you and your work can be freeing.
Reasons you shouldn’t write under a pseudonym
There are definitely arguments to using your real name (or your real initials) as a writer! Some reasons not to use a pseudonym are:
- You’re a non-fiction writer. If you’re an expert in a particular area, and you’re writing non-fiction based on that (such as a psychologist writing about self-help), people are going to be trusting you and your knowledge. You don’t want to cover up your expertise with a pen name.
- You want to see your name on a book cover. If this has always been a dream, using a pen name won’t give you this opportunity, and you might not feel that same excitement you’d get when seeing your own name on the cover.
- To make the most of your existing online presence. If you have any online presence at all – social media, a blog, etc – under your real name, that can have value when you publish. But if you write under a pseudonym, you’ll have to start over.
- It’s easy to slip up and make a mistake. You might accidentally use your real name – on emails or at events – just out of habit!
- It can complicate the submissions and contracts process. If you’re planning on submitting to agents, using a pseudonym can make this more complicated because you’ll need to make the agent aware of both names in the submission. And there may be extra steps to take with any contracts you need to sign.
Choosing whether or not to write under a pseudonym is a personal choice, and there really isn’t a correct answer – just a decision that’s right for you! I hope the lists above have given you some things to consider when making the choice yourself.
For more resources on writing and publishing, check out my resource library.