Pen Names for Authors: Why do authors use pen names?
Do you want a barrier between your author life and your personal life?
If your book takes off and was very successful, anonymity could be a safety issue and offer you a bit of privacy. Do you want your child’s teacher, your local grocery store cashier, and your doctor reading your books? Maybe you’d love that bit of fame, but not everybody would.
It’s a personal question. Everybody has different boundaries. What are yours? It’s important to consider this when you’re thinking of publishing a book. Don’t just think about today, think about five years from now.
Ask yourself — how much privacy do you want or need in your personal life? Do you have children? Do you write fiction or non-fiction? Non-fiction is different and often times you need to put your name out there, when you’re seeking publicity. But what if you write steamy romance?
Do you write in more than one genre?
Here’s something to consider. Now, as a beginning writer, you might not be thinking this far ahead. That’s why earlier I mentioned thinking five years from now. You’d be surprised how many authors I know that get bored of writing the same thing all the time. They’ll create another pen name, and write in a new genre to mix things up creatively.
What about you? What about your pen name? This may or may not be something to consider based on the chosen genres. I have a non-fiction text for students and don’t promote my romance or mysteries to them. I’d prefer to keep my professional name and other pen names separate. It simply makes sense.
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Another thing to consider when writing in multiple genres… there is less crossover than you think. Many people will follow a person’s voice, and read across genres, but most will stick with the type of book that they like.
“I’m a mystery reader. I prefer fun, lighthearted mysteries.” That doesn’t mean they haven’t ever read a horror book or a historical romance, but most readers seek out a certain type of book.
Another part of the equation when you publish on Amazon is your “also-boughts.” If you haven’t heard this phrase, it’s the line of books that were also viewed or bought when people were looking for similar books.
If you write in multiple genres, and your family buys everything you write, your also-boughts get muddied. Those also-boughts are signals to Amazon and helps get the right readers to your book.
Don’t Confuse your Readers
Reader confusion is another reason to consider multiple pen names. Say reader A has just finished reading your sweet, cozy mystery with a little, old lady protagonist and sees you also wrote another book. She loved this cozy mystery because she reads clean books without foul language and doesn’t want to see naughty bits in her stories. Your second book is a steamy romance, but maybe your reader assumes your writing will be the same. Big mistake. You can lose that reader!
I know, I know. The blurb… (sigh) You can write in big, neon letters – THIS BOOK CONTAINS – and in your reviews you might still find someone writing, I liked this book, but it contained THIS TOPIC and I don’t like those things. I won’t read this author again.
It sounds simple enough, but it’s something that you’ll see in reviews over and over. Take my word on this.
Do you write something risqué that may cause an issue with your profession?
Are you an elementary school teacher? Do you write spicy books on the side? No judgement here… but, you might want a buffer. What about church? How would you feel if some of the more conservative members in your congregation found out that you didn’t write wholesome topics?
What happens when student A’s mother finds out and has a strong opinion about their child’s teacher writing a smoking hot book? SAD FACT: People can be very judgmental — even over fictional words in a story. Read that last sentence again. Yes, even over the smallest of things.
Other questions to consider:
Are you writing about a controversial topic… one that causes people to react strongly? Politically? About faith? You’d be surprised how quickly friends and acquaintances can react to these types of topics.
Look at how some communities don’t approve of Harry Potter books because of magic. It’s a fictional world. Pretend. Made-up. Still, there are people who take issue with this. That’s their right. It’s not your job as an author to tell your reader what to read. They get to choose. Knowing your audience is key.
Everybody has an opinion and many feel that you’re entitled to hear them rant about it to you, and they are surprised you would write such a thing… a pretend, make-believe thing…in a fiction book. Yep. Reality bites.
Do you have a difficult name to say, spell, or remember?
What’s easier to spell, find, or remember: Trixie Bellford or Trixie Bellfowlandiaski? You want people to know your name and be able to spell or find said name when they’re looking for it.
Picture this scenario. “I read the best book, Betty. You absolutely have to read it. You’ll adore it. I couldn’t put it down. It’s by… You know, I don’t even know how to say her name. It’s something that starts with a B… I’ll try to remember it later and get back to you with the information.”
Or would you rather they can pull your easy to remember and recognize name out when they need it. “Have you read this book by Trixie Bellford? It was amazing!”
Is there another writer with the same name? Would it cause confusion?
This is tricky. It’s not that you can’t use it, but do you want to? Maybe you write inspirational romance, but the other Jane Your-Name-Author writes creepy horror. Will people think you’re writing both?
It’s fine if you write both, but if you don’t, it may cause reader confusion. Remember, you’re a brand, not simply a writer. You want people to know who you are and what you write simply and easily.
Here’s a bonus tip:
Make sure that your chosen pen name is available as a domain (preferably .com) and on social media sites. Yes, you can choose another domain ending like .net, but do you want to? Most people automatically will think .com. It’s the standard.
If you’re determined to use a specific name and the .com is not available, the next option I’d suggest is to tack the word “books” at the end, or maybe add “Author” or “Writer” at the beginning.
Example: YourPenNameBooks .com or AuthorYourPenName .com
I’d also suggest avoiding hyphens. The simplest, closest match you can get to your name is your best choice. If it’s taken, consider another.
Brainstorm a list of similar names. Say you like the name Julie Golden (quick, random made-up name) and it’s taken, try Julia Golden, or Juliette Golden. Maybe Julie Gold is available, or Julia Gold. You see what I’m doing here. Play with names if you’re drawn to a specific choice.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using your real name. You can also use versions of your first and middle name or your middle and last name. Or initials.
What I’d suggest doing is consider where you hope to be five years from now. Will you have wished you used a pen name when you have multiple books out? If you write in many genres? If you’re raising kids and want some privacy? If you don’t want Mom finding your book, because you’d “die of embarrassment” if she read your steamy scenes in a romance?
I know many authors who use their real names, and many who have chosen pen names. There is no right or wrong answer here. I’d simply suggest thinking about the future, and not just about the here and now.
Are you looking for more writing tips for beginners?
What Wikipedia says about pen names.