Questions Asked in Writing Groups: Should I Write Under a Pen Name?

Many new writers ask, “Should I write under a pen name?” That is an excellent question but there is a time when you should be asking it and it isn’t when you’re still on a rough draft. Gentle writer, prioritize. If you don’t have a finished story, focus on completing it. Daydream about it. Make that story your priority. If you do have a story ready for submission to a magazine, or a novel ready to query agents, or publish on Amazon or Wattpad (or wherever) then yes, it is time to consider your options regarding who gets the credit for your work.

Here are some reasons why you should use a pen name: 

  1. You want to keep your private and professional life separate.  I don’t mean to use a pen name as a shield after you’ve written incendiary material that could cause harm. I’m talking about erotica, romance, kink or anything else that gets the panties of prudish people in a bunch. If your art can get you fired or kicked off the PTSA, go ahead and use a pen name. 
  2. You dabble in different genres. Some of the really big names in the publishing industry can switch between science fiction, fantasy, horror, and nonfiction. Indie authors are building a brand. Even traditionally published authors use pen names if they want to rebrand and know their audience for their space westerns might not be into their sweet romance novel or cozy mystery.
  3. You share a name with an already famous author.  As much as it would be awesome to ride the wind meant for someone else’s sails (or sales), you might want to delineate yourself from them. You never know when they might make a public statement that is completely opposite from your point of view and now you’re receiving hate mail and your books are burned in protest. 
  4. Your last name is associated with something negative. I know a writer who will go by her maiden name when she publishes simply because her last name is associated with Nazi Germany. Given she is a sweetheart and progressive as heck, you can guess why she wouldn’t want that association in anyone’s head.
  5. You’re self-publishing but plan to traditionally publish. Why? Because if you don’t make good sales numbers as a self-published author, then you’re going to have a hard time finding an agent or an editor that is willing to take a risk on your work. If you do have good sales numbers, then you can always prove that it you’ve written under the pen name.  

Here are some reasons why you should not use a pen name:

  1. You’ve worked hard, have a positive message, and should get the credit. If your art represents your beliefs, stand behind them.
  2. You’ve established a fanbase that will follow you to the depths of hell…Or, at least, read anything written by you no matter how different it is from your other work. If you’re not changing your style completely, and your sales numbers are good, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t take your fans along with you other than a contract. (If you’re that good, I doubt you’re reading this article.)

Whatever you choose, do it for the right reasons. Please feel free to post in the comments if you write under a pen name. I do.

Comment Section

    • As creative thinkers, writers love to come up with ideas and daydream. But, if you’re serious about putting your work out there, putting those things aside and focusing on writing well-crafted stories is where writers should be placing that creative energy.

  • You present excellent reasons for or against a pen name. It gives us something to think about. Maybe have another post on how to choose a pen name. Male or female? A certain name for a certain genre? That would be an interesting post too.

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