Let’s face it: Putting a book into the world can be a vulnerable thing. You’re putting your words…your story…your ideas…dare I say your heart, right out there.
And if you’re lucky and do your job right, people are going to read it! And judge it! And most frighteningly, write Amazon reviews about it! (Cue the horror music.)
Depending on who you are, this whole process lands on the stress spectrum somewhere between “nail-biting” and “unsurvivably terrifying.”
So what’s a would-be author to do? Based on what I hear from our editorial clients, seems like a lot of folks want to take the fear down a notch in one particular way.
I’m talking about finding a bright, shiny nom de plume.
A fancy French term for “pen name” or pseudonym, using a nom de plume means picking a name other than your own and slapping it on the front of your book. That way you can—the theory goes—write about all the things, without all the anxiety.
And to some degree that’s true. But going incognito when it comes to your book has its drawbacks as well. I want to set the record straight so you can make an informed decision about whether a pen name is the right choice for you. Read on to learn more!
The Allure of the Nom de Plume
Choosing a faux name for your public, writerly persona is a storied literary tradition. Remember George Eliot, Mark Twain and George Orwell? Yeah, not their real names. And recent bestsellers Elena Ferrante, Sophie Kinsella and E. L. James? They’ve all gone the pseudonymous route. So why have such talented authors made the choice to cloak their identities? What’s the draw toward writing a book undercover?
I thought you’d never ask. As it turns out, there are many varied and personal reasons why an author might choose to use a pen name.
Said reasons include:
- Having a legal name that is difficult to spell or pronounce
- Conversely, having a legal name that is so common as to be forgettable
- Having been beaten to the authorly punch by someone with the exact same name as you
- Wanting one’s writing to be taken more seriously than one’s gender allowed at the time (see: the lovely lady Georges—both Eliot and Sand)
- Changing genres, such as going from writing romance to writing suspense, and wanting to avoid confusing these readerships
- A desire to keep certain aspects of one’s life private
- A desire to hide one’s writing life from family, friends and colleagues
It’s those last two reasons that seem to carry the most weight among my authors. As you’ll see below, they are also the most problematic in today’s publishing atmosphere.
The Novelist and the Nom de Plume
Take another look at the pseudonymous authors I mentioned above. Now, ask yourself what they have in common. They—like the vast majority of authors who have successfully employed pen names—are primarily writers of fiction. Since I myself edit self-help and personal growth titles (and the majority of the readers of this blog are writing nonfiction) I wanted to highlight this point: It may be easier to write under a pen name if you’re writing fiction.
Why would this be? The difference has to do with why people read fiction versus nonfiction. Readers who love novels are open to, and perhaps even in search of, a certain type of escape. They are ready to be drawn into an imagined world in search of entertainment, pathos and heart-pounding adventure.
While we may be curious about the novelist who wrote a book we love, the fact is that the author’s persona, history, expertise and life circumstances are secondary to the quality of their story and their writing. The reading experience itself is the primary motivator for picking up the book, not the author. Thus it is easier to let the book stand on its own—without connecting a face to a name.
The Pseudonym and the Expert
But when it comes to nonfiction, the impulse for selecting one book over another goes beyond the reading experience. People pick up nonfiction in order to learn something true about the world. Even if you’re reading a memoir that reads like a novel, you relate to it differently because you know the story is factual.
This is why you rarely see writers of nonfiction cloaking their true identities. Nonfiction writers are teachers, speakers, academics, healers—in other words, experts. Their books are an extension of their actual work in the world. It feels important for us to know who they are and how they gathered their expertise. How else will you know whether to trust their instruction, their approach, their research or their opinions?
What’s more, in today’s online-influencer marketplace, most books are sold via some connection—real or perceived—between the reader and the author. Thought leaders need to be in front of the camera and at the top of the news feed. We want to know who an author is, in addition to what they know. We follow experts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, watch them on YouTube and IGTV, and listen to their podcasts on Stitcher and Apple Podcasts—and then, when they finally write a book, we’re the first in line to pre-order.
The Pros of Using a Pen Name
With so many folks coming to me asking (okay, begging) for my permission to use a pseudonym, you’d think it must be a really great thing. And not for nothing, there are a few good reasons why you might be hankering to keep your identity a secret, Superman-style. So for you Clark Kents out there, here are a handful of “pros” for keeping it incognito:
- Pro: You get to choose a name that’s more poetic, memorable and appropriate to your genre than your legal name. This is perhaps the most legit “pro” on the list. I often wonder what my grandma, Kyparisoula Notaras, would have done with such a mouthful of a name if she had wanted to be a writer. I enjoy imagining her writing steamy romance novels, set on the Greek isle of her youth, under the pen name “Katerina Nightkiss.” Somehow, it just works better.
- Pro: You can (theoretically) publish without your boss knowing you dream of quitting your job and becoming a writer. Lots of the authors we work with at KN Literary Arts are writers by night—meaning they have day jobs that have little in common with the subject of their book. Understandably, they want to ensure their assistant, cube-mate or supervisor never, ever lays eyes on their book. In this case, a pseudonym can provide a protective barrier.
- Pro: You can hold a book in your hand that contains the details of your life—without your family ever knowing about it. Authors who are writing about a broken childhood, messy divorce or saucy double life can use a nom de plume to keep their families in the dark. If your story is controversial and peace around the Thanksgiving dinner table is a priority, you may to want to explore this option.
So there you have it—three checks in the “pro” column. I must really be a fan of pseudonyms, right? Read on to see for yourself.
The Con of Using a Pen Name
Unfortunately, it’s my professional opinion that in all but the rarest of cases, the “con” of using a pen name far outweighs the pros. No, that’s not a typo—I wrote “con” instead of “cons” on purpose. Because there is really only one con to using a nom de plume, but it’s a heckuva big one if you want people to buy, and then read, your book:
Con: Hiding your identity makes it really hard to get the word out about your book.
Today’s publishing marketplace has simply become too highly dependent on personality and author-reader rapport-building for you to expect to sell copies of your book without marketing the heck out of it. The term “marketing” as I’m using it could mean any number of things, including but not limited to: Speaking engagements, social media posting, blogging, YouTubing, podcasting, book signings, pitching yourself to local media, launching online courses, hosting workshops and more. All of which require YOU—your face, your voice, your ideas, your stories, and the vulnerable truth of who you are—to be on full display.
How to Successfully Use a Nom de Plume
Truly, the only way I can see to be successful using a pseudonym in today’s publishing marketplace is to become someone new. To adopt, legally or just short of it, the nom de plume you want to use as your very own. To leave the old version of yourself behind and become the persona under which you’ll be writing.
One famous transformational nonfiction author who “became” her pen name was Louise Hay, the author of You Can Heal Your Life and founder of Hay House. Other famous nonfiction authors have made changes to their given names to make them more catchy—or common. For example, Dale Carnegie gave his name a facelift (he was born Dale Carnagey) and Zig Ziglar took on his childhood nickname (his legal name was Hilary Ziglar).
Of course, if your desire is to remain incognito, this become-your-pen-name strategy isn’t going to be much help. That cute face of yours will still be the one speaking at the writers’ conferences; the one we see on your YouTube channel; the one in the catalog advertising your upcoming retreat. Your family and colleagues will recognize you immediately. In other words, you’re not going to win the hiding game.
The Final Tally
When it comes down to it, here’s my advice: Don’t use a pen name if you can avoid it.
If you’re writing fiction and you have a really good reason to use a pen name, consider what you’ll do if and when your book really takes off. Will you dust off your acting degree, stepping fully into the faux persona of “Gloria Alpenglow” when you’re invited to speak on podcasts or at conferences? If so, you may find success.
If you just want to add a middle initial to differentiate yourself from an already famous author with your same name, or if you want to give your dull moniker a bit of bling by using a nickname, I say “why not?” Just prepare yourself to take on this alternative spelling in perpetuity.
But if you’re writing nonfiction, my professional advice is to do whatever you have to do to make the book something you can proudly claim as your own. If it takes imagining yourself publishing under a pen name to even write the book, then let your imagination run wild. But once you’re happy with your masterwork, consider what changes would be required for you to put your real name on the cover. What would you need to take out? What would you need to put in? What emotional adjustments would you have to make? What beliefs about yourself, your deservingness, your talent or your sense of belonging would you have to revise in order to stand up in front of the world as the author you have become, giving the gift of your experience and expertise to the world in the form of a book with your own name on the cover?
Then do that work. Do it until you’re ready to claim your new identity as an author, a teacher and a thought leader. Until the fear of exposure quiets to a whisper, and you find yourself driven in your desire to find readers, sell books and change lives for the better. In other words, until you’re ready to take a deep breath, gather your courage, and step into the spotlight as . . . yourself.
72 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Using a Pen Name”
Hi Kelly. It’s Interesting. Thank you very much.
I don’t know if my name is appealing enough to be presented to a global audience. I’m writing a non fiction book. Should I adopt a simpler name and build my online persona around it?
I have a pen/public name but I already started using it back in 2006. I took it on for privacy reasons and because it’s my spiritual name. All my social media, my website, podcast interviews, and anything else you can find about me online is in this name. I really only use my legal last name for legal purposes and most of my friends don’t even know it.
Exactly, Yamile! This is the way to go if you want to use a pen name… Use it in all public communications and “become” this persona as you build your platform. Good job!
I’m planning on writing a book but I’m having a hard time deciding whether to use a pen name or not. The reasons why are because of privacy (anxious that my book would be a failure) and also my name is hard to spell and pronounce. Any advice?
I would say not to worry so much about whether your name is hard to spell or pronounce. Fear of failure is something we all experience—but know that you will have to be out there promoting your book in order for it to be a success. You will have to lean into that fear—so I say, use your name and be proud of what you have to share!
That is an advantage of a pen name. If the novel does poorly, you can distance yourself from it.
When thinking of a pen name, you should strive to have a name that the reader would be comfortable with. If you have one that is hard to pronounce, then it will be hard for them to jive with you. Also, if there is word-of-mouth, mispronounciations may prove problematic.
I am in a profession that honors client/professional privileged communication. Some of the scenes in my first novel are based loosely on situations my clients have experienced. Also I have been semi-stalked by one of my clients in the past. I’m concerned about being sued about breaching confidentiality even though i have changed situations and characters, some might be identifiable. So I’m thinking I should possibly use a pen name for that kind of protection. But I am concerned that it will decrease my marketability, if I should be so lucky as to get published. Thanks for your help pS I don’t even have a website due to this situation.
Hi Faila! I get it–it sounds like you have very good reason to be uncomfortable coming out “as yourself.” For starters, I highly recommend getting a legal read on your draft manuscript before you publish. You can point out to the lawyer what scenes are based on reality, and how you changed the characters so they are not identifiable. The lawyer will be able to tell you if you need to take further steps in order to protect yourself. Where stalking is concerned, there really isn’t that much you can do if you’re putting yourself out there as a writer. You will NEED to garner attention for yourself in order to sell your book. While fiction is slightly easier than nonfiction where pen names are concerned, it’s still going to be hard to promote your book without becoming a public figure. If it’s any consolation (which it may not be) many authors have to deal with these same issues, and they make it through. Best of luck to you! ~Kelly
This is something I have often thought about as I am in a similar field. As the other poster mentioned you should get a legal review. But on your part, understand that people are not as unique as they think they are. The stories you have probably match quite a few people. So generalizing certain aspects will help. Even if you don’t, make it seem like you help clients all over the country. Try not to give any specific information regarding location, such as city, state or unique part of town. Thinking about each story, what really matters and what is incidental. Changing gender, age, race, sexual orientation, well almost anything that doesn’t effect the story. This will help. Because the truth is even if you never saw a single client and completely made the whole thing there would be someone claiming you stole their life story.
Hi Kelly, I want to start off by saying this was a wonderful article that got straight to the point. Thank you so much for this!
I’ve been battling using a pen name for years because my day job is in a highly regulated industry where I often travel to work with big Pharma clients.
Although everyone in my world, including work, knows I’m a writer solely through my poetry, only recently have I worried about my real name being associated with a blog/newsletter I’m creating on Lesbian Dating/Relationships that have gone terribly wrong.
My goal is to write these creative essays in satirical/ dark comedy, but my fear is that anything involving dating and relationships often leads to sex at some point. And I don’t want to limit my writing by avoiding the topic.
Using my pen name would only be for clients caring to “google” me under my real name. But I want the rest of my world to know that it’s me as I honestly have nothing to hide.
What do you suggest? If I use a pen name only for the blog/newsletter, how can I tie both names together without having separate websites, social media and etc for both?
Thank you for sharing your question! You pose an excellent question. If you would like, we would like to get you scheduled for a free consultation with one of our lovely match makers! They will be able to assist you and help you with your writing journey.
I am publishing a childs book and I am wondering if I should find a name that they would remember.
Thank you for your comment. Kids don’t necessarily need to know or remember the name of the author as it’s the parents who buy books. Our suggestion is to use your own name as that makes the audience-building process much easier.
I’m having trouble deciding if I should use my real name or not (writing mostly horror/thriller and science fiction). I am indecisive due to my employment and the self-branding that I have already done with my real name in the marketing/advertising industry. I have my regular job as well as my freelancing which is in my real name and uses firstnamelastname(dot)com for my website. I’d prefer to use my real name as it’s a pretty cool, unique name (so people say), but would it be a lot of confusion to bring another, unrelated, skill into my self-branding? I’ve thought about using my middle name as the first, but that is already taken by a convicted cult leader lol.
In your particular case, we would ask you to think of the longer term, what you would like for your career. If you are committed to becoming a well-known writer of fiction, we would suggest you take the leap and use your own name. If you choose to use a pen name now, and you want to build an audience for your fiction, you’ll have to adopt the pen name as your public persona at some point. Why not make it easier and use your own name now?
Hey, I love your article. I’m looking to publish my first book on fitness. I have hired a fitness expert and trainer for this and I want to publish this based off of his own personal experiences and use a pen name. Is this a bad idea? I am a medical student though and I hope to someday be able to add my name as a co-author or something if that works. I’m confused here.
Thanks for comment. We’re not totally sure what you’re asking here, but if you’d like to find out more about how we can help, and talk to one of our editors please schedule a call (free, no obligation) at this link: https://knliterary.com/schedule/.
A sociopath was in my life in the past (a relative, but not an ex). We’ve had zero communication for 7 years, but I’m thinking of using a pen name so that he is unaware of my book. I know that if he became aware, he’d might look for ways to sabotage it (such as getting his 4chan friends to leave bad reviews, etc). Do you think this is a good idea or are there other ways for me to deal with his b.s.?
Great question, thanks for posting! The thing is, if you have any people in common he will hear about the book one way or the other, regardless of whether or not you use a pen name. Also, even if you use a pen name, you will need to put yourself out there to get the word out about the book. We recommend that you talk to a publishing lawyer about your options, but as long you don’t think you’ll be putting yourself in physical harm, we recommend you go forward with your story bravely.
I would like your opinion, please. I am writing a serious fiction novel with murders and torments. I also (for whatever notion) just created a children’s book I am considering for a series. I really would rather the two paths did not cross. The novel will have my real name, but would putting my name on the kids books make it difficult to sell? I don’t think I would buy a kids book written by Stephen King or Clive Barker. (you get the idea.)
Thanks for your question Kim. If this ends up being an issue that would be a really good problem to have! But it is not unprecedented for an author whose adult books are inappropriate for children to change their author name for the children’s books. The most prominent example is an author named Daniel Handler, who wrote the series “A Series of Unfortunate Events” for children under the pen name Lemony Snicket.
I have written a fiction (romance) novel but my next project that I’d like to work on is nonfiction, self-help/medical book. I am considering a pen name for the fiction so that it would be less confusing later. Your advice?
Romance is the genre most often associated with pen names in contemporary publishing. As long as you’re comfortable creating and maintaining social media and websites for both names, and marketing both the books to their respective audiences with a lot of energy, attention and investment, you could theoretically do both!
I have an “own voice” conundrum.
I’ve written a story about a slave in 1795. It is based on a real event–my intimate connection is described below. Dare I say that the pitch, story and writing are all really good — yet it’s getting rejected.
I’ve been advised that the rejections are due to me being a pale face, which precludes me from writing about a slave’s protagonist.
The logical solution, to me then, is to apply a pseudonym that plants me in the right group. The story can then at least stand on its merits.
Would you suggest this is a reasonable path to take?
Here’s my very intimate involvement:
This 1795 novel was impelled by my mid-1980s Scuba-diving discovery of an uncharted shipwreck. In 2014 the Smithsonian of Washington DC identified my find—and it began to haunt me.
I’d unwittingly stumbled upon the first and only fully-laden slaver in history to wreck, and later be found. Suddenly, the cannon, cannonballs, earthenware once held to lips, and crumbling corroded iron ‘horse stirrups’ I’d recovered to my garage, suddenly struck a new and sinister percussion within my being. I’d been diving in a paradise setting, but it was a graveyard for 200-souls.
Those were not horse stirrups at all. They were leg-irons. Manacles! I was the first person to touch them since their victim. The realization was daunting. The victims begged to have their story told.
Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing a bit about your project! Hearing all of this, we suggest you write a memoir rather than a novel. How was this discovery made, and how has this discovery impacted your life? Memoir is actually a lot easier to sell than fiction, and with such a powerful real-life story we think the opportunity is in writing it as narrative nonfiction versus fiction.
I was thinking of using a pen name just because I am a substitute teacher and I write murder mystery and thriller. I am worried the school wouldn’t be real thrilled if I used my real name. Am I right in thinking about using a different name? I was thinking D.C. Reigns.
Great question! It is not unprecedented for an author whose adult books are inappropriate for children to change their children’s book author name. The most prominent example is an author named Daniel Handler, who wrote the series “A Series of Unfortunate Events” for children under the pen name Lemony Snicket. This same advice would apply to you since you’re in a career of working with children. That said, reaching readers as a new author is challenging and requires that you put yourself out there. So you’ll need to be prepared to show up on your website, on social media, on Goodreads and possibly at live readings as D.C. Reigns. In other words, there is still a chance that you will be recognized by one of your students or their parent—so be prepared!
I’m divorced and considering writing and publishing with my legal name. If I remarry and change my name, do you foresee any problems with publishing under both names? What do you think about just using my maiden name- even though it’s not my legal name?
If you have plans for multiple books in the future, our suggestion is to choose a name now that you will be good with using in perpetuity. Once you have established a brand for yourself, it is in your best interest to maintain that brand. If that means using your maiden name, great. There is no requirement that the name you use to brand yourself has to be your legal name.
Hi, I have a question. I am a child and am writing a book (the genre is not quite at my age level) I am wondering if, should I ever publish it in the future, I should use a pen name, mainly for privacy reasons and because I am still going to school and don’t want teachers or students treating me differently. But, at the same time, I want people to know that I wrote that, considering I have spent the past three years on it. Thanks 🙂
We can see your point, but because you’re a child we will need to defer to your parents and suggest that you follow their advice!
Hi Kelly, first of all… Great piece… It certainly gives you food for thought deciding between the two.
My predicament is that I am Co-writing a screenplay with a friend. Seeing that it’s an incredibly hard and lengthy process to eventually get it on screen, we are getting a ghost writer to create a novel based on the screenplay(fiction btw). I presume a PN would be the logical solution here as having mine and my friends name wouldn’t sit or sound correct. Also we don’t try to pretend we are authors of novels. The ghost writer could not use their name as she publishes her own varying material. Therefore it would be confusing. Would my theory be correct regarding a PN? Thanks in advance.
Hi Lee, thank you for your question! This is an interesting predicament. We would advise you to schedule a free consultation with one of our matchmakers, as they will be able to guide you in your writing process.
Thank you for writing this. I am currently working on a romance and am wanting to use a PN becuase I also have an academic career and feel these two should be kept separate. This has helped a lot on how to maneuver through this whole thing.
Thanks for your comment. We are happy this was helpful!
Thank you for this article. It helps provide some insite into this but it leaves me more confused more unsure if I want to use a pen name or not. I want to publish fiction and center on paranormal fantasy stuff. My reasons for wanting to use a pen name is cause I like my privacy. But also some of the stuff I want to write about can cause issues for me. So I’m unsure what to do.
Hi Kat, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Deciding whether to use a PN or not is ultimately personal preference. If you want to protect your privacy, we would recommend using a PN. If you want your audience to know who you are and be able to connect with you more closely, we suggest using your name!
If you have any additional questions about the writing process and determining whether to use a PN or not, we invite you to schedule a free consultation with one of our matchmakers!
I am considering using a pen name for my works of fiction because I have a criminal record – a lone but embarrassing misdemeanor. As you noted, most successful writers must become successful marketers. If I were to use my real name and that wayward chapter of my life ever came up, I would refuse to discuss it, but I’m sure there would be some who would try to make an issue of it.
What would you recommend?
This can be a tough – and personal decision, and one you want to think through thoroughly. I hope some of these pros and cons resonated with you. I can’t really weigh in on your situation, but I would encourage you to think of your life experiences – both positive and negative – as the things that have made you into the wonderful person you are today!
I am writing an adult romance. The book will have some sex scenes. I will go into the sexual experiences. I want to use a pen name, due to the fact of my religion. I am human and have a life outside of my religion but I don’t want to offend anyone. I’m not to worried about my family( husband mother and sisters) they know me and my love of writing. But my church associates I never shared that part of me with them. I would like your opinion.
This can be a tough – and personal decision, and one you want to think through thoroughly. I hope some of these pros and cons resonated with you.
Hello! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Ultimately, deciding on whether to use a pen name or your actual name is a personal choice. If you want to avoid potential criticism from your church associates, we would recommend using a pen name; however, if you want to use your own name, understand that you cannot please everyone, this is a part of life!
If you have any additional questions about your writing process, we encourage you to schedule a free consultation with one of our lovely matchmakers:
Hi I am a church girl and wrote romance book with sex scenes. So considering using a pen name cause I’m afraid of being judged by my choir people and other church members.I have already put the pen name but considering changing back to my real name. What do you advice?
Hi Glory, thank you for your question! Ultimately, it is a personal preference — deciding whether to use a pen name or your own name. If you are concerned about individuals from your church, we would suggest using a pen name.
If you have any additional questions, we invite you to schedule a free consultation with one of our lovely matchmakers!
This question may sound silly but do authors using a pen name ever reveal their real name in the book say in an introduction or epilogue? Do they put a picture of themselves on the back cover of the book? Thanks for your time.
Thank you for your question! There are instances where individuals use a pen name and then proceed to reveal their name within their writing. Additionally, there are also times where authors using pen names place a picture of themselves on the cover of their book! For example, Daniel Handley (Lemony Snicket) is a well-known author. He has pictures of himself on the back cover of his childrens’ books, however, his face is always slightly hidden.
I am in the middle of writing a book about all my traumas and living with ptsd & DID. I want to use a pen name so none of my family members know it’s my work. I like the idea of starting to use my pen name in all social media/communication. But what does one do about pictures? Would i block family from my social media?
Thank you for taking the time to share your question with us! Ultimately, using a pen name is a personal choice. If you would like to use a pen name in your social media/communication as well as want to hide your pictures, we suggest that you hide your posts from your family (if you search on Google, there is a way to allow your followers to continue following you but also allow your posts to be hidden).
Should you have any additional questions about the writing process, please consider scheduling a free consultation with one of our lovely matchmakers!
Are you able to address cultural aspects of “Nom de Plume”? I am trying to write something which addresses issues in a culture (Oriental) which is not my own (American). Do other cultures view pen names as acceptable for writers?
Hi Daniel, these are great questions that you are posing. We invite you to schedule a free consultation with one of our amazing matchmakers, as they will be able to guide you.
I started in zine culture where a lot of ziners used a “zine name” i.e. one made up for their zine. Many would simply make their last name the title of their zine, like if their zine was called Tonsil, they might call themselves John Tonsil. I kept my college radio DJ name, Craven Rock, for my zine and have applied it to my writing ever since. I do go by it and own it. Most people I know professionally only know me as Craven Rock. I wrote a book that was journalism, got it published on a pretty big indie only to find out when pitching an article that you can’t use a pen name with journalism most of the time. This is frustrating. I built a name for myself under this moniker. It’s not even really a pen name as everything I’ve done professionally has been under this name.
You talk about taking the name one as your actual name, well, I’ve done that. I’ve read in bookstores as Craven. I have online interviews as Craven. My publisher only knows me as Craven. It’s a silly sounding name, but I had no one to advise me not to use it, because I had no teachers and never went to school. As I try to continue doing journalism, is this going to bite me in the butt? It’s connected to my work. I can’t change it. The only recourse can’t just be to start all over using my birthname. Do you have any advice here?
Anyway, thank you for your article and your time.
Hi there, thank you for your question! There are pros and cons to using a pen name and using your own name. Ultimately, the name that you use in your writing is a personal choice. Happy writing!
Thanks for an informative article. I have written one fiction book which is in the process of getting published. My next book is going to combine elements of non-fiction ( historic events) with a faction narrative. parts of the historic events are controversial to the point of being a lightening rod. I have chosen to adopt the nom de plume right out the gate to be able to control the amount of personal exposure. Better, in my opinion, to begin with a nom de plume and chose to discard it later, than to have to write under a separate name later under difficult circumstances.
Hi George, writing a book is a huge accomplishment, congratulations! You provide excellent insight. Beginning with a nom de plume can definitely be beneficial in the writing process. Wishing you all the best in your writing endeavors!
Hi, thanks for this article!
I am struggling with the idea of whether to use a pen name. I am a licensed psychotherapist and self disclosure must be done carefully as it can impact the therapeutic relationship. But I want to write freely. I want to write creatively and about things personal to me. I currently have no social media (my choice, I know other therapists do), I just have a professional website. I wonder if you would agree that it makes sense for me to adopt a pen-name for now to give myself the freedom to write without impacting my clients or my work?
Thanks for your feedback.
Thank you for your question! If you want to write freely without impacting your clients as well as your work, I would suggest using a pen-name, at least for now. In the future, maybe if you do decide to utilize social media, I suggest using your real name. Of course, these are simply my suggestions, and I recommend doing what is best for you.
This just makes me depressed that I’ll never write the book I dream of writing.
The book I dream of writing someday is my own story of experiencing abuse by my sister. She and I have made up and are close now. I could never, ever hurt her by having her name attached to her past misdeeds. Additionally, I could never do that to my parents. It would break their hearts to know that had happened to me.
The only option I see if I write it is to use a pen name.
If you’re curious why I want to write it, I think it’s a topic that needs a lot more awareness. I think other survivors need to hear that they’re not alone. And parents need to know it could happen to their kids if they aren’t careful. People who work with children/youth need to be aware that it could happen to the kids they know.
But none of that is enough to bring me to hurt my family.
Bringing your story into the world is a very admirable act, especially as you want to bring more awareness to your topic into light. I think that using a pen name to avoid hurting your family is a good idea, but ultimately, it is your decision. We, at KN Literary, wish you all the best in your writing journey. Please know that we are standing behind you and believe in you!
Hi! Thank you so much for this article!
Personally, I’m thinking to go with a simple pen name (similar to mine), because I’ve written a teen fiction novel, and I don’t exactly want people to know about it.
I’ve thought about it, made a list of pros and cons, and I’d really like to have your opinion about it. I was thinking to keep my identity secret but in a more elaborate way than just my name; I want to be a completely different person.
I know it sounds weird, but I’m planning to wear a costume during conferences and signature sessions (I don’t know how you said that in English, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about).
I’ve talked about this with some persons, and it could be a really good marketing strategy, even if it sounds weird.
There were other popular writers that had done the same thing, and it could be a really good strategy, principally with teens.
I’m not 100% sure yet, but let me know what you think about that!
Thank you so much for reading! Personally, I think that is a wonderful idea! I think that having an elaborate way to mask your identity is a lovely take on using a pen name. I like your idea of also masking yourself in person — it adds a flare of mystery!
I wish you all the best on your writing journey!
first off I wanted to say that this post was very helpful and it definitely gave me a few things to think about!
I wanted to ask though, I’m an Egyptian and of course my name reflects that, I’m very passionate about writing and would love to explore the field as a young writer but I fear that my name may bring criticism, racism and even terrorism!
The internet is a place full of people who would jump at the chance to being everyone down with them and that’s my biggest concern, I’m afraid that my book is gonna flop simply because of my name, I would like to mention though that I’m a fiction writer and as you said in the post, “readers want to be in touch with what they’re reading with the author being second on their mind.”
So where does that leave me? If I want to start marketing for my books and build an author/reader relation with my readers, will they criticize me for my work or celebrate it with me? Or will they simply ignore my words and focus on my race? I know I’m asking a lot but I was hoping a person of more experience could help me out and if you don’t have the answer that’s fine. I’m willing to take that step anyway and I’m not as worried about my privacy but I was hoping to find out if that would affect any of my marketing efforts in the future or would it not be a problem and I’m just overthinking?
Thank you for your time!!!
Hi there, your article was quite detailed and thought inducing. I’ve just finished writing my first romance and was inclining to opt for a PN. So, I wanted to know what you meant by ‘taking on the persona’ of one’s pen name. In my case, I am not quite worried about some of the people knowing my identity but there are a few people whom I don’t want to know about my writing spree immediately. So, in that case if I take on a pen name do I really have to take on a different persona as well? or can I keep my persona same as the real me and just delay some people recognizing it’s me by just using a pen name.
This is a great question! There are so many ways to take on a persona if this is the path you choose. For one, it’s easy to do it in the social media realm. You can create handles in places like Twitter or Instagram of your pen name and create posts in the persona’s style. This is your chance to be theatrical! Imagine showing up to your romance book signing with your hair styled and an outfit completely done up in red velvet. Now that’s a character! Creating a new persona allows you to play and have fun while bringing attention to your work. There are so many ways you can get creative with it!
Hi and thanks so much for the informative article!
I want to write a book about being autistic and finding my place in life. I found it through polyamory and sex-positive environments. Aside from the fact that our sex lives (I’m married) would be out for everyone to see, my husband is concerned about stalkers, as I have a very unique name. Just my first name and city would give away who I am. I’m already out with my full name as poly due to a project I participated in, but this would be a lot more juicy. Aside from that interview, which has no contact info, I don’t exist on search engines. I mean, I am on Facebook, but it doesn’t show up on search engines and only friends of friends can message me, but I can also change my name there, as many of my friends have, and eventually have a separate Public Persona profile for publicizing the book. My name is not on the phone book either. I don’t have the same last name as my husband, so his privacy is a bit less of an issue, and I have been a housewife for fourteen years, live in a major, extremely liberal European city, and don’t expect to have to work ever again. So the major concern for me would be stalkers. Has anyone had any experience with that? Thanks in advance and good luck to you all with your writing!
Sounds like the use of a pen name is exactly what you’re looking for! Lots of people use pen names to hide their identity for numerous reasons. If you are concerned about personal safety, then publishing under a different name is the way to go. Plus, it’s easy to set up your platform and social media channels under your pen name as well, if that’s the route you choose to take. Thanks for commenting!
Thanks for your reply, Anna! I would prefer to use my real name, as I have a lot of connections. I have never been stalked, and it’s not like people like me are unique in the city I live in (tons of swinger clubs and what not here), so I don’t know that I would get stalkers, but I also don’t know that I wouldn’t. I guess I was wondering if anyone who has used their real name has ended up with that problem?
I understand both the want to use your real name and the need for privacy. With a light internet search, I did find stories of stalking, but most of them were high-profile authors (like Stephen King.) Our experienced book coaches would be better informed on the matter, but ultimately the decision would be yours to make.
Fantastic information. Thanks so much. My question is about writing a proposal to publishers/agents.
In the “About the Author” section of the proposal, do you write about the real you with your real name? Or do you “create” a persona to reflect your pen name? If using a real photo of yourself in the proposal, can you then use a different photo for the book where you have “disguised” yourself?
Thanks for your question, Vicky! This really will depend on the situation and what the author is comfortable with. Some people use a pen name because using their real name could put them in danger. Others do it for fun to highlight a different persona. You could leave off the author photo and write a fictitious backstory for your pen name’s character! This is a question our book coaches could help answer, as they’ll be more familiar with the project and the desired outcome.
I really appreciate this article. It had the best collection of pros and cons I’ve found so far.
I’m a domestic violence survivor, and plan to become a life coach, podcaster, and author in that field (as well as healthy communication).
I don’t plan to dwell on my experiences growing up much (half my family is gone…my brothers probably won’t care), nor what I went through in my marriage. But I’d like to create a layer between my married name to give my former husband and kids a layer of privacy. (He’s not a safety concern and we’ve reached a decent detente.)
I currently use my married name; my maiden name was problematic for a number of reasons, so I didn’t revert to it after the divorce. However, I REALLY don’t want to keep using my married name.
My thought was to go ahead and change my name legally to something I prefer (using a last name from farther back in my family tree), then use that for everything. I don’t have any social media or websites under my current name.
Thank you so much, Cara! It sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this and have come up with a solution that will work best for you. We’re so glad that you’re going to share your story with the world 💛