Once in a while I’ll hear somebody ask this question. Many writers prefer publishing under their real names, taking full credit and full responsibility for what they spent so much time creating. And that makes a lot of sense!
But there are many good reasons to use a pen name, and here are a few of them. If you’re deciding whether or not to use a nom de plume, it may be food for thought.
- Someone pretty famous already has your name.
This is my story. I always intended to publish under my real name. But right before I signed my first book contract, I thought, “You know, I should Google my name just to see what comes up.”
It turns out that I share my legal name with a porn star who was very popular a while back. Since I was publishing a steamy romance, I felt like people might think she was me.
It’s funny, because I take the longest time coming up with names for my characters, but I settled on “Bryn Donovan” after about one minute of consideration.
One of my favorite songs, “Bryn” by Vampire Weekend, inspired it. So now it’s my theme song! I even use it as a ringtone sometimes – it’s perfect for that.
- You want to own Google and Amazon searches.
This can be related to #1. However, just having a common name can keep you from coming up to the top of a Google search, and from being the only author on Amazon with that name.
- Your gender is a marketing liability.
If you’re a woman who’s writing a bunch of thrillers with a male lead, a la Ludlum’s Jason Bourne books, it’s going to be harder to get guys to read them if you publish under an obviously female name.
Conversely, if you’re a man who’s writing genre romance intended for a predominantly female audience, your male name is going to be terrible for sales.
- Your name isn’t that marketable, period.
Some names are difficult to spell or pronounce. Others aren’t a tonal match with the kind of writing the author does. If you have a very old-fashioned name, for example, you might want something sleeker for your hard scifi novel.
- You just don’t like your real name.
Lots of people feel this way about their names! Publishing (or blogging, for that matter) can be an opportunity to pick out your dream name.
- You write more than one genre.
Many writers use one pen name per genre so that they don’t dilute their brand. It makes sense: the people who love your horror novels may have no interest in your sweet young adult novels, and vice versa.
- You have professional or personal reasons for distancing yourself from your work.
A kindergarten teacher or a minister, for example, is unlikely to want parents or parishioners to know that she’s writing and publishing erotica in her spare time.
A lawyer who writes novels about law offices in his spare time might want to keep that secret so that people will still trust him.
A private person might just want to avoid having people talk to him about his work.
Many people are under the false impression that using a pen name makes taxes complicated. It doesn’t at all, at least in the United States.
You don’t have to form an S Corp or an LLC to use a pen name. Royalties get paid to your real name, and you claim them like any other income. Your pen name doesn’t even figure into it.
Whether you choose to use a nom de plume or not is your personal choice, and nobody else has a right to judge.
Do you use a pen name? Or if you’re publishing in the future, do you intend to? If so, how did you come up with your name? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments. Happy writing!