There’s one question we get a lot during the #AskaMuse tweets:
Should I use a pen name?
In all honesty, it’s a very personal decision with no right or wrong answers. It’s all to how you want to run your writing career. We can give you tips to make your decision easier.
When might you want to use a pen name?
Are you writing in different genres? Even if you make your pen name known, it can be easier for readers to relate one name to a particular brand of books. Nora Roberts uses this technique using the softer name for her romance and the harder J.D. Robb for action/thrillers.
Do you work in a career that might not warm up to your writing style? If you’re a teacher, pay particular attention here. Or just google “teacher fired for writing book”. You might see more results than you’d expect. If your students (or their family) might google your name, you may want to make sure nothing too racy for an under eighteen crowd is linked to it.
Note: Even if you do use a pen name, make sure you register your website privately unlike this teacher. Depending on your domain name registrar, this may be an extra charge. It’s worth it.
Would you feel safer if your name wasn’t out there? Many authors use their first and middle names (or their maiden name for women) as a way to protect themselves further.
Are you a woman writing in a male centric genre? Or vice versa? As awful as it sounds, studies prove that female authors writing specific genres are judged harder. If you’re eying the genres of thriller, (adult) horror, or even young adult literature with a male main character, a soft and flowing name might make it more difficult for you. (We’re looking at you, J. K. Rowling!) The same studies prove that women are more likely to buy romance novels written by a woman – with a prettier name being better than plain.
Can you complete several books in one year? If you’re traditionally published, you may not be allowed to release books except on a specific time frame. It takes time to travel the traditional publishing process – editing, cover art, etc – and often they prefer to only market one book a year. Building hype sometimes works for traditional publishing. (It doesn’t work nearly as well for self published authors until they are very well sustained.)
When might you not want to use a pen name?
Will you feel unaccomplished as an author if some of your books don’t bear your name? If you won’t feel like an author without your name on the spine (and you won’t lose your job), do what makes you happiest. There’s no right or wrong answer here.
Is your name already well known in your field? If you have a popular writing blog under one name, or a Twitter account with lots of sociable followers, capitalize on what you already have. Why start completely over when you already have a successful platform?
Would you Muses ever use a pen name?
Speaking only for myself, yes, definitely yes – for specific genres, not all of my writing though. If I ever decide to write horror, I think it would be much easier to market under a gender neutral name. Do I feel safety is an issue? Not really. But KJ, didn’t you just say many authors use a pen name for safety reasons? Well, yes, I did. However for most self-published authors using a pen name that’s similar to their own name, it’s usually really easy to figure out their “real” name. Often a quick glance of their Facebook page could answer that one for you.
What are your thoughts on pen names? Do you have any more questions you’d like us to answer about having a pen name?