W.I.T. approached me to write about pen names, a subject with which I have some experience. The use of a pen name is a personal choice ultimately, but every writer should consider the possibility before sending that first manuscript out into the world. A pen name is ultimately a personal decision, but here are some factors to weigh.
The No Brainer Reasons to use a Pen Name
1. Could my writing offend people in my day job or other community entanglement? There have been a few splashy news stories about teachers (almost always female elementary teachers) whose sordid past or present is deemed to violate community morality laws. Some job contracts require a morality clause. If writing a sex scene between two unmarried individuals (much less three or more, or if aliens are involved) would get you fired from your day job as let’s say teacher, church secretary, scout troop leader, PTA president, you SHOULD use a pen name.
2. If you have had a stalker, threats to your person, or have had to file a restraining order against someone, you SHOULD use a pen name. Don’t make yourself too easy to find.
The Best Reasons to not use a Pen Name.
1. Your name on a book cover will not only look awesome, but anyone who ever doubted you will see YOUR NAME on the cover.
2. You worked really hard to get to this point. Own your success.
3. You won’t have to remember which name to sign.
4. You can keep all your social media in one place. Less time spent developing a second self means more time to write.
Reasons to consider a Pen Name
1. Your name is the same as or similar to another author. Two people are talking in an airport. One says to the other “I just read a great book by Steven King.” The other person hears “Stephen King” and picks up his book for the next flight. If you write erotica under the name Lara Numerof, don’t be surprised to receive angry email from parents whose darling little child ended up at your site instead of their favorite author, Laura Numeroff.
2. Your name is easily mispronounced. This is part of the reason I use a pen name. I wanted to make it easy for my fans to recommend my books to friends.
3. You have field specific publications and don’t want to muddy the waters. Besides, as a reader, who wants to wade through three pages of mechanical engineering textbooks when what you really want is that cool zombies vs. space ninjas teen-dystopian-romance-sci-fi you heard about?
4. Your family is not entirely on board with your writing or they would be embarrassed by what you write. Maybe your devout grandmother would write you out of the will when she discovers Satan is the hero of your story or maybe your atheist parents will kick you out of the basement when they discover you have the top selling inspirational Amish romance on Amazon.
5. You always wanted a secret identity. Batman was taken.
6. Branding and professionalism. I’m both a stay at home mom and a writer. Using a Pen Name allows me to create a sense of professionalism. When I sit at my writing desk, I am Lola Karns, multi-published author of lighthearted contemporary romance. When I’m scooping the litterbox or folding laundry, I’m me.
7. Do you write in multiple genres? Do you want your readers to follow you from one genre to the other or will they mostly be separate. I cannot say this enough, you do not the fans of your children’s books inadvertently downloading erotica. You would think the covers would be a clue, but you can find plenty of reviews that indicate otherwise.
8. If you use one or more pen names, do you have the time, energy and content to develop your social media presence? How many twitter accounts and tumblrs can you maintain and still be clever and coherent?
9. Would disguising your gender be an advantage? This is controversial and sexist. Sorry. But this has to deal with perceptions. I met a couple a few years ago. Both are writers. The husband uses his wife’s name and wife publishes under her husband’s initials. Why? The husband writes historical romance (a field dominated by women) and she writes legal thrillers. The husband is with a major publisher. He confessed to me that when he subbed under his name, he had zero interest. The contracts came when he used his wife’s name. The feminist in me is disgusted that perceived gender is important. The business side of me shrugs and says “if that’s what it takes to get sold.”
10. Are you part of a writing team? Authors Deborah O’Neill Cordes and Cary Mogan Frates write Time-Travel adventures under the name Morgan O’Neill. Using one name gives their covers a cleaner look.
Gosh – this getting long. I hope that Writers in Training will allow me back to about the how tos of selecting and setting up a pen name.
I’ll try to pop back and answer questions here, but you can also cyber-stalk me at
Bio: Having worked as a bartender, shipping clerk, concierge, document translator, European history doctoral candidate, and more as she moved through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, Georgia, and Virginia, Lola decided she needed a more portable career. Writing fit the bill.
Lola currently resides in Minnesota with her husband, two children, two hairless cats and a fluffy ex-stray cat. When not writing, she enjoys baking, reading and drinking coffee. She is the author of Winter Fairy and Bad Traveler.