To Pseudonym or to Not Pseudonym—That Is the Question

Should you write under a pseudonym (or pen name)? More authors use one than you might think. J.K. Rowling, in her post-Harry Potter years, wrote under the name Robert Galbraith. Julia Quinn, a popular historical romance author, is the pen name of Julie Pottinger. Both have their reasons for choosing a pseudonym—and so should you.

Here are common reasons to use a pseudonym:

Get Shelved Next to Popular Authors

In the age of bookstores, where you're shelved makes a difference. While the online bookstore has taken over the brick-and-mortar store in popularity, there are still places (such as the library) where your book might benefit from being near other well-known authors.

Julia Quinn, for example, chose her pen name so that she would be shelved near Amanda Quick, another popular historical romance writer. (With Amanda Quick being a pen name of author Jayne Ann Krentz.)

If being in bookstores or libraries is on your list of must-tries and your actual name is unlikely to get you an ideal spot on the bookshelf, using a pseudonym might be worth it.

Keep Your Audiences Separate

If you write in multiple genres, building a new author brand under a pseudonym may be a smart option, especially if the audiences don't overlap. You'll find that keeping audiences separate is more common with traditionally published authors, but many self-published authors do it, too.

Jayne Ann Krentz is a prime example of an author who uses pen names for different genres. In addition to romantic suspense, she writes historical romance under Amanda Quick and paranormal romance under Jayne Castle.

The reasoning behind keeping your audiences separate is simple: brand recognition. If you typically write crime thrillers, it would be jarring if a reader picks up your book expecting your next novel of suspense and finds a book of poetry instead. Rather than introducing that reader to your wonderful world of poetry, you might turn them off from reading your books entirely.

If you want to write under multiple genres, seriously consider whether a pseudonym will help your efforts in brand recognition—or if juggling more than one author persona will be too much. After all, your marketing efforts would then have to be duplicated: two websites, two blogs, two Facebook pages, two Twitter profiles, two emails to approach different bloggers—you get the idea.

Create Distance Between Your Writing Career and Your Professional Image

If you're well known in your community, your book's subject is potentially controversial, or you have other reasons for wanting to distance your author life and personal or professional life, using a pen name helps you do that.

You might not want your coworkers or clients to know, for example, that you write erotica. Separating your personal or professional life and your author life is also useful to avoid the inevitable situation of people you know seeing themselves in your work.

After publishing Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling wrote new fiction under the name Robert Galbraith. In doing so, she was able avoid the hype and pressure of "living up" to the Harry Potter series—which was completely different from her Robert Galbraith books.

Conceal Your Demographics

Depending on the genre you write in, you might want to hide parts of your identity (e.g., your gender or your age). The thriller genre is dominated by male authors, and many female authors drop their first name in favor of initials. Likewise, female authors dominate the romance genre, and men have published romance novels under a female pen name.

While some of these gender biases are disappearing, they may never go completely away. Before you create a pseudonym to hide parts of your identity, consider whether this aspect of your identity has to be concealed to be more successful marketing.

Match Your Name with Your Book's Genre

If your name is common or not particularly memorable, you might want to create a new name that fits with your genre. Writing fantasy? A fantastical name—something other than John Smith, for example—might suit your book better.

Differentiate Yourself from Others with Your Name

If you have a common name or the same name as another popular author, using a pseudonym can help separate your brands and reduce reader confusion. You don't want to have your readers pick up someone else's book expecting it to be yours—and be disappointed when it's not.

Should You Use a Pseudonym?

There are plenty of reasons to use a pen name, but that doesn't mean it's your only option. Consider the advantages to using a pseudonym and weigh them against the disadvantages, and only move forward when you're sure it's the right move for your book.

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