New to the writing world or new to putting yourself out there? It’s a difficult thing to do, whether you would call yourself a shy person or not. Let’s face it, many of us writers are pretty shy.
One way people try to minimise this fear of self-promotion is to use a pen name to write under. A pen name can be a bit of a safety blanket for some or even a necessity for others.
In this post, I’ll be breaking down some of the pros and cons of using a pen name to write under.
Reasons to write under a pen name
The main benefit of writing under a fake name is that it provides some distance between you personally and your writing.
This is particularly appealing if you write something like erotica and would rather your Granny not find out. Some authors would also rather their boss or colleagues didn’t know about their writing life for professional reasons.
To avoid confusion
Some people have a pen name because their real name is too similar to another author’s to avoid confusion.
Others who have difficult to pronounce names opt for a pen name too.
Some authors like to make their pen name part of their brand and opt for a name that represents the genre they work in. For example, they’ll create a dark or dramatic name for horror fiction. Or they might have a sweet name as a romance writer. This could make your name more memorable and also a bit of fun.
While I’d like to say things have changed a bit, we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, there is still gender bias in publishing and there are still weird people out there who won’t pick up a book by a female author. One good example of this is, of course, J.K Rowling, who used her initials for this reason.
If you’re trying to make a name for yourself in what’s considered a ‘male genre’ then this can be difficult. I’m sure I have all that to look forward to…
However, the only way we can start to make change is to stop hiding behind male pen names surely?
If you have already built a name for yourself in a particular genre and want to make a shift to another one, perhaps a pen name could help. An extreme example of this might be if you’re a romance or erotica author and want to start writing children’s books. This avoids confusion and also the disappointment of fans of your usual genre reading something completely different.
Downsides and difficulties to consider
Marketing yourself might get more difficult
Authors do have a certain responsibility to promote their own work and become the face of their very own author brand. This might be difficult if you would rather keep your name and face off the record.
If your name is for branding purposes, this ties you into writing for one genre really. Unless you create another pen name for other genres, this can be a bit limiting.
Privacy vs lying
The downside to pen names for privacy purposes is that you can end up lying to those around you. Do you really want to lie to friends and family about what you do? Some people are open with their friends and family and simply don’t want their real name out there in public, but even this can be difficult to maintain.
However, unless you take great steps to protecting your identity legally, it’s easy enough to find your real identity.
A pen name is not bulletproof
You can hide behind a pen name to a degree but it won’t protect you from certain legal implications such as plagiarism, slander or tax-dodging under a different name. While I hope you wouldn’t try to dodge tax in this way deliberately, a simple mistake or slip up with tax can look like you are which can get you into trouble.
You may want to set up your pen name under a limited company or trading name to keep things transparent and above board if you’re serious about generating an income for your writing.
Wanting to keep your identity a secret is totally understandable. However, it can be harder and more complicated to build a whole author brand around a fake name than you might expect. For that reason, I’d probably advise against it if it’s not totally necessary.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on pen names – do you write under a pen name and if so what steps have you taken to protect your real name?