Why do authors use pen names?

  • Some authors prefer to use a pen name instead of their real name when they publish their work. Some of the most well-known authors in the world use pen names, including Stephen King and Mark Twain.
  • There are many reasons to choose a pen name. This includes privacy concerns, changing your style, finding a unique identity, and removing gender bias.
  • If you choose to use a pseudonym, make it the right one. Choose a pen name that’s memorable, unique and suitable for your style and readership.

Are you feeling adventurous and want to assume a different identity when self-publishing? Or maybe a little unsure about using your own name for your new book?

There are many reasons authors use pen names. Using one is completely legal and is often a wise business choice which can play an important part in your book marketing.

Let's explore the reason why authors pick pen names and how you can decide on one for you!

What is a pen name?

A pen name, is an assumed name that an author will publish under, rather than using their real name.

Pen names are usually used interchangeably with pseudonym, alias, pseudo name or nom de plume.

That name would appear on the book cover itself and any marketing related to it, which pretty much means the pseudonym is going to be visible everywhere! That’s why picking the right one is very key.

Like brand names, many authors try to make their pen names catchy, memorable and suited to the genre and their target audience.

Traditional publishers widely accept pen names. In fact, some of the most well-known, famous authors have used a pen name to conceal their identities. Remember Richard Bachman?

The good news is that when it comes to self-publishing, platforms like Amazon KDP are also happy to carry authors who want to use a pen name.

Why do authors use pen names?

Let’s dive into the reasons why many writers opt for an alias, maybe you’ll recognise yourself in one of them!

  1. Privacy reasons - Perhaps you write erotica on a side and you don’t want your work colleagues find out. Or perhaps you write about politics and you don’t want to be targeted for your opinions in real life. If you have a pen name you can keep that part of your writing life compartmentalised.
  2. Changing style or genre - An author might use a pen name when crossing over genres in an effort to keep from irritating their existing readers.  Or perhaps your goal is to create an alternative author identity to attract a whole new readership.
  3. Avoid sharing the same name – imagine your real name is Stephen King and you want to start publishing books? You’ll be overshadowed and people will have a hard time finding you. Picking a different writer pseudonym here makes a lot of sense as you want to be easy to find.
  4. Establishing a strong identity – Just like brand name, author pick names that look good and can be easily recalled. These days people skim read and only glance over covers in a few moments. Having a name that stays with potential readers can give you this extra bit of advantage.
  5. Avoid gender stereotyping – gender bias is still a thing and certain people would feel a certain way if a topic is written about by a particular gender. Remember the bad reputation some male writers have for writing women badly?

As you can see, there are many reason to avoid using your real name when publishing. A new name gives you the opportunity for a fresh start! So, how do you pick the right name?

How to pick a pen name

Choosing a pseudonym is a creative process in itself and can be as daunting as naming a character, especially since the character is… you!

Here’s how to come up with the perfect nom de plume for your publishing career.

  1. Pick a name that resonates with your target audience and fits the vibe of your genre.
  2. Find out what pen names can be the “right age” for your niche.
  3. Consider a name that allows you to register a domain and it’s available on social media.
  4. Pick a name that is memorable and catchy (just like a brand name or slogan).
  5. Make sure the name is unique enough and there aren’t any other authors publishing under similar names.
  6. Use a pen name generator (like this one) to kick start your ideation.
  7. For more unusual suggestions you can use an anagram maker and turn Stephen King into Kennith Pegs (not as catchy as the original).

The wrong reasons for picking a pen name

It’s all good and well, you can pick a new name and almost create a new identity. However, there are some boundaries which you should stay within. Here’s a few bad reason for creating a writer pseudonym:

  • Never claim credentials you don’t have.
  • Don’t go overboard creating a fake identity to try to take an unfair advantage.
  • Don’t create fake profiles with fake experience to support your book.
  • Don’t make claims you can’t substantiate.
  • Don’t use a pen name to avoid a pre-existing contract.
  • Don’t expect a pen name to protect you completely from defamation claims.

Famous author pen names

Let’s see if you recognise any of these famous authors and their real names:

  • Samuel Clemens - AKA Mark Twain
  • James D. Grant - AKA Lee Child
  • Stanley Martin Lieber -  AKA Stan Lee
  • Joanne Rowling - AKA J.K. Rowling & Robert Galbraith
  • Theodore Seuss Geisel — AKA Dr. Seuss
  • Mary Ann Evans — AKA George Elio
  • Charles Lutwidge Dodgson — AKA Lewis Carroll
  • Eric Blair — AKA George Orwell
  • Agatha Christie — AKA Mary Westmacott
  • Stephen King — AKA Richard Bachman
  • Daniel Handler — AKA Lemony Snicket

What’s your pen name going to be?

Alongside your pen name, you may want to learn about author bios, or use our free AI author bio generator!

Advice from a published writer
This article is always evolving and being updated regularly by our expert writers. Information featured in it has been fact-checked and verified.
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