Hi, writers! Today, I want to talk about pen names: when and how you should use one and tips on creating and managing one (or several!).
You’re probably already familiar with at least a few authors who write under a pen name or pseudonym. J.K. Rowling and J.D. Robb are a couple big names that immediately come to my mind. But you don’t have to be an international best-selling author in order to use a pen name.
Sometimes, writing under different names is a good way to separate work in completely unrelated genres. Additionally, it can separate different author personas or brands. For example, I write and publish poetry, blogs, and academic papers under my legal name “Manuela Williams.” For my work in self-published romance, I use a pseudonym.
These pen names, or author personas as I like to call them, differ in voice and content. When I post content as my romance pen name, I adopt a sassier tone more suited to the genre. This differs from the tone I use when sharing poetry, blogs, or academic writing, where “sassy” doesn’t really fit that particular work.
Using a pen name can also make social media and marketing a lot easier. I don’t have to worry about driving away or confusing readers of my academic work by posting pictures of shirtless romance heroes every other day.
Here are some other reasons you might write under a pen name:
- Privacy. If you’re a private person and don’t want friends, family, and/or coworkers to know about your work, then writing under a pseudonym would be a good option for you.
- Branding. If, like me, you write in unrelated genres, then creating separate pen names can make branding a lot easier. For example, the kind of content you share on Facebook can vary widely depending on whether you write romance or self-help books. Posts that might be appropriate for a romance author might be seen as completely inappropriate in a different genre.
- Preventing Confusion. If you have a very common name or share the name of another author, then it might be beneficial to use a pseudonym to prevent confusion.
While it’s perfectly legal to write under a pen name, it’s important that you aren’t using it as a way to get out of pre-existing contracts or to conduct any other shady business. A pen name will not protect you from the consequences if you’re caught.
Some authors choose to go through the copyright registration process for work published under their pen name. I have personally never done this, but if it is something you’re interested in, I would strongly recommend reading this helpful FAQ from the U.S. Copyright Office or contacting a lawyer to discuss your options.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the “when and how” of pen names, let’s take a look at some tips for creating and managing one or multiple pen names.
Research Your Pen Name Before Claiming It
Before creating social media accounts and purchasing a custom domain name, it’s crucial that you do your research first. Google each of the pen names you intend to use to make sure they aren’t already being used. Never use the name of someone famous. And try to avoid using the name of a real person. When I was researching a potential pen name, I found that a fairly prolific business coach had the same name, so I chose a different one.
Be Honest When Crafting An Author Bio
An author bio is an important aspect of your brand and is a must-have, whether you’re using your real name or a pseudonym. Even though you are technically embodying a “fake” persona when you use a pen name, you should never outright lie to your readers. This means that you shouldn’t include credentials or accomplishments in your author bio that you haven’t actually earned. An example of this would be claiming that you have a PhD in your author bio when, in reality, you don’t.
This same concept can be applied to author photos. Many authors who use a pen name choose to use a logo in place of an author photo on their website or other places, like Amazon. You should never use an image of someone who isn’t you. Don’t just take a random photo you find on a stock photo site (or worse: Google images) and pretend that it’s you.
Consistently use your pen name on the cover of your books, as well as on your website, newsletter, and author social media accounts. If you’re pitching editors, use the name that you want to be published under. However, when filling out contracts, you should always use your real, legal name.
Establish Your Boundaries
It’s always a good idea to establish boundaries, especially if you plan on being active on social media or sending out newsletters under your pen name. How much are you willing to share? Some authors share and link to their other pen names. Others (like me!) are more private and keep their pen names completely separate and secret. The choice is yours. Ultimately, you should do what makes you feel the most comfortable.
Choosing to write under a pen name is a personal choice with no right or wrong “answer.” You might find it easier to keep all of your writing projects under one name. Or you might enjoy maintaining a separate pen name for each genre you write in. Happy writing!
Manuela Williams is a Reno-based writer. She is the author of Ghost In Girl Costume, which won the 2017 Hard To Swallow Chapbook Contest, and her second poetry chapbook, Witch, was published by dancing girl press & studio in 2019. When she’s not writing, Manuela is busy drinking coffee and spending time with her blind Pomeranian, Redford. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Pinterest.