Should You Use a Pen Name?

Writers often ask me about the pros and cons of using a pen name. A nom de plume makes sense under certain conditions. Otherwise, a pen name creates more of a challenge if you are still building an author’s platform.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are some circumstances that might call for a pen name:

  • If you are already established in one genre and wish to write in another genre. Nora Roberts writes under other names when she wants to publish outside her usual romance genre.
  • If you have published in a market that might not condone the second market or vice versa. For instance, a secular author who switches to religious content might be risking the loss of readership in the secular audience. When an author is “branded,” meaning the audience expects a certain content from that author, it might be disappointing or confusing to the reader. Anne Rice recently switched from her vampire books to Christian content and back again, but her “brand” is so well-known that she probably didn’t lose too many readers.
  • If you believe anonymity is crucial because of relationships or sensitive book subjects. Many memoirists are afraid they’ll be disowned for telling the story. A pen name might help, but so will a sensitive approach to the subject matter or waiting to publish until the family member in question has passed away. Or you might consider Anne Lamott’s observation: “If my family didn’t want me to write about them, they should’ve behaved better!”

If you are working on building a readership, gaining more visibility and carving out a niche, my advice is to stick to one author handle. Whether you decide to include your maiden name as many female romance writers have done, is up to you. Choose your author name and stick to it.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

3 comments on “Should You Use a Pen Name?

  1. You are welcome, Suzanne. In your case, a pen name makes sense, since you are writing in more than one genre. A cool aside: in thios term’s novel writing class I brought your Wolf of Tebron book one night as part of an in-class exercise. Several of my students commented that they either were reading or had started the book. How wonderful for you, and I attained near star-like status after I claimed to be your acquaintance! ~Linda

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