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4 Reasons to Use a Pen Name

And How to Choose a Good One


Have you considered using a pseudonym? There are a lot of different reasons a pen name might be a good idea. Sometimes it has to do with your life, and sometimes it’s best for the work itself. If you fit any of these descriptions, it’s probably a good idea.

1. Your writing is controversial and could affect your family relationships or day job.

When most people think of this situation, they think of erotica authors—which is a legitimate concern. Most of us wouldn’t want our grandmothers reading erotica we’d written. But there are plenty of other reasons you might want to keep your author side separate. Perhaps you’re writing about extreme political views. Or maybe you are a grade school teacher who writes about serial killers and don’t want your students’ parents to be uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, sometimes it’s best for your life as a whole to keep certain aspects separate.

2. Your real name is “taken.”

If your name is Stephen King, I’m sorry but you’ll probably need a pseudonym. If you share a name with a well-known author, it’s best to write under a pen name. Especially if you write in entirely different genres. Imagine a reader picking up a book by Nicholas Sparks to find it’s a crime thriller. They would put your book down without giving it another thought, whereas if they had expected a crime thriller, it could be a different story. If you happen to fall into this category, I know it’s frustrating, but remember the work is what’s most important. Even shortening to initials can help in this situation.

3. You write in multiple genres.

If you write in two distinctly different genres, it may be smart to publish under different names. You may use a pen name for one and your real name for the other, or pen names for both. The idea here is to keep readers from associating your name with a specific genre and being disappointed in a book that doesn’t fit their expectations. Now, for this to be necessary, you would be writing something like horror and romance, or self-help and fantasy. This can also be useful when you’re writing for different age categories. But if you’re writing suspense and thriller, it’s probably not worth drawing a distinction.

4. You hate your real name.

If you truly hate your real name—first of all, I’m sorry—going with a pen name is entirely valid. Just remember to choose wisely. You wouldn’t want to wind up with a pseudonym you hate, too!

Choosing a Pen Name

Okay, you’ve decided to write under a pseudonym. How do you choose a good one? Here are a few aspects to keep in mind.

1. Genre expectations

Each genre has its own expectations for bylines. You wouldn’t expect to see Lily Mae writing hard sci-fi. Keep in mind what readers expect to see and what will fit best with your work. Don’t feel the need to conform exactly to what other authors are doing, but remember that the names on published books are there for a reason—especially pen names. Publishers know what readers want and what drives them to pick up a book, and they use that to their advantage. You should, too.

2. Name associations

Before you decide on a pen name, do some research. What people or things are associated with that name? Obviously, you wouldn’t call yourself Jenny Hitler. But it’s not always that clearcut. Think outside the box to make sure your pseudonym is going to send the message you want. Think of this like parents considering how bullies could use a potential name to make fun. Think of how things could go wrong with your pen name, that way you’ll find one that readers can associate with your book, and nothing else.

3. Easy to remember

The great thing about choosing a pen name, opposed to using your real name, is that you get to pick one that checks all the boxes. Think of a pen name that is easy to remember so that when readers are telling their bookworm buddies about the amazing book they just finished, they’ll be able to remember exactly who wrote it. While you’re at it, go ahead and grab your domain (www.penname.com) and all your social media handles (@penname) before somebody else does.

Prepare your byline!

If a pen name is the right choice for you, go for it. But be sure, because it’s tough to make the switch back to your real name. Select a pseudonym that’s representative of your work and one that you can be proud of. Remember, your pen name will become your identity. Happy writing!

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Victoria Griffin

Victoria was born and raised within sight of the Smoky Mountains. She loves any place you can still see the stars and constantly struggles with (and sometimes succumbs to) the temptation to write "ain't" and y'all." To connect with or hire Victoria, visit her website, VictoriaGriffinFiction.com
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