When an author publishes a book, they need to make a decision before the book hits the market.

Do they want to use a pen name?

Here are six reasons why a writer may want to use a pen name.

1. You write erotica: There is nothing wrong with writing in the genre, but writers may want to choose a pen name because they don’t want close friends or relatives to know. They may want to hide that book from dear old dad.

2. You write under different genres: If an author writes under several genres, they may want to use a different name to not confuse their readers. Some readers may enjoy an author’s literary fiction, but not their science fiction.

3. You want to keep your private life – private: By using a pen name, you don’t have to subject all your public information to the world. You get to keep your life to yourself for as long as that name stays private.

4. You have a crazy, unpronounceable name (check the byline): You may want to change your name to something more pronounceable or recognizable. Perhaps your name has too many vowels strung together and may be too hard to spell.

5. Another author has the same name: If there is an author in the same genre as you write, you may want to use a pen name to avoid confusion.

6. You were previously published and reviews weren’t kind: Maybe things didn’t go well the first time you published a novel: reviews were bad or you had public problems with readers or other authors. For whatever reason, you want a fresh start.


  1. There’s perhaps one major reason not to use a pen name. Having two names can complicate your life. With a different name, some people will have trouble believing that you wrote a book. They’ll say, “But the cover says, Slinkering Sisslefelet and your name is Mike Perry.” The result is confusion and needless explaining. And yes, if your real name was Slinkering Sisslefelet, a pen name might be a good idea.

    That said, I would suggest giving some thought to just how your real name should appear on the cover. The good fortune of those who write under their initials plus their last name:

    J. K. Rowlings
    J. R. R. Tolkien
    C. S. Lewis

    makes me wonder if I should have gone with M. W. Perry. A quick look on Amazon didn’t come up with anyone writing under that name.

    On the other hand, author names are a bit like checks and credit cards. The more detailed and unusual your name, the harder it will be for someone to steal your identity. That’s one reason I envy J. R. R. Tolkien and G. K. Chesterton. Both names are easy to spell and yet unique enough, Google searches for just their last name will mostly hit them.

    Actually, I am astonished. I just did a search for my last name, Perry. Most of this hits were, as I suspected, for celebrities: The Band Perry, Katy Perry, and Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. But two of the hits on that first page were, wonder of wonders, links to postings I had made that must have gone viral. About 137,000,000 results for Perry, and I had two of the top dozen. Maybe I’m not as invisible as I thought.

    Whether you like your real name is also a factor. C. S. Lewis wrote under that because he hated Clive and Staple. At about the age of five, he insisted that he be called Jack and he made that stick for the rest of his life. I guess he could have gone with Jack Lewis, but then he’d have to deal with all those who’d asked, “Why Jack?”

    Some names also clearly won’t do. I was once in a legal dispute where the opposing lawyer’s first name was Lacey. For the purpose of the dispute, I was my own lawyer, so when I was working with a third lawyer, he wondered why one document said formally “Lacey….” but the signature said “Lance.” I told him, “If you were a guy lawyer who wanted a reputation for toughness, would you want to be called Lacey?” He got my point.

    The same is true of writing. If you do Macho Men fiction, that wimpy name your spinster aunt persuaded your parents to give you might not be a good idea. Something more like Wolf Gunn would be better.

    Definitely not Slinkering Sisslefelet.

    –Michael W. Perry (the real name and the one I write under)

  2. Under number six, you should also include the sales numbers of your books under one name are so poor that you want a new start so the bookstores, etc., won’t use the bad numbers as a reason not to stock your new book. That’s been the reason a lot of “traditionally published” authors have changed their names.

    In these days of search engines and online bookstore searches, it’s also a good idea to have a name that can be spelled easily so readers can find your work. If I had it to do over, I’d have gone by Mare Byerly instead of Marilynn Byerly. Everyone misspells my first name. I won a major award for STAR-CROSSED and not only did they misspell the name of the book, but they misspelled my first name on the various announcements for the award. That, she said sarcastically, really helped my sales.

  3. I understand that problem Marilynn … Anytime I get something, the first thing I look at is the spelling of my last name. I am usually surprised when they get it right as opposed t when someone gets it wrong.

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