On my personal blog, I write a lot about the publishing industry and how books (especially by women) are marketed. It made me start to seriously wonder—should I use a pen name or pseudonym? Should you?
Let’s figure it out.
Use A Pen Name to Remain Gender Neutral (or to Change Your Gender)
If I used a pen name, this would be my primary motivation.
Jodi Picoult says her books are placed in the “women’s fiction” category not because of their content, but because of her “lady parts.”
J.K. Rowling was worried male readers wouldn’t pick up a book about wizard knowing it was written by a woman.
I learned very recently that J.J. Murray, who writes interracial romance novels, is a man (I can’t confirm he uses a pen name because he writes in the Romance category, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was his motivation).
I believe that if the same exact book is written by a man and a woman they will be pitched, marketed, and sold in two very different ways. A novel about family or relationships written by a man (e.g., The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen) most likely will not be called chick-lit by anyone. It will probably have a different cover. It will probably attract more male readers.
It’s not necessarily fair or progressive, but the reality is that your work may not reach the audience you wrote it for. If this is a concern for you, try a pen name.
Use a Pen Name to Switch Genres or Professions
Joanna Penn is a bestselling nonfiction writer. J.F. Penn is a bestselling fiction author. They are the same person.
Joanna talked about her decision to write under two names last year when she chatted with The Write Practice team.
It’s not just about ensuring that your uptight day job knows they won’t be affiliated with your racy books. Readers do a lot of Googling and searching on Amazon. If they loved your fantasy novel, it might confuse (or distract) them when they find all your nonfiction books about the homeless that you wrote during your journalist life.
Or, your novel may not pop up in books fantasy readers “might like” because your previous field still places you in the social science category—hurting your discoverability.
It also may make sense to use a pen name when switching genres within fiction. When you’ve made a name for yourself in one genre, it’s hard to cross over. Your historical fiction readers might think your paranormal romances are weird. Paranormal romance enthusiasts may decide not to pick up your book because they associate you with historical fiction. It’s worth thinking about.
Use a Pen Name if You Want a Different Name
Maybe you hate your name. Maybe you’re still embarrassed that your first novel didn’t sell and want to start over. Maybe you want to adopt the last name “King,” just in case people think you’re related to Stephen (or Martin Luther).
No one says that you have to use the name on your credit card bill on the cover of your novel. If you want to change it—change it!
Who else uses a pen name? Are you considering using one? Let us know in the comments section.
Received feedback on a scene before? Posted on The Write Practice in the past? Try re-posting in the comments below with a different name and see if the feedback is any different! Or just take a moment to provide feedback to the people who do share.