Should I Use a Pen Name?

There are thousands of authors all over the world who choose to write under a pen name, which means that their byline is a name that they have adopted other than their own. For example, Dean Koontz used to write under the name Owen West before he was a bestseller, then later re-released all of his old titles under his own name.

If you are thinking about becoming a published writer, and you are considering the use of a pen name, you should first consider the reasons for choosing a nome de plume, and then decide on the best course of action.

The first thing to realize is that pen names can be confusing. You will have to legally register your alias, and use it for any correspondence having to do with your writing. If you publish a novel, and then later want to appear publicly, such as a book signing, you will be presenting yourself as your alias, and not who you actually are. People with whom you are aquatinted in real life will have to refer to you as your alias, which can cause confusion within your circle of friends and family.

You also must realize that you cannot change your alias halfway through your writing career just because you grow tired of it. Publishers and agents frown on that kind of behavior, and it marks you as an amateur in the writing industry. You will lose a portion of your fan base because they will be confused, and you will probably disappoint a large number of those who feel they ‘know’ you through your writing.

Dean Koontz was successful able to change from his alias because he became a household name, and it didn’t adversely affect his career. It worked for him, but I cannot guarantee that it will work for you.

The point is that once you choose a pen name, you should be willing to stick with it. Don’t pick a name that you don’t like, or that sounds ridiculous, or that another best-selling author has, because it won’t work for your image. I also don’t advise trying to be cute, using names like Rich Richardson or David Davidson. People see right through that type of catch name.

There are a few instances when using a pen name can actually be helpful to your career. If, for example, you wish to write “between” genres, you might want to use your real name for one and a pen name for another. A mystery novelist maintains a particular fan base that is different from a romance novelist; if you want to write both types of work, use different names for each.

The same goes for a fiction writer who suddenly decides that he wants to write political non-fiction. Since politics is an extremely controversial subject, the writer might not want to alienate his fiction followers by publishing something political that they don’t agree with. People are finicky. If a Republican writer publishes an extremely right-wing book, he might lose his left-wing readers, even in his fiction writing.

The point is that writers don’t want to publish something that will be detrimental to their fan base, thereby decreasing royalties from book sales. They can eliminate that possibility by publishing under a pen name, and no one knows the difference.

Deciding whether or not to adopt a pen name is completely up to you, and as long as you are aware of the pros and cons, you are educated enough to make that decision yourself. Talk with your agent or publisher and get their opinions on the subject for making a decision. Often, their insights into the industry might change your mind one way or another.

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