Authors both big and small, popular and obscure, use pen names. In today’s digital world creating one is as easy as typing a few keystrokes, and maintaining a digital footprint on social media for the pseudonym is relatively simple, albeit time consuming. Even making it a legal entity – so you can spend or receive money, get physical mail, and all the other trappings of a real identity – is possible in many parts of the world. (In most states here in the US it would be covered by registering a DBA, Doing Business As. If you go that route, though, please consult with a lawyer – this blog isn’t for legal advice.)
Now, as to why you might use a pen name…
Take your intended target audience into consideration. There are certain genres where one gender author is favored over another, or where having a more stylized and iconic name is worth considering. For as much as I can’t wait for the day when it makes no difference what gender name is on a cover, we’re not quite there just yet – at least not with every genre – which is why I’m including it as a point. More importantly for author branding, brand should go in hand with author name, so Rachel Marsters may want to use Rose Masters to attract more readers.
2. Main Character
Similar to genre, writing a protagonist who is not your gender can be a handicap in attracting readers. This one is becoming less true more quickly than the genre stereotype, but again it’s about getting new readers to buy and read your books. J.K. Rowling used her initials because she was writing a fantasy story about a boy / young man. It doesn’t hurt to cater to your readers when you’re just beginning to build an audience.
Putting your name on the cover of a book means that, at some point, strangers will want to know more about you. Conversely, people who want to know more about you will be able to find your books if you use your real name. Keeping a separate author name means avoiding those situations. (That doesn’t mean you’re completely protected from either scenario, but it’s at least something.)
You are still you, even under a different name, so using a pen name shouldn’t involving lying – at least not in a way that could harm or hurt another person. Anonymity is great, but it’s also your author brand. Your pen name is still a person whose shoes you need to fill, so don’t make them something uncomfortable to wear.
Can you think of any other reasons to use a pen name? Have you ever made use of one before? What have you learned from using a pen name, or from not using one, that you would tell your past self? The comments are always open.