Pen Names: What Are They and How To Use Them

This blog was written by me, but inspired by my fans’ comments on my YouTube video, NaNoWriMo Publishing Edition: Day 24.

So what is a pen name? If you’re curious what a pen name is, or sometimes referred to as a pseudonym, they’re names on works that hide identities, organize works into groups, used as a marketing strategy – they’re used for all sorts of things!

Maybe your genre doesn’t match with what name you’re writing under. Rainbow Rowell wouldn’t be found on a horror novel. Maybe R. Rowell would be preferred. This is a marketing strategy. The author still wants to put their books under the same name, but they switch around how they spell out or initial their name on the cover to better fit the genre.

Some people want privacy. Maybe Rainbow Rowell isn’t her name at all. Maybe she’s writing horrors and romances under this fake name so her family doesn’t know her secret fascination with fictional characters. This is still a nice strategy, even when matching names with genres – because you can still change from using initials to full names. It’s just not your real name.

There’s something about being unable to sign your real name on the book cover that is so heartbreaking for some. But deciding on your name is something I would consider at the beginning of your career, before you release anything. Once you start on a path, like using your real name, it’s hard to use anything else. You can, but it’s like starting over, because you’re basically being labeled as a new author.

One of my published fans told me he wrote in pen names. He used totally different names for different genres and got less revenue from that because fans didn’t know the books were written by the same person, so there was a marketing rift.

One fan said she could never use her real name, afraid her family might find out. But from what I can gather, she is still publishing under that name and has made a decent amount of success from it. She was consistent in using the same name, even if it wasn’t her real one.

A few other reasons you might want to use a pen name is because your name is too long, or your name is hard to pronounce, or it reads wrong in translation. I met a waiter once who called himself Erin, because people couldn’t pronounce his real name, Eran with a squiggle over the “a.”

So consider your situation, what you’re writing, and what you’re comfortable with. You never have to use your real name. You don’t have to use your real name or always use your fake name. But you can if that is what you’d rather do. You can use abbreviations or initials.

What I can gather from the comments is that “your name is your brand,” and to build your brand, you should try to keep your name(s) as consistent as possible. The route I’m going to take with my books is to use my real name and mess around with initials when I write a completely different genre. Mainly, I’m going to look at the cover and ask, “Will they take my book seriously with that name on there?” If I think it’s fine, I’ll leave it. It all comes down to the cover for me.

Thanks for reading guys!


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