When, if ever, do you need a pen name? Why would you want one? Do pen names give you privacy and are they worth the bother?
One main reason that people want to use a pen name is privacy. They don’t want to be recognized in person or online as an author. You might think that’s only for people writing porn, but it has other uses. Some people really don’t want the notoriety that comes with publishing a book. For them, they want a strict dividing line between work and home. I have a friend who is intentionally building a different identity online for her writing.
So, if you write porn, and you don’t want folks to know, you can choose a pen name. But this also works for people who want to write in several different genres. Let’s say that you want to write adult mysteries and children’s nonfiction science. The two genres have wildly different audiences, so there’s no advantage to using your name on both. Further, if you wanted to develop a website or utilize any online identity to market, it might be easy for readers to get confused.
Perhaps, you want to use your initials in science fiction writing, something women writers often do. But for romance, you want your full name, including your maiden name. Some perceived–whether real or not–advantage to one name or the other is reason enough to use a pen name.
Work for Hire
I’ve done a couple work-for-hire projects and I considered using a pen name for those projects. The projects, though, weren’t vastly different from my normal books for kids, so I left it alone. If however, I did a WFH project for adult software, it might make sense to separate the two audiences.
What if you’ve made some “horrible mistake” in your career? You allowed a certain book to be published, and now, you’re moving a different direction? Use a pen name. It can give you a fresh start with a chance at a fresh career.
How To Use a Pen Name
Do you have to tell your editor that you’re using a pen name? I think most people would bring the editor into the story of the pen name. But you don’t have to! Look up Sue Denim (pseudonym – get it?) on Amazon and you’ll see several children’s books about the Dumb Bunnies. These were actually written by Dav Pilkey and the name was, of course, a big joke. The Scholastic editor who pointed this out said that in the author’s file, there was a photo of someone bundled up with a hat, scarf, etc. In other words, unrecognizable. Even working with Sue Denim, it took the Scholastic editor a while to figure out the joke.
The one place where you must think hard about the pen name is when the copyright is registered. What name do you want the copyright under? Your name or your pen name?
You can register with your state for a “doing business as” name, a simple process. Then, you could use that name. Alternately, you can set up an LLC (a type of corporation often used by small companies) as a legal entity and use that in the copyright registration. Whatever you choose, the copyright registration is an important step to think about.
Pen names can give you a separate identity for many reasons. Often, however, the pen name is outed. Lemony Snicket is really Daniel Handler. It may remain secret for a time, but usually the pen name is connected with you. You may be fine with keeping the porn secret until your kids are grown and then you don’t care. But eventually, there’s a good chance it will come out. Keep that in mind, if you choose a pen name drastically different than your own.