Why do Authors Use Pseudonyms and Pen Names?

Writer researching about pseudonym names

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Authors have been using pseudonyms —  aka pen names — for centuries, allowing them to adopt different identities and explore various genres. Different authors choose to use pen names for different reasons, and so the question is, what might be the best choice for you?

What is a pseudonym?

A pseudonym, also known as a pen name or nom de plume, is a fictitious name adopted by an author to write under instead of their real name. Pseudonyms have been used throughout history by renowned authors to protect their identities, experiment with different writing styles, or target specific audiences. Some notable examples include:

  • Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). J.K. Rowling, known for the Harry Potter series, adopted the pseudonym Robert Galbraith to publish her crime fiction novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. She revealed her true identity after the book’s success, but initially, the use of a pseudonym allowed her to be evaluated as an independent author without the preconceptions associated with her name.
  • Richard Bachman (Stephen King). Stephen King, the master of horror, created the pseudonym Richard Bachman to explore different genres and challenge his own writing abilities. He wanted to know if he could have a successful book based on its own merits, rather than just succeeding because of his name. He published several novels, such as Rage and The Long Walk under the Bachman name before his identity was revealed.
  • Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, famously known as Lewis Carroll, adopted his pseudonym to publish his timeless children’s classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Using a pseudonym allowed him to create a separate identity for his whimsical and imaginative works.

Pros and cons of using a pseudonym

Using a pseudonym comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, which can vary depending on an author’s individual circumstances and goals.


  • Anonymity and privacy. Pseudonyms offer a level of anonymity, allowing authors to separate their personal lives from their book-writing careers. This is often used by authors of harrowing memoirs to protect their identity and the identities of their loved ones.
  • Name simplicity. Authors with common names, names that are already in use, or names that might be hard to pronounce will often choose a pen name that is more marketable.
  • Genre exploration. Authors may choose to adopt pseudonyms to write in different genres without confusing or alienating their existing readership.
  • Appealing to the marketplace. Some genres tend to be more gender specific. Male authors, for example, often use female pen names to write romance novels because women are more likely to buy romance novels by women. 
  • Branding and market targeting. Pseudonyms can help authors create distinct brands and target specific audiences. By adopting different names for different genres, authors can appeal to diverse readerships more effectively.


  • Building a new brand. Starting from scratch with a pseudonym means authors have to invest time and effort in establishing a new author brand and gaining recognition.
  • Limited personal recognition. Using a pseudonym may prevent authors from receiving the full recognition and acclaim associated with their real names.
  • Marketing challenges. Promoting books under a pseudonym can be more complex since authors need to build a separate platform and establish a readership for each pen name.

How does a pseudonym impact book marketing strategies?

The choice of using a pseudonym can significantly impact an author’s book-marketing strategies. It creates a distinct identity that requires careful planning and execution to build a readership. Here are a few considerations for authors using pseudonyms.

  • Author platform. Authors with pseudonyms need to create separate author platforms for each name, including websites, social media accounts, and mailing lists. This allows them to connect with readers and build a following for each pen name.
  • Targeted marketing. Pseudonyms provide authors with an opportunity to target specific audiences. They can tailor their marketing efforts to appeal to the readership of each pen name.
  • Maintaining consistency. While authors may write under different names, it’s essential to maintain consistency within each brand. Consistent branding and an author’s voice help readers identify and connect with an author’s works.

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Exploring hybrid approaches to a pseudonym

In some cases, authors choose to adopt hybrid approaches when using pseudonyms. These approaches involve blending aspects of their real names with alternate names or using initials instead of full names. This allows authors to maintain some connection to their real identities while creating distinct brands. Examples of hybrid approaches include:

  • Iain Banks (Iain M. Banks). The best selling Scottish author chose a slight variation of his name to differentiate between his mainstream books (Iain Banks) and his sci-fi novels (Iain M. Banks).
  • J.K. Rowling (Joanne Rowling). We mentioned her earlier because of her use of Robert Galbraith, but even J.K. Rowling is a pen name of sorts. She decided to publish under her initials because she felt that her target audience of young boys wouldn’t want to read a fantasy novel written by a woman.
  • H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). The American poet used her initials because she found her given name quaint and old fashioned.

How to use a pseudonym

If you decide to write under a pen name, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Make sure your name isn’t already in use by another author or famous person.
  2. Choose a name that suits your genre.
  3. Alliteration is useful for creating a name that will be easily remembered.
  4. Be careful about choosing a name that is ethnically different from your own. You don’t want to misrepresent who you are, and this can easily lead to backlash.
  5. Be sure to tell your agent and publisher your real name. Do not write query letters using your pen name. You can say in your query that you will be writing under a pseudonym, but agents and publishers want to know who they are working with right from the start.
  6. You can copyright your work under either your pen name or your real name, but either way, be sure to copyright your book.
  7. Buy your website domain name (www.yourpenname.com)
  8. Your pen name offers you no legal protection. You are still responsible for what you write, no matter what name you write under. Also, if you are contractually bound to write for one publisher, or if you have a confidentiality agreement, you are still bound to those contracts. Using a pen name will not transform you into a different person.

Pseudonyms have played a significant role in the world of literature, enabling authors to explore different genres, protect their identities, and target specific audiences. While pseudonyms offer advantages such as anonymity and genre flexibility, they also present challenges in terms of branding and marketing.

So now the question remains… is a pseudonym right for you?

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Related Posts
A historical tour of pen names
Pen Names: How and Why to Use Them
What Is Your Author Brand?
Developing a Distinctive Voice in Writing
Why Should I Copyright My Book (And How Do I Do It)?


  1. In my case as a professional historian who writes non fiction books on Asian Western relations using my real name Steven Leibo I needed something else for my works of historical fiction and thus I have found Li Bo quite useful. And its also sort of a private joke.


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