Writing under a pen name is tricky business. There are good reasons to do it, but more and more, I think it’s better to write under your real name. Let me explain …
Do you have a favorite thought leader or writer? You know, that person whose content you consume hungrily no matter what they are talking about?
Before I quit my job and joined the ranks of entrepreneurship, my go to author and virtual mentor was a man named Michael Masterson. I read everything he wrote online and bought all his books. When he his company hosted a conference in Florida, I put money I was planning to use for a vacation into a ticket, got on a plane and attended that conference.
I wanted to learn everything he had to teach. And, I owe a lot of my early business-building success to what I learned from him.
But, when I had the opportunity to meet him, I got a bit of a shock.
His name wasn’t Michael Masterson. That was his pen name.
Now there was this awkward thing. Do I call him Michael, or do I call him Mark? I didn’t know what to call him anymore.
And even though I was deeply grateful for all I’d learned from him, there was this thing in my head now:
Why couldn’t he use his own name? What is he hiding? What else isn’t true?
Again, I’m super grateful for all I learned from him. But the fact that he had a pen name made things uncomfortable and weird for me, a fan and a client.
So with that in mind, let’s talk about whether it makes sense for you.
Good Reasons to Use a Pen Name
Number one, your privacy is important. Let’s say that you have insider information for your industry, and you don’t want people to know it’s coming from you. Or perhaps you’re well-respected in a Corporate America job, and you wanna write about erotica and you don’t want all your colleagues to know about your S&M fetish.
Those are solid reasons.
Perhaps you have a famous parent, or perhaps you’re famous for something else that’s unrelated, and you want to chart your own course without the burden or benefit of that name.
Perhaps you really need to have different brands. This is happening a lot in the traditionally published world. Some agents and book publishers are recommending authors with middle-of-the-road sales, come in and publish under a new name. Traditional publishing houses are looking for that breakout author, or their bread and butter that always sells really well. If you’re in the middle it can be difficult to land a deal.
For most nonfiction authors, I think this doesn’t really apply, and we’ll talk about that in a second. But, if you’re a fiction writer, it’s definitely an issue for some authors.
Finally, you may choose to use a pen name because you want a cooler or more marketable name. If you have a really long name, or it’s hard to pronounce those could be good reasons to use a pen name.
All that said, here’s the three reasons why almost all non-fiction authors should not use a pen name:
Number one is trust and credibility.
You are writing this book to grow your business or build your brand in most cases. That’s very difficult to do if people find out it’s not actually you.
So use your own name to establish that trust, build the credibility, and showcase who you are and what you know.
Number two is confusion.
When somebody knows you as your pen name, but they also know you personally as your real name, who do they introduce you as? What do they call you? It might seem small until you have the problem, but when you go to a conference, what do you put on your name tag? And, who do your friend’s introduce you as to others? They won’t know what to call you, or who to refer people to. It can be really tricky business. You’ll definitely miss out on some readers because some people will opt not to introduce you at all just to avoid the hassle.
Number three is marketability.
Even if you’re writing in different categories, there’s cross-promotion, and there are people who are going to read everything you write, no matter what category it falls into. In fact, here’s a fun fact for you. I am well known in Canada as a real estate investing expert. When I opened Book Launchers, and started helping people write, publish and sell a brand-boosting book, my first ten authors were people who knew me as a real estate expert. Why would they write and publish a book with me when they know me as a real estate expert? Because they know me, they trust me, they believe in me, Julie Broad. As a result, it creates massive credibility and trust, which you’ll lose if you go by a fake name.
It’s fun to be someone else for a minute, but when it comes to writing and publishing a brand-building and business-boosting book, you probably don’t want any confusion over whether somebody’s talking to Julie or Jane. You want them to know who they’re talking to, trust you, have credibility, and of course, be able to tell their friends about their friend, Julie.