Why Do Authors Use Pseudonyms?

Q: Why do authors use pseudonyms?—Anonymous

A: Authors write under pseudonyms, or pen names, for a variety of reasons. Established authors will do it to cross genres and keep from aggravating their fan bases. Wouldn’t you be a bit ticked off if you bought Stephen King’s next book expecting blood, guts and hair-raising intensity, only to find out it’s a weepy romance novel? King may choose to publish under a different name so he doesn’t disappoint his die-hard horror fans.

Another reason for using a pen name is to switch publishers. When an author is under contract, her publisher may own the rights to any upcoming work under her name. Often authors will take up a new name so they can shop around their work while avoiding legal problems (be sure to read your contract closely, though, because some prohibit this).

But one of the most common reasons authors write under aliases is because their earlier works bombed. If a writer didn’t make money for the publisher the first time, he’s not likely to get a second chance—publishers would prefer to give someone new a shot. Under a pen name, a writer can be reborn.  

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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12 thoughts on “Why Do Authors Use Pseudonyms?

  1. CG Raine

    When submitting a story to a publisher first time (I’m getting ready to do send in a childrens book with illustrations), do I tell them my real name, and to only publish with the pen name I want, or submit everything with the pen name? I believe in honesty from the beginning, as long as its only the editor and staff that knows, and not the public.. Thanks!


  2. Skipper15

    I have been considering a pseudonym, for reasons similar to Ryans. Except the reasons are personal. If my family saw my name on my book they would know exactly what and who I was talking about in it. My novel is almost done. So the rest of the world can think of it as fiction. Writing for me isn’t being known its about getting the story out there. I am only 15 so I may not know what I’m talking about. *shrugs*


    I would like some feedback on my reasons for a pseudonym.

    I think one of the most debilitating things about writing a technical book, or a professional book, is that people will always research your background “first” and base a judgement solely on their agreement or disagreement with your history in business.

    Many of us can contribute great wealth from experience, and not always be thought of as a thought leader solely because we never achieved the rankings that some have. For instance, in sales, I may not be Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but one thing the Generals of business can’t tell me is how to dodge bullets on the front firing line.

    From a 10,000 foot view they can give the greatest advice, but what about the grunt on the ground? Do they truly know the intricate maneuvers, professional processes and inter-relationships between sales person and prospect? I think technically from a manual they have a good idea, but those generalized manuals already exist by the thousands…

    I want to write a book about the sales grunt, his daily life in the field and make it a survival guide type approach to getting through the jungle we call B2B sales.. 🙂 But I also want readers to judge the book solely on the merit of the material, its philosophical aspects, and whether or not it can help them in their success.

    So, I want to use a pseudonym to ensure that my personal history doesn’t get mixed in with the material.

    What say you? If you were looking for a professional book, and the intro caught your attention, would you purchase the book if it were slightly below the market price of the big wigs? Even if the intro revealed the editor was withholding his identity?

    I look forward to reading your comments… and thank you in advance… 🙂

  4. anonymous

    What is the proper way to format a title page when using a pseudonym? Is it the person’s real name that goes in parenthesis or the alias? I can’t remember, and I can’t find the question where it was presented, either. Please help.

  5. Ryan

    I have an unpublished manuscript which I’ve copyrighted. If I don’t find a "traditional" publisher or agent I’ll self publish with a POD.
    I’m using a pseudonym for several reasons. My book is a collection of documented experiences I had while being harassed by my fellow employees as a correctional officer.

    QUESTIONS : 1) When I copyright the final proof before going to press, I’ll use my pseudonym but the copyright office also wants my real name as well. DOES A PSEUDONYM HELP PROTECT ANONIMITY? Can’t people contact the copyright office and discover your real identity?

    2) Does using a pseudonym erase the possibility of my photo on the back? I’m thinking I’ll skip the photo.

    3) For future books and publicity who am I? Am I my pseudonym or my real name? So when I make it on Opra (lol) who will I pretend to be?

    Thank you for your advice

  6. Amanda

    Up until now, I’ve always used my real name when writing poetry and such (though very little has been published in print, I do have a considerable amount online).

    Now that I’ve thought about it, though, using a pseudonym doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Since I haven’t had anything major published yet, I might consider trying this. 🙂

  7. G.G. Elliott

    I use a pseudonym because I want my books to be known, not me. Of course I will do whatever is required to promote them, but I do not want my personal life to become public.

    My writing is only about what’s on the pages, not the name on the cover.

    The pseudonym is an attempt to safeguard privacy.

    1. CG Raine

      when submitting first time to a publisher, do you tell them your real name and then add you want your pen name on the book only? or give the publisher only the pen name?

  8. shaman afrose

    hi, answer me, directly. are you the hansome brian? so i can judge. yes, your secretory is not , on behalf of you.my name is shaman, i gave this to me when i started to write,at 13.do you know. what does it mean? i don’t hide. any thing. ask anything, before i start.please get in touchASAP. REGARDS. THANKS .

    dear, sometimes hard to judge the person. if you send me direct e-mail, to me, so i can start.answer. are you the brian? hansome writer, which is rare. usually singers and writers are ….