Why Do Authors Use Pseudonyms?

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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.