To access all our features

Open the Goodpods app
Close icon

169 -Everything Authors Need to Know about Pen Names

Create If Writing

07/12/19 • 31 min

Share icon

Have you ever wondered if should write under a pen name? Or why some authors choose to write using a pseudonym? In this post, you'll learn why you might want to write under a pen name (or not) and how to navigate having multiple pen names.

A year ago, I tried an experiment.

I found a genre that was selling well where I thought I could find success. I didn't really want to use my already-established email lists and social media, so I started almost completely from scratch.

You can see how that worked out after one year in this post. (Spoiler alert: month to month it's up-and-down, but has been four figures--sometimes closer to five-figures--a month for over a year.)

So why write under a pen name?

For me personally, it was more about marketing and testing the waters than anything else. In terms of marketing, I have a few nonfiction business books under my own name. These are NOT the same genre as the clean romance I wanted to write as Emma St. Clair. That can provide a muddy brand and reader confusion. A new name seemed like a good option.

To test the waters, I wanted to know if I could use the knowledge I've gained over the past however-many years in this online space to find success self-publishing without using my already-established platform.

I'm actually about to launch a second pen name (Sullivan Gray) who will do Young Adult paranormal and contemporary books. I'm planning the same strategy as I used to launch Emma and we'll see how it goes.


Listen to Episode 169 - How and Why to Write Under a Pen Name


Authors might choose a pen name if the subject that they're writing about might cause conflict with their actual life. I've seen this a lot when authors write steamy romance and don't necessarily want their mom reading it. Some steamy romance authors also write clean romance and don't want any crossover.

In this case, authors will be very careful to keep their pen name completely apart and separate from everything else they write. It's a lot more hidden.

Authors might choose a pen name if they write in multiple, unrelated genres. This is the main reason I chose a pen name. When we shop online, we don't realize how many quick snap decisions we make on things. Having a pen name can keep ultimate clarity in terms of branding.

Are my sweet romance books that different from my Christmas devotionals or my book on email lists? No... but the readers aren't the same. The crossover is likely minimal at best. And when a reader glances at my author name and the books that customers also bought on the Amazon sales page, it presents a problem to see unrelated books. It would be confusing to see a romance book next to a book on business. Readers need quick and easy cues with clean author branding.

Whenever you're as big as Stephen King or JK Rowling, you could write whatever and people will buy it. (Big authors still sometimes write under pen names!) But when you're starting out, it's much easier to have one author name PER GENRE for crystal clear marketing and branding. I've seen personally how well this has worked for me and I've also seen authors struggle trying to keep multiple unrelated genres under one name as they start out. It was HARD.

  • Some people in the space (whom I really respect) say that you don't need to worry about a pen name. I disagree when it comes to branding and marketing, but if you want to see another side to this, check out a post by Anne R. Allen.

Amazon will only let you have three pen names under one Author Central account. It isn't TERRIBLE to have multiple pen names (more on that below), but if you can keep things easy, DO.

If you're writing books that are related or might have a larger crossover audience, then don't do a pen name. An example might be writing clean romance and clean romantic suspense. These are the same steam level in terms of sexual content (which matters to readers), though the audiences might not be a 100% match.

That said, my Emma St. Clair clean romance books will have a similar steam level to my YA content, BUT the YA books will have more violence and intense action. Some have paranormal elements. The crossover might be there (I read both genres!) but it's going to be a way smaller number. Just look at what these different covers convey!

You can see how these are likely not the same audiences, right? Everything from the color to the tone of these book covers sends signals to the readers, even subconsciously. Pen name = good plan.


Episode comments


out of 5

Star filled grey IconStar filled grey IconStar filled grey IconStar filled grey IconStar filled grey Icon
Star filled grey IconStar filled grey IconStar filled grey IconStar filled grey Icon
Star filled grey IconStar filled grey IconStar filled grey Icon
Star filled grey IconStar filled grey Icon
Star filled grey Icon

1 Rating

Star iconStar iconStar iconStar iconStar icon

eg., What part of this podcast did you like? Ask a question to the host or other listeners...


Generate a badge

Get a badge for your website that links back to this

Select type & size
Open dropdown icon