Questions About Pen Names

Saturday, January 11, 2020

By Bobbie Christmas

Q: I’m publishing a book of rebus puzzles. Should I use a pen name or my own name? I know some authors use another name when they switch genres, so readers don’t become confused. Your thoughts are appreciated.

A: I love to hear when writers of one style turn to another, as in the case of your writing word puzzles. The switch to a totally different genre does sometimes trigger the wish for a pseudonym, but the choice is yours.

Readers don’t easily get confused. They can tell the difference between a work of fiction and one of nonfiction. Even if you wrote in various fiction genres, such as romance, thriller, mystery, and science fiction, each book cover explains what the book is about. How would it baffle readers?

One of my most successful clients writes both thrillers and fantasy novels. She has won awards for both genres and sold the separate genres to different publishers. She has a big following for both genres and uses her real name for both. Using a pen name for one or the other genre might have cut down her fan base and reduced the overall sales of her books.

Personally, I love my name, and the only reason I would use a fictitious one is if I were to write something in which I took no pride. Omar Sharif did not write under other names when he shifted from acting to screenwriting to writing about bridge; he took advantage of his popularity.

One time a fellow author at a book signing admitted to me that she wrote in so many genres and had so many pseudonyms that she sometimes forgot who she was supposed to be on a particular day at a specific event. She said gatherings of authors had become a nightmare to her, because of her various names. At general book signings where authors were invited as a group, she brought five or six books with various pseudonyms, and no one knew who she was. Guess who was confused. Not readers; the author was the confused one.

No rule applies to using pen names. The choice is a personal one. Before you decide to use an alias, though, think of the pros and cons. The only pro I see is that it gives authors anonymity when necessary. The cons are numerous, though.

Q: I own a business, and I am writing a humorous book critiquing the dating habits of American men. Parts of the book are a little off-color, and I don’t want it to impact my business negatively by being “out there” where my clients might read it. Can I/should I publish anonymously? How in heaven’s name is that done? Maybe a pen name? How do I navigate this terrain in the book proposal, which is complete except for this aspect?

A: You’ve hit on one of the reasons why some authors use pen names. Pick a good nom de plume, and on the title page of the proposal below your name, drop down two lines and add, “Writing as” and add the pseudonym you have chosen. In other words, the book proposal should include your real name, but the actual book probably should not.

Q: Is there a section on a government website to add a pen name?

A: Pen names, or pseudonyms, are left up to authors, and authors may have a variety of reasons for not using their real names. As far as I know, though, there is no registry for pen names. The only rule of thumb is not to use a pen name that is the name of a well-known author or celebrity. For example, you are likely to be sued if you use J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, or Tom Hanks as your pen name.


Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to or

Read Bobbie’s Zebra Communications blog at


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