Pen Names: Do They Help or Hurt Your Book Marketing Efforts?

I was thinking about authors who write under pen names / pseudonyms when publishing their books, and how that choice might affect your marketing. Are they an added benefit? Do they make marketing more difficult for you? I'd love to have some authors share their thoughts here on why they chose to either write under their own name or a pen name, and looking back share how that choice influenced their ability to market their books.

If I were to publish a novel today, I would very likely write under a pen name for a few reasons (in my case I think a pen name would actually help with marketing).

  1. "Jennifer Mattern" just doesn't have a good ring to it - I couldn't visualize it on a book jacket. It also doesn't convey anything specific to me (doesn't look like it "belongs" in any particular niche.
  2. Because my business (currently fulltime PR and business writing) is heavily marketed under my name, promotion of a fictional work could actually hurt my visibility with clients down the road (I wouldn't want a novel to overpower my business in SEO efforts for example - something you need to think about these days).
  3. That marketing and business image may not mesh terribly well with the type of fiction I might want to publish, meaning I could end up holding back the novel because of my existing image as a business writer or I could damage my reputation on that front if a novel were completely out of line with my client base.

For me, from a marketing perspective, a pseudonym would make sense if writing fiction. I don't believe there's one right answer to this though. there are certainly cases where publishing under your own name would be preferable:

  1. Your name is already tied to the genre in some way.
  2. You name is tied to nothing writing-wise (you don't have to worry about mixed marketing messages), and you simply prefer seeing your real name in print.
  3. You have a huge following already in another niche or area, and that audience would likely take to your book (you want to leverage that popularity).

I think #3 is the best reason to stick to your own name if you're torn between the two options. If I ever published nonfiction in a niche where I had an audience already built (independent music, pr, freelance writing, etc.), I would undoubtedly publish under my real name.

Now I want to hear what you think. Do you publish under a pen name or your own name? How do you think that choice has affected your ability to market yourself? What other things can you think of as a support for either option, to help new authors make that decision?

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

Subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter to get freelance writing updates from Jenn in your inbox.

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10 thoughts on “Pen Names: Do They Help or Hurt Your Book Marketing Efforts?”

  1. Pen Names: To Hide or Reveal – That’s the Question For Authors

    As a book publicist I am frequently asked about using pen names. Most recently I went through the pro/con process of whether or not to use a pen name with a client formerly with the CIA. It prompted me to delve into the history of pen names and their uses over time. Here’s the upshot of that question “Scott, should I use a pen name?”

    A rich tradition has existed for hundreds of years for fiction writers to use pen names. The most famous pen name, of course, was Samuel Clemens writing under the name Mark Twain.

    A lesser known use is Romance writer Nora Roberts who uses the pen name J.D. Robb when writing suspense novels.

    “Alice in Wonderland” was authored by Lewis Carroll which was a pen name used by Charles Dodgson who had gained a considerable reputation as a mathematician and didn’t want to create confusion by writing fiction under his real name.
    As a book marketing expert I have represented a long list of authors, some of whom have chosen to use pen names. Others have asked me about the wisdom of using a pen name. My general response is to advise against a pen name but there are good reasons not to sign a book with your real name.

    Nora Roberts certainly has a marketable name. After all, her name has appeared on the NY Times Best Seller List for a combined 660 weeks – 100 weeks in the number one spot. Over 280 million copies of her books are in print, including 12 million copies sold in 2005 alone. So with a marketable name like that, why would Nora Roberts ever want to use a pen name? (By the way, Nora Roberts also is a pen name; the author was born Eleanor Marie Roberts).

    In 1992 Putnam publishers asked Nora Roberts to come up with a second pen name because they could not keep up with the prolific writer’s romance novels let alone the new genre of romance suspense novels she wanted to write. So she took the initials J.D. from sons Jason and Dan and shortened Roberts to Robb. She also has written under the pen names Jill March and Sara Hardesty.

    One of my clients served as a Navy Seal in the Iraq War and then returned to write a book on the war that was critical of Islam. To protect his personal safety and maintain security for his family, my client wrote under the pen name Chuck Bravedy. The author was concerned that extremists living in America would be offended and angered by his controversial book and come after him or his family.
    My biggest concern for Chuck Bravedy was security. Could one of these terrorists hunt him or his family down and kill them? What if an extremist was offended by an opinion in the book or by something my client said in an interview? (Think about Salman Rushdie). It’s harder to find somebody who’s “not in the phone book,” so to speak. Being anonymous can be a good thing. The fact that Bravedy’s name was “not in the phone book” raised some attention from the Pentagon who called me to inquire about Chuck Bravedy because they did not have his name in their files. The Pentagon was concerned because they want to keep phonies from impersonating military officials.

    One client I represented, who asked my advice about using a pen name, was a former CIA operative. He was concerned about the impact a pen name would have on promoting his book. He wondered whether radio and TV interviewers would be willing to use the pen name during an interview or would insist on using his birth name. Some CIA friends of my client also had published books and used their real names without problems. To cover his bases while he decided the former CIA officer went ahead and registered web domains under his real name and under his pen name. After talking with him about the options my client decided to use his real name.
    I also have represented authors who used a pen name because they had a past they were not proud of and wanted to protect their family members and loved ones from public embarrassment.

    From a marketing standpoint if your real life identify is associated with a business and you want the book to promote your business, or vice versa, than a pen name should not be used. But if you have success, and don’t want that success threatened by pursuing an avocation of writing, than a pen name would be in order. Pen names may create marketing challenges, most of which can be overcome, and so the marketing implications need to be examined before publishing.
    Reasons for using a pen name include
    • To avoid embarrassment
    • For personal safety or security
    • If you write under more than one genre
    • If your name is hard to pronounce or spell
    • If your name is not marketable
    • If your name conflicts with the name of another author
    • To hide gender (a male writing in predominantly female genre)
    • To avoid confusing readers if you are well known in another field
    If you want to hide from the public and from people you work with or worked with, etc., than a pen name is fine. But, if it’s not important than why bother? So, my vote is to use your own name. Here are just a few points to ponder.
    • Use real name if you are not trying to hide from anyone.
    • Use real name to brand your name for speaking gigs or consulting assignments
    • Use real name if you are planning to write a series of books
    • Use real name so acquaintances can better locate your published works
    • A real names builds trust and confidence amongst readers
    • Its far easier to brand a real name than a pen name
    • Expertise is validated by an individual’s real life experience
    • Long-term loyalty with readers is easier to build with real name
    If you want to brand your name for speaking gigs or for consulting engagements then use your own name. Furthermore if you are planning to write a series of books then using your own name makes the most sense to me.

    About Scott Lorenz
    Scott Lorenz is President of Westwind Communications, a public relations and marketing firm with a special knack for working with individuals and entrepreneurs to help them get all the publicity they deserve and more. Lorenz has handled public relations and marketing for numerous authors, doctors, lawyers, inventors and entrepreneurs. As a book marketing expert Lorenz is called upon by top execs and bestselling authors to promote their books. Learn more about Westwind Communications’ book marketing approach at or contact Lorenz at or by phone at 734-667-2090.

  2. Thanks, however I am still wanting to know is there anything legally need to be done. If so, what are the steps? Because I have already considered a name.

  3. That depends. If you’re operating as a business under a different name, you should check with your state government. They may require you to file forms (or pay) to be able to use a DBA (doing business as). So that would really vary a lot depending on where you live and how you’re using the name. Where I am, for example, I should be fine if I want to use a pen name to publish a book, because I’d still be doing business (and getting paid) under my real name. It would be more similar to ghostwriting where the client puts another name on it. However, if I wanted to freelance regularly, operating a business under a different name, I’d need to take care of the DBA issues.

  4. A good conversation. I am currently writing under my own name, and plan to continue that for now. I have already written under so many different genres, that I wonder if using pen names earlier might have been useful, but am not sure that changing now would bring me enough advantages. And my last name is very hard to pronounce correctly, so I have experienced the difficulty of people knowing me in person, and knowing some of my books, but not making the connection. But when I consider my alternatives, I think I’m too far into mu book writing to want to make any name changes at this late date. So, unless I write something in the future that is really “out there,” I will probably continue plugging away under my own name.

    • That’s probably smart if you’ve already built a reputation under your real name. The biggest situation where someone might reconsider that is if they’re struggling to build their initial personal brand. If you ever feel that way, a name change might make sense. But if not, stick with what’s working. 🙂

  5. I use a pen name. I chose the pen name Brownlee, it was my grandmother’s middle/family name given her in Scotland. Her encouragement and love led me to become a writer, poet and author.

    The second reason I chose a pen name is for privacy, although privacy in today’s world is difficult to maintain with all the advances in the electronics field.

    • I think that’s a lovely reason for choosing your pen name. 🙂

      And I completely understand about the privacy concerns. That’s why I don’t even bother trying to keep most pen names a secret. And for those that I do keep secret, I went into them with the expectation that they’ll eventually be associated with my real name anyway. A pen name can offer some level of privacy, especially in online branding (not having your work show up when someone Google’s your real name for example). But they’re definitely not something to try to hide behind. These days it’s too easy for someone to figure out your real identity anyway.

  6. Hi,

    I know this post is several years old, but I’m looking into using a pen name and haven’t seen my situation addressed anywhere online.

    I would gladly use my own name on my writing, but my name is so common that it has a disambiguation page on Wikipedia. As someone who’s worked in journalism and marketing, I know I’m in for a major battle visibility-wise unless I were to adopt a pen name. What do you think?

    • Hi Sean. I think that’s a valid concern. There’s one other writer who married into my name, and while it hasn’t been a huge problem, there are definitely search visibility issues (which I should have addressed years ago). We’ve also had clients reach out to the wrong one of us, and I’ve had someone try to license one of her plays. It hasn’t happened in a while, and we were good about reaching out in those cases. But I ran into another issue. Years back, she wrote for a site that I would have warned new writers away from. And I’ve had readers of this site accuse me of being a hypocrite for speaking out against exploitational sites while it appeared to them I wrote for one. So if you’re unsure about a pen name, I’d suggest looking into others with that name. Do any of them have a reputation you wouldn’t want to be associated with if someone ever confused the two of you professionally? If so, I wholeheartedly recommend adopting a pen name, even if it’s just a variation on your real name. If not, do what feels right. It sounds like you understand the marketing challenges of sticking with your real name, so either way you’re going into your decision understanding how that work might vary.


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