Your author name is part of your brand, and the use of a pseudonym is something that many writers consider in their careers for different reasons. You might also choose to write under different author names.
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This is an excerpt from How to Market a Book Third Edition, available in ebook, print and audiobook formats.
1. To differentiate brands and write in different genres
Many writers are prolific across different genres but to keep fans from being confused, authors use separate names, so readers know what they are getting.
It is also useful because the online bookstores have separate author pages for different names, so books in particular genres can be grouped together. In an age of algorithms and machine learning, this can also separate your audience into more easily targeted groups.
You are reading a non-fiction book by Joanna Penn, and only a small sub-section of readers may go on to read my supernatural thrillers as J.F.Penn. I'm not hiding my identity, but I'm using a different name to make sure I meet reader expectations and to help the algorithms build a profile of my ideal reader.
More famous examples include Nora Roberts, who also writes as J.D. Robb; Ruth Rendell also wrote as Barbara Vine, Agatha Christie (whose real name was Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller) also wrote romances under Mary Westmacott; and Iain Banks also wrote as Iain M. Banks.
2. To protect privacy
Many erotica and romance writers use pseudonyms because the nature of their writing means that they would rather keep their true identity secret. The same can also be true of memoir writers who may want to protect people in the book, particularly political or medical stories where litigation may be more likely.
Author CJ Lyons uses a pseudonym because when she started writing thriller novels she was also a pediatrician, and didn't want her patients knowing about her alter ego.
When you publish under a pseudonym, you just use a different author name in the specific field on the publishing platforms. There are other fields for legal name and bank account name.
You can interact online under your pseudonym, and in fact, I have several author friends whose ‘real' name I know, but I still call them by their pseudonym because that's how I think of them.
Many authors keep their identity secret, but of course, it is possible that you will be found out. E.L.James was identified as Erika Leonard after she made a gazillion dollars with 50 Shades of Grey. But perhaps with that level of success, she doesn't mind!
3. To disguise gender
Many authors writing in a male-dominated genre will use initials to disguise gender. Women read eclectically, but research shows that men will often choose to read books by men (even subconsciously).
Some examples include Joanne Rowling writing as J.K. Rowling in the male-dominated fantasy genre, and later as Robert Galbraith in crime. George Eliot's real name was Mary Ann Evans, writing at a time when women weren't accepted as writers. I use J.F.Penn because action adventure thrillers are a male-dominated niche.
This also works the other way, and there are men writing as women in the romance genre. War veteran Bill Spence writes as Jessica Blair, and Lawrence Block writes under a number of both female and male pseudonyms.
4. If the author's name is hard to remember or is unusual
Sometimes authors use a pseudonym that is easier to spell and remember. One of my favorite authors is James Rollins, whose real name is James Paul Czajkowski.
Other famous examples include vampire novelist Anne Rice whose real name is Howard Allen Frances O'Brien; Ayn Rand of Atlas Shrugged, was actually Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, and Joseph Conrad's real name was Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski.
5. To publish faster
Indie authors these days publish as fast as they write, with no need to wait for a publisher's schedule. But traditional publishers have tended to only accept a novel a year from most authors, so many writers use different names to get around this restriction. For example, Stephen King used Richard Bachman, and Dean Koontz has admitted to using at least ten names.
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Remember, there are no rules.
You can use whatever name you like, although it's worth checking whether someone else is already using it. Putting a middle initial in or using your middle name can also be effective.
This is an excerpt from How to Market a Book Third Edition, available now in ebook, print and audiobook formats.