When you’re tackling all the different aspects of the self-publishing journey, one question that might come up is whether you should publish under your own name or use a pseudonym.
Below is a selection of pros and cons for using a pseudonym as an indie author.
It may be that there are people who used to be a part of your life who you wouldn’t want finding your published writing under your own name. This might be an abusive ex-partner you don’t want unsolicited contact with, or for another reason.
You might be estranged from some or all of your family members, and would prefer they not be able to find you through your books.
Or you might have a stalker, and would rather publish under another name to prevent them obtaining additional information they could use to harass you.
These are quite extreme examples, but there will be writers out there living in these circumstances. There might also be other, more mundane reasons why you’d prefer to keep your writing identity a secret from certain people.
Over and above hiding your writing identity from people you have removed from your life, you might have good reason to want to hide it from people you are still in contact with.
It may be that you have a day job in a corporate law firm, and would prefer your colleagues and bosses not know that you self-publish erotica in your spare time.
That’s not to say you should be ashamed of your writing – far from it! If you’ve written a book and you’re putting it out in the world, you should absolutely be proud of it, regardless of your style or genre. But there are circumstances, like the example above, where the nature of your writing could adversely affect your job in ways that are outside your control.
3. Avoiding Judgement
Much like the above point, writing under a pseudonym gives you more freedom to write what you want, however you want to write it.
You can self-publish, secure in the knowledge that any criticism will not be directed at your true identity, giving you the option to hide behind your pseudonym and escape any unwanted public opinions that may be directed your way.
It might be hard to avoid the emotional impact of any bad reviews or harsh online criticism, but the use of a pseudonym could provide a buffer than lessens the effect, and also prevents such potential abuse spilling over into your ‘real’ life.
4. Brand Clarity
If you write more than one genre, having a different pen name for each one is a good way to keep things separate. It can help you organise your writing and publication schedule, separate your manuscript files, and also prevent reader confusion.
Say you write cosy crime under one name, and bloody horror under another, having separate pseudonyms will stop your readers from coming across a book by you and assuming it’s the same as the others they may have read. Otherwise, they may be in for an unpleasant surprise, while your die-hard fans in each genre and easily find exactly what they’re looking for.
5. Concealing Gender
The age-old trick of using your initials probably isn't going to cut it if you want to avoid potentially negative attitudes relating to your gender as a writer.
While there should be no stigma attached to men writing romance, or women writing horror, say, the sad truth is that readers in certain genres do still have quite rigid expectations regarding the authors of their favourite books.
So, you could bypass any unwanted prejudice in this area by using a pseudonym that presents you as a different gender to your own.
6. Brand Strength
Creating a pseudonym that sounds impactful or is particularly memorable might be a useful trick if you don’t feel that your own name is going to attract readers who are browsing for their next book.
We’ll never know if Michael Caine would have had as successful an acting career if he’d originally auditioned under his real name: Maurice Micklewhite!
Similar to number 3, if you write work that could be controversial, having a pen name could protect you from negative feedback or direct criticism.
So, think carefully about how your writing might be received and how a pseudonym might present itself as the right way to do it.
Pseudonyms can put distance between you and the work, which might be what you want, as discussed above.
However, if you’ve put your heart and soul into it, you may want the pleasure of seeing your real name in print and on the cover of a book. It’s a feeling that shouldn’t be diminished by using a pseudonym unless you have a good reason for needing one.
2. Social Accolades
You won’t get the social credit for your work, unless you actively make it known that it’s you behind the pen name, which may defeat the purpose of having a pseudonym. If you’re keen to advertise your published work amongst your friends, family, colleagues, random strangers in your writing café, then you should keep your real name on the book, so it’s easy to prove it’s really you who wrote the book.
3. Reader Connection
Having a pen name and actively hiding your identity makes it harder for readers to relate and connect to you.
If you hide your real name, face and identity, obviously readers won’t know who’s behind the work, so it may make it harder for them to get to know and like you, especially as an indie author, who has to promote and market everything themselves.
Active reader engagement, both online and at events, will be easier if you are publishing under your own name.
While potentially avoiding confusion for readers, having a pen name for the different genres you write can also be a con.
For instance, if one of your romance books does really well under one name, you may want to use that success to promote your crime novel by pointing potential crossover readers to your other work.
However, it may be difficult to convince people that you’re the same person behind the other pen name, therefore making it difficult to encourage new readers across both your genres and leaving you with double the amount of marketing to do.
5. No Guarantees
With the advances in modern technology and the tenacity of certain people who have way too much time on their hands, there’s no guarantee that using a pseudonym will protect your identity.
For example, if someone is really dedicated to exposing you, they will likely find a way.
So, it might be better to be prepared for public attention by using your real name, rather than it being sprung upon you later on.
Particularly if you are using multiple pen names for different types of writing, there is in-built complexity in maintaining your online presence.
You might need to build two separate websites, manage two separate email addresses (and remember to reply from the right one every time!), and maintain multiple different social media accounts (also paying attention to using the right one for the right purposes).
7. Legal Issues
There may also be legal and tax ramifications related to using a pseudonym that you’re not aware of. So, make sure you research this side of things carefully before embarking on your self-publishing journey.
So, there are plenty of good reasons for using a pseudonym for your published writing, and plenty of potential drawbacks as well. Each writer is going to have their own unique set of circumstances, which will push them in one direction or the other.
But hopefully, the above lists will give you some food for thought when negotiating this decision.
About Annie Percik
Annie Percik lives in London, writing novels and short stories, whilst working as a freelance editor. She writes a blog about writing on her website, which is where all her current publications are listed, including her novels, The Defiant Spark and A Spectrum of Heroes. She hosts a media review podcast, and publishes a photo-story blog, recording the adventures of her teddy bear. He is much more popular online than she is.