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Why Using a Pen Name is a Risk that Writers Shouldn’t Take

April 19th, 2017 by Jonathan Merritt & Margaret Feinberg
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Are you afraid to share personal stories because of potential blowback from friends and family? Have you ever thought it might be easier to publish your work anonymously or under another name?

One of the more frequent questions we have received from young writers over the years is, “Should I use a pen name?”

We only need one syllable to respond: No.

Imagine being born. You have no friends, no family, no one. 

When you use a pen name, you go back to the womb. You start from scratch.

In publishing, this places you at a massive disadvantage. Because without an established identity, you will have no one to champion your work who is personally invested in you. No one who knows and loves you and is motivated to spread your work by word of mouth. 

A few years ago, Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, published a mystery novel under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The reasoning, in part, was that men often succeed in that genre and Rowling didn’t want her wizarding history to overshadow the storyline.

While the book received positive reviews and had modest sales, it wasn’t until her involvement was leaked that it took flight in the marketplace.

Robert Galbraith had no one championing him. But once Rowling’s name was attached to it, her loyal fans jumped on it.

The power of your network is not the only consideration.

We live in a time in publishing when authenticity and trust are at an all-time premium. 

So people can feel cheated, untrusting, or even angry when they realize a pen name is used. 

Avoid the temptation to take on a nom de plume, and make peace with your content and audience. Obscure identities if necessary. Throttle back on details if you must. But unleash yourself into the world.

Because what the world really needs is:

You.

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