I have never used a pen name.
There have been a variety of reasons for this. At first, as a teenager, it just didn’t occur to me. After all, I was a writer. Why would I want to make it harder for people to find what I’d written?
Much later, I learned that Joanne Rowling had been advised to use initials – J.K. – to obscure her gender, because “boys don’t read books by women writers.” Using my full name on my plays and published stories became tinged by a feeling of feminism, although (obviously) I sometimes use my initials and last name for the sake of brevity (for example, the URL of this website).
In the last few months, however, I’ve started thinking about writing non-fiction, and that’s made me start to consider the use of an alternative name – either a variation of my own name, maybe the initials, or more likely a different name altogether – because the topics I’d write about are sensitive ones and not necessarily work I’d want to publish under my full name. Since I’m not making enough money to live off my creative writing (yet) and I still need a day job, not revealing details of my personal life while connecting them to my name might be an unfortunate but practical decision.
Writing under multiple names isn’t new (for example, Nora Roberts writes under her own name in romance, but as J.D. Robb when she’s penning a mystery, and Stephen King flopped as Richard Bachman – not to mention Rowling’s own forays into assumed names), but I feel like the practice carries pluses and minuses.
One plus would be the anonymity it affords; one minus would be that it would require setting up and maintaining an entire separate platform as a “second” author. A plus would be that it allows for easy separation by readers – someone doesn’t download a title thinking they’re going to get the genres I write in creatively, and instead wind up with a how-to book on putting up a shelf. A minus would be that that makes it harder for readers who like my work and might want to put up a shelf to discover that yes, I have indeed written a how-to book on exactly that. (And please note, this is just an example; I’ve never put up a shelf in my life)
I’m curious about how other writers make the decision to work under a pen name. Why do you use it? Or why don’t you? Or why do you do both? Are there reasons in favor or against either option that I might not have thought of? If you’re not a writer, what do you think about authors writing under more than one name? Do you prefer the simplicity of looking for one author, no matter what genre they write in, or would you rather be able to compartmentalize the writings of your favorite authors?
Looking forward to your answers in the comments.