OWL writers doing their thing.

FAQ – Using a pen name

The use of pen names is a question that frequently comes up in writing groups and on writing sites. I’ve seen writers make the answers far more complex than they need to be.  So, here I’ll try to address the basics.

Do I need to use a pen name?
No, many authors publish under their own name.  In fact, if you are working to establish yourself as an expert in a certain field and publishing non-fiction books and articles, you’ll probably want to use your real name. 

Why use a pen name?  
Authors chose pen names for many reasons.  They may feel their real name is too difficult to remember or too common to be marketable.  Someone else may already be published under an author’s name.  Or they may simply want to use a name that has always appealed to them.  

How do I choose a pen name?
There are no rules for choosing a pen name.  Some people choose a variation of their real name or use a family name.  Other people use names that have always appealed to them.  Romance and erotica writers may use pen names that they feel work well for the genre.  I can offer a couple of suggestions to help with the process.

Choose a name that you’ll remember to answer to at conferences and book signings.  You don’t want to accidentally offend an event coordinator or potential reader by ignoring them because you forgot your name.

Do a web search on potential names.  A search in Google will let you know if the name you’re considering is too common or perhaps associated with activities you don’t want to be known for.  A follow up search on Amazon.com can turn up any uses of the name by other authors.  

Can I use different pen names for different genres?
Yes, you can but keep in mind that this may not be needed.  If you need to establish identities for genres with widely separate audiences, such as young adult fantasy and erotica, using two different pen names may be helpful.  But for two genres that may share readers, say fantasy and science fiction or romance and mystery, using two names may make it more difficult to build name recognition. 


How do I let an agent or publisher know I’m using a pen name?
The simplest way is to include the pen name as the “by” line when you present a manuscript, sample chapters or article to an agent or publisher.  All correspondence such as query letters and emails should be done under your real name.  This is the name that the checks will be made out to.  But after the title of your story or article, you may include your pen name after the word “by”


(Top of paper and left aligned — your contact info)
Ima Ritter
1234 Main Street

(Spaced down and centered – title and by line)

My Big Novel


I.M. Sonso


What about contracts?  What do I do about my pen name there?
You will sign all contracts with your real and legal name.  After all, they are legal documents.  Agents and publishers are used to working with authors who use pen names and some contracts do have a place for you to indicate your pen name.  The phrasing will look something like:

I (real name) grant to publisher (their name) the rights (lots of legal wording) for work (title) published as (pen name).

Thanks for reading!

I hope the answers above help with some of the basic pen name questions.  If you have other questions you’d like answered, submit them to Writer Chai for consideration.