J. R. R. Tolkien is the brilliant creator of all things Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit and, as if you couldn't already tell, J. R. R. is not his real name. His real name is in fact John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. There are some questions you might be wondering, firstly, who thought of a name as cool as Reuel? Secondly, why didn't he just use John Tolkien as his name? Many authors prefer to use a pen name instead of their real name and in this article, I'm going to list some pros and cons of doing so!
A pen name is something that authors use instead of their legal name. It could be a nickname, initials, an entirely made up name altogether or something that differentiates you from well... you.
Let's list some of the pros of using a pen name.
Keeps your personal life somewhat private
One of the biggest pros of using a pen name is that it keeps your personal life somewhat separate from your private life. I say somewhat because, in order to build a following and loyal fan base, you'll probably have to show your face for press interviews, social media posts, book fairs, etc. So, although at first glance many might not recognise the name Emily Bankhurst, they will however recognise your face and, depending on how well-known you and your books become, might start to place the name with the face.
Control your brand
When you write under a pen name, it's very easy to choose a name that compliments your brand. For example, if you're a romance author, you could change your name to something a bit more mysterious and sexy like Scarlet Swan, for example, which you'll typically see happen a lot from authors who write romance. Did you know that, back in the day, J.K. Rowling chose her name because she wanted it to appeal more to boys? Using a pen name allowed her the opportunity to create something more neutral. So using a pen name allows you to be more flexible and choose something that will target your target audience and compliment your author brand.
Better marketing opportunities
Having a name like Emily Smith or Joe Ford is incredibly common and so it can be difficult to publish work if say there's already an author out there with the same name or a website URL that's already taken. However, by choosing a pen name, you open up the opportunities available to you, such as getting a URL that isn't taken because it's unlikely that someone would have taken the URL Violet Cherub or V.C. Lawrence, for example. It also means that your name could be easier to remember, which is a pro for branding and ensures that your name and things associated with it (books, website, social media) appears at the top of Google search results.
Better writing opportunities
Readers associate author names with genres. For example, Leigh Bardugo writes Fantasy, Stephen King writes horror, James Patterson typically writes crime thriller books and the list goes on. If you're a fantasy author, but you want to try your hand at say writing romance, a different pen name would suit better so that it doesn't confuse your readers.
Let's list some of the cons of using a pen name.
Keeps your writing life somewhat private
This is totally subjective but it can actually be a con to keep your writing life privately because you often don't get to use the bragging rights you deserve for writing a whole damn book. Say that you started to become well-known, would you be disappointed if those who know your legal/preferred name don't know that you're the writer of the 2022 best-selling crime book? If your answer is yes, then maybe using a pen name isn't for you.
Difficulty building a brand
If you do decide to use a pen name you should start building your social media accounts, a website, copyright, etc, all under this name. This means that, if you've already started an author account for your legal/preferred name to allow readers to follow you on your writing journey, you'll have to essentially start again. This doesn't mean to say that you can't use your preferred name account but I wouldn't recommend using it to promote a book you wrote under a pen name as this will be confusing for readers and, when they search up your pen name, they're not going to know to follow you.
It can be confusing
Not just to your family members and friends who know you as Kimberley Walsh, but to others who need to use your legal name for documentation, or hotel bookings, or tax. Well-known author, Alexa Donne, actually said that she was once not able to stay in a hotel booking because the event organisers had used her pen name which she didn't have legal ID for. This can crop up often, so bear this in mind when making your decision.
Once you've come up with your pen name, it's time to start using it. Start focussing on building your author platform and take a look at the articles on this link which may prove useful.