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Writing Under a Pen Name – Risks and Profits

Steve Aedy November 16, 2012

Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer did it. Samuel Langhorne Clemens did it. Theodor Geisel did it. Why shouldn’t you?

These mere mortals were able to brand themselves as Ann Landers, Mark Twain, and Dr. Seuss. They chose to keep their identities anonymous and apparently reap significant rewards. However, was living life under a pen name always enjoyable?

Before you take up a pen name, consider the pros and cons of such a life.

Pros of Using a Pen Name

There is no doubt about it; multiple personalities can be beneficial! Check out the positive effects a pen name could have on your writing career.

You Have the Chance to Create a New Identity

I know a guy by the name of Tim Burr. Seriously. No joke. Why his parents would do that to him, I have no idea.

I also know a woman who has a fairly common married name; however, she now bears initials that spell a three-letter slang word for a body part that isn’t common in most G-rated conversations.

I’ve met a real-life John Doe and a five-foot tall, blonde Michael Jackson.

I’m fairly certain that if any of these people took up a career in writing, they would definitely choose a pen name. Creating an alternate identity is almost a must for someone with an embarrassing name, unfortunate married name, famous double, or painfully common identity.

You Can Be Internationally Friendly

Some of us Westerners are culturally ignorant. In your mother land, you name might roll beautifully off the tongue of fellow natives. In other parts of the world, it could be a pronunciation nightmare.

Luckily, most online readers won’t think negatively about a writer as long as their English is easy enough to understand. However, there are some people who might have cultural biases. A pen name could erase the location-specific aspect of your identity.

You Can Keep Personal Information Safe and Secure

You’ve heard the expression, “there’s an app for that.” For those of us in the online world, we could say, “there’s a hacker for that.”

Personal information isn’t always safe. There are no guarantees that someone, somewhere, couldn’t use information you provide in posts as leverage to steal your identity. Personal information that seems totally harmless – like shopping preferences, favorite activities, travel experiences, etc. – could be very dangerous in the hands of the enemy. Combine that with access to your real name and you could have a recipe for disaster.

You Can Write for Multiple Demographics

Imagine this scenario: you are a freelance writer freelance writer or guest blogger who just wrapped a job with a woman’s empowerment site. Now, you have an offer from a men’s lifestyle magazine. Those are two totally different demographics. It is difficult to claim an authority on both subjects.

You can very easily use a pen name to change your sex and appeal to both audiences. Plus, changing your pen name might help you get in character.

When I am using a female name and writing to mothers and work-from-home women, it seems almost natural to write in a loving, caring, friendly and compassionate manner.

When I am using a male name and writing for the equivalent of an online man cave, I feel free to be more snarky, sarcastic, and opinionated.

You Can Always Be Professional

As a freelance writer, I was commissioned to write for a company that sold male enhancement products. Another client asked me to help write the monthly newsletter for their sex toy shop. Later, I sought a job with a high profile, very conservative law firm. Luckily, I had helped my first two clients under a pen name. When I applied with the law firm, I had zero worries about my past writing experience coming back to haunt me.

Cons of Using a Pen Name

I’ll be honest with you; there are more pros of using a pen name than cons. However, the cons are pretty big.

You Will Need Separate Portfolios for Each Name

It doesn’t matter if you are a freelancer, guest blogger, company owner, or blog manager – someone will eventually ask you for writing samples. If you have written all of your online contributions under a pen name, you won’t be able to offer anything under your real name.

Each time you want to launch a new pen name, you’ll feel like you are back at square one. You’ll need to create a new portfolio, email address, social media account, gravatar and everything else that goes along with beginning a writing career.

You Will Never Be Able to Acknowledge Your Fame

Once you become an authority in your industry, you won’t be able to go back and change your pen name. You’ll be stuck with it forever. For some, this isn’t a big deal. It shouldn’t matter whether people know you by your pen name or your real name.

However, there is something extremely gratifying about sharing a link on Facebook and saying, “Look what I did!” If you use a pen name, only those people closest to you will ever know your true capabilities.

For some people, choosing a pen name is a no-brainer. They’ve probably waited years to shed that undesirable identity. For others, the decision is much more difficult. Do you use a pen name? What are your thoughts on the subject?

3 comments
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Brian Anderson
Brian Anderson

Writing under pen name is becoming a fashion these days. As this post describes every pros and cons of this, I think its more advantageous than any disadvantage. When you write with a pen name you can be professional all the time and can write about any product and services. You can be free of fear of typecasting.  Your personal information can be safe all the time.

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