Pen names (or ‘nom de plume’ as they were originally known) continue to be a popular device in a writer’s toolbox. Authors may choose to use one to create a more original, memorable name which they hope may attract greater interest in their book. Alternatively they may use a pen name in order to protect anonymity. They are typically, and almost exclusively, used by writers of fiction.

But is it appropriate or even beneficial for a non-fiction author to use a pen name? By and large writers in this genre will use their own name – mostly for professional reasons. If you are an expert in your field then you want people to know that. Your bio, foreword etc will promote your knowledge and cement your professional standing.

But like all scenarios there are exceptions. The following might be reasons to consider using a pen name:

  • You have a name that’s hard to pronounce or has unfortunate connotations that might attract ridicule.
  • You have a very common name that maybe be confused with someone else’s but in a different genre (although this could draw attention and end up being an advantage!)
  • You have the same name as another author in a similar field.
  • Your work is of a sensitive nature.
  • You want to protect your identity and privacy.
  • You are part of a multi-author book and want to come up with one name.
  • You have previously published under your own name in a different genre.

Be aware that using a pen name is likely to significantly alter the marketing strategy of your book compared to using your real name. Furthermore, its arduous enough managing one author profile let alone taking on another with all the extra work involved. You also need to think carefully over the longer term if you plan to publish more books. It is likely that most industry professionals will advise against using a name other than your own in this genre. However, if for some of the reasons above, you are considering using a pen name then discuss it with your print consultant and be fully aware of all the pros and cons before making a final decision. At the end of the day it’s the content of the book that matters rather than the name of the author.

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Mary Vaux-ClarkMary Vaux-Clark is a freelance editor, proof-reader and writer. Her areas of interest include current affairs, travel, history and sport. She has travelled widely and worked in Hong Kong as an editor and ESL teacher for over ten years.