Dear Fellow Writer,

Have you chosen your author name yet?

It’s something you need to decide before getting published and launching your massive self-marketing campaign. It’s also not a decision to be taken lightly, since your author name will be woven throughout your entire self-marketing and publishing plan. Plus, your name will be searchable and key in setting up your author social media platform.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been hemming and hawing over whether you should stick with your roots (your given name), or whether a brand-new title is your ticket to success.

Today, I want to talk about five ways using a pen name might boost your creativity, or at the very least when using a pen name potentially improves your chances of writing a successful book.

Reason #1: You can write without fear of judgment

A pen name makes it possible for you to write without worrying that people will judge you for scripting your own life. Say you’re a woman who writes a love story that opens with a dramatic scene where the hero’s parents are killed. How quickly might one suppose you hate your own in-laws? Happens all the time.

In fact, a common complaint among authors is that people always think you’re writing about them even when you’re not. They assume the events in your fictional tales are based on true life experiences, or on their experiences. These same disparaging critics believe anybody you kill off in a scene was undoubtedly a prototype of someone you detest in real life.

But with a pen name, you’re free from all that.

Reason #2: It can be exciting to get feedback under a different name, free of reader expectations

If you already have a reputation as a certain kind of writer, you can publish “without hype or expectation.” At least, that’s what J. K. Rowling explained when asked about her decision to publish her crime thriller, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

After being outed (against her will), Rowling wrote, “I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre … and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.”

Reason #3: You can set the tone for your author brand

Author Karin Slaughter is an American crime writer who was blessed with a name that complements her fiction pursuits. Nicholas Sparks has a last name that supplements the flickering love of his story lines.

But what if your given name doesn’t mesh with your writing interests? What if you want to write self-help books but your last name is Looney? Or you hoped to write Christian fiction but your first name is Judas?

When it comes to branding, your goal should be to evoke the right tone for your readers. So if you’re open to a pen name, think about the book you want to write, consider your audience, and choose a name that balances the two. Here are tips on choosing the perfect pen name.

Reason #4: Privacy concerns

Maybe you have a terrific story in mind … or a memoir, or even an autobiography … but someone in your life will fly off the handle when they see it in print.

It’s enough to paralyze even the most prolific writer, especially if you’ve ever had unwelcome attention from anyone. Nowadays, a simple Internet search can give us most people’s home address with a photo to boot. Throw in the usually easily-accessible spouse and kids’ names and you realize you’re a lot more vulnerable than you ever thought.

But with a pen name, you’ll be more protected. (Not entirely, though — read about the legal terms of pen names to find out why.)

Reason #5: You want to wipe the slate clean

Scrutiny of your work can stifle the imagination. And if you’ve already taken the plunge as an author and it didn’t go well, chances are you’ll want to build a new community of readers. Better to start fresh and build a new following by establishing a new name and platform than to try to win over folks who associate you with an unsuccessful book.

Not a Decision to Be Taken Lightly …

I can think of a dozen names I’ve always thought were cool, or at least cooler than mine. But even if you’re set on using a pen name for your books, don’t rush into the decision. Consider the most important elements of choosing a pen name first. Then, pick a name that supports your self-marketing platform.

If you want to know more, here are some practical reasons to use a pen name. On the same note, here are seven reasons to ditch the pen name idea entirely.

Once you get your name set … get ready for the fun to start. Because with your name and goals in place, it’s time to get your self-marketing platform up and rocking!

Just for fun — what are some of the pen names you’re toying with? Please share below.

To your writing success,

mindy mchorse, author