Pen names: who needs them and why.

Many authors use pen names, also known as pseudonyms. Perhaps they want to separate their personal life from their writerly life, create a brand around pen name, want a chance at a new persona, or write in different genres and want to keep things separate.

Common questions surrounding pen names:

When should I introduce a pen name?

I suggest querying with your real name. This way, as an agent, I can find you. However, if you are an established writer with a pen name mention your pen name in your query so I can look up your previously published titles. You can introduce it when you start to move forward in the process, signing with an agent etc.

Will an editor or agent suggest a pen name to me?

They might. With the case of one of my clients she had a common first name and common last name. Lovely names, but in this case we want readers to search and find her, not a variety of writers with the same/similar name so we created a pen name. You can wait until the publishing stage to come up with a name with your editor. However, if you’ve gotten that far with your own name usually people stick with it.

If I am writing in women’s fiction and YA should I keep my name consistent across genres or create a new brand?

I am usually a fan of consistency in all cases, but with this one I suggest a new name so that readers won’t be confused.

Lastly, a pen name gives a writer a chance at a new genre, series or publisher if their first book didn’t do so well. A pen name is part of your brand and a big marketing opportunity so think carefully about it, whether a sentimental or marketing centric choice.

And just for good fun: find your pseudonym with a pen name generator! When I put my name into the generator I got Ella Mentry. What do you think? Suits me? What’s yours?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

13 thoughts on “Pen names: who needs them and why.

  1. I remember considering the idea of a pen name for myself, but in the end, I chose to use my real name. My name isn’t that common, so that helps the situation.

    According to the generator, my pseudonym is Cindy Capleton; I didn’t see that coming!


      1. Yes, exactly. I think most, if not all writers consider the option of creating a pen name at one point in their career. Many stick to their real names, but a good chunk also go for the pen name route.


  2. Carly, another helpful article for all writers – thank you.

    According to the generator, I’d be Lady Schwarz. If this were the 18th century however, I could have been Jack Goldstein which is much better!


  3. I got “Wrightless Smalls.” Wrightless? I had no idea that was among the naming options for humans. Might have to steal it for a character some day.

    I’m not sure if the name I intend to publish under even qualifies as a pen name, since it’s my real life nickname. My birth name is Emily, which is such an insanely common name in my cohort that by the time I started university, I was sick of being one of five Emilies everywhere I went, and started introducing myself as Emmet instead. A book by “Emily Cameron” wouldn’t feel quite like mine.


  4. I actually created a pen name for myself a long time ago and I’ve been using it on various blogs and writing sites online. My name is ridiculously common, and I am young and unmarried, so it could change in a few years anyway, so I think a pen name is right for me. My question is, would it be a problem to use this same pen name for my books if the quality of my previous blogs and stories are not quite up to par with my agent or publisher?


    1. That’s an interesting question. Especially in today’s age of people growing up online with social media outlets that grow with them.

      Think of it like when people talk about employers and Facebook. “Take down the pictures and comments that aren’t favourable to your new position.” The literary equivalent being “curate your posts so you project the quality of writing you want to be associated with.” Or instead of a blog start a webpage that you will associate with your identity as a writer.

      Hope that helps! Feel free to ask more questions if I wasn’t clear.

      Thanks for stopping by, Sara!


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