Why Nonfiction Writers Shouldn’t Use a Pen Name

nome de plume, mask, pen name Yesterday after a presentation I gave to a MeetUp group, a woman spoke to me about the idea she had for her book. She said she wanted to publish the book under a pen name. When I asked her why, she had some good reasons.

The topic was a bit risque.

She didn’t want people to think she was crazy or weird.

She didn’t want how she would be perceived after writing the book to affect her life or her work.

I asked her if she wanted to do anything in conjunction with the book, such as speaking or coaching. She began talking… As it turned out, the topic of this book represented her true passion and purpose. She really wanted to make a difference in people’s lives by writing this book–and several more after it–and speaking to people and working with them as a healer.

It would be impossible for her to do that if she wrote under a pen name.

I suppose you could make up a name and tell everyone that is who you are–live a false life under a false identity. As I told her, it’s likely that eventually someone will find out who she really is.

Isn’t it better to be authentic? To just be who you are and to own it?

I highly recommend to all nonfiction writers that they use their real names.

Allow yourself to take full credit for your idea and your work. Then bask in the attention you get, good and bad. (Remember, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.) Go out and speak. Seek media gigs. Be who you are. Pursue your passion and your purpose. Live an inspired life as an author, speaker, consultant, coach, healer…Inspire others.

Don’t hide behind a fake name like wearing a mask. Put your name on your book and be proud. Show your face to the world and own your ideas. I don’t think you’ll regret it.


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  1. Michael says:

    Good thoughts, but I must respectfully disagree. I work for the federal government (under another name) in a sensitive area, and if my “alternate universe” of fiction and nonfiction writing was associated with that name, it would create difficulties. I also have a good friend in a similar situation – if he published his science fiction work under his real name, he would be taken less seriously as an airline pilot.

    • I do understand that there are some cases where a pen name is necessary because of your line of work. A job in the government might certainly be one of them. A job as an airline pilot…not so sure I get that. However, your point is well taken. I most cases, however, I would disagree and I stick to what I said. Another writing coach I know heartily agreed with me on Twitter, as would most others I know as well.

      • I am writing a book under a pen name and I do intend to do workshops, conferences and retreats. I am writing under a pen name because the subject that I am writing on may draw attention from dangerous individuals. As well, I work in a world where people get very jealous of others accomplishments and I would rather avoid all of that. As well I have also written a book on a totally different subject matter and don’t want to appear as being “all over the place.” Lastly, I disclose information regarding my history and overall feel that my co-workers and peers would object to self disclosure as I am a professional in the area of human service and some oppose to using self disclosure and would get confused. I feel that I am better off using a pen name and at some point people I know will discover that I am using a pen name but feel I wll cross that bridge when I get there. I know some very jealous and vindictive people who love sabotaging others and would just rather avoid any attention drawn to myself among those I know. I wielcome any feedback regarding my concerns.

        • Linda,
          While some of your concerns seem valid, such as those related to coworkers, I feel you might be overreacting when it comes to people being jealous, vindictive and sabotaging your success. If the people you know are like this, you might reconsider who you hang around with!

          I write on several different topics. I don’t worry about being “all over the place.” I just assume people will see that I have more than one interest.

          But that’s just me. You have to decide what is best for you.

          Did you see this post on the topic? It’s written by my colleague and friend Carolyn Howard-Johnson: http://writenonfictionnow.com/to-pseudonym-or-not-to-pseudonym/

          Best wishes,

          • PS: Linda, if “being all over the place” were your only concern, there are ways to get around that. I’m not saying that each genre you write in will be equally successful, but there are marketing techniques that let you play one genre off the other. I personally am a poet, novelist, author of a series of how-to books for writers and another series of how-to books for retailers. I’ve found ways to show readers how one set of experiences informs the other.

            There are also ways to market by keeping the genres relatively separate without using a pseudonym.

        • All very good reasons to risk the difficulties involved in the marketing of your books, Linda.

    • Absolutely Michael. This is written from a marketing viewpoint. Using a pseudonym will make it harder to market, but there are still time when we must use them. Having said that, using one isn’t always the protection we think it is. For really sensitive things, it’s a good idea to run it by a good attorney. But you knew that. (-:

  2. I am wondering there is an author with the same name as mine. In this case would it be better to use a pen name. I would still use real first name middle name but change last name to my mother maiden name. I just want to keep from getting confused with someone else in book or Google searches.

    • Kevin,
      How about just adding your middle initial? I wouldn’t use a pen name…unless maybe writing fiction. I’m not a fan of pen names.

      • I know this is an old topic, but one I’m trying to sort out currently, which is holding me back from publishing anything.

        I also have the same name as another author and I will be writing nonfiction. The other author also shares the same middle initial as I and my middle name is only two letters. I thought of using my maiden name but found others with that also. Very frustrating.

        I would just live with it and use my first and last anyway, except this author writes in a genre that could drastically affect the audience I am trying to reach if they confused her with me, as is, keep me from an audience at all without a lot of constant explaining, “No, I’m a different person with the same name.”

        I’m at a loss. I don’t want to use a pen name as I want to do things in this field as well as writing, yet I don’t want the confusion there. The only idea I have to combat this is to come up with a new middle name just to make differentiation between us. Any thoughts?

  3. This is definitely an old post that I just discovered (while googling, “Should I use a pseudonym for my nonfiction novel?), but as my work is about a subject that I have only in the last few years had the courage to write about, I’m not sure if I should create a pen name. On the one hand, some of my friends know the subject matter is important to me, and also that I am working on (and have almost finished!) this book. But on the other hand, I want to not be afraid to say, “Yes. This is my book. I wrote it to show that you don’t have to be afraid of the past, no matter how gruesome the events.”

  4. John smith says:

    I have had terrible problems with trolls and bullies. I cannot even begin to tell you how they ruined my life. Their attacks swiftly moved from online to offline. They published my address online. I had to move house as a result. I changed my name to escape all that. I don’t think anyone who publishes anything should be too remiss about the fact that this kind of jealous, petty, angry person exists. Reputations can be destroyed in seconds. I published under my real name only to have fake reviews and terrible accusations. I had to remove the book as I couldn’t cope with the fall out. I changed my name to escape all that. I have never looked back. You can’t be too careful in the digital world. If you have any worries whatsoever, my advice is to use a pseudonym.

  5. While respecting the author’s opinion, I must respectfully disagree.

    Most actors use stage names so they do not have to be known in their work by their personal name. This lets them have some kind of private life. Many musicians and athletes do the same. In this era of online identity theft that is even more important as there is so little privacy and it is very easy for people to stalk someone.

    Many authors including Mark Twain gave book readings and talks under their pen name.

    Many speakers and educators have pursued their work under a pen / stage name, especially in fields considered controversial whether religion or sex education.

    For some whose work relies on credentials like a PhD, MD or CPA there may be some legal considerations to consider but even they may have ways to use a slightly different version of their name.

    Anyone who puts any work or teaching out into the public should consider their privacy and safety very carefully. Read JJ Luna’s book Invisible Privacy

    Consider how much better you will feel when someone stalks you or gives you a death threat, if you had used a pen name / stage name and thus made it a little harder for people to find where you live. This is especially worth considering if you may possibly get a ittle bit famous, might possibly someday have childrn or elderly relatives or a disability. Remember that in this online era it is very, very easy for a disgruntled person to get a hold of someone’s home address via utilities, real estate and lease records, school reords, credit reports, and other details … if they know your legal name.

  6. Im not sure what to do. I want to be a coach and a blogger but my name is in google search and along with my adress (years ago there was an online phone book and there was this guy who did a website privetly with no connection to the company and the site is “dead” meaning no one is taking care of it its static but all the names and adresses are there!) Im afraid of privecy or attracting stalkers especialy if I make a name out of myself. What should I do?

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