Written by A Guest Author January 7th, 2021

The Benefits and Challenges That Come With Writing Under a Pen Name

By Holly Garcia

A nom de plume, or pen name, was introduced in the 19th century and has been used by many well-known authors. From Mark Twain to Louisa May Alcott, every writer has different reasons for choosing how to represent themselves.

This article will discuss the benefits and challenges that come with writing under a pen name. Why do some authors choose to write using a pen name while others use their given name? This article discusses important considerations to keep in mind regardless of which option you choose.

Articles and resume writing are my specialty. This work is something that I am comfortable and confident in presenting for everyone to see. My historical fiction novel, and poetry collection, are a whole other ball game.

I’ve decided to use a pen name when I publish my poetry and fiction for many different reasons, but two of the main reasons come down to the nature of the work and the voice I hope to project through it.

The Nature of Your Work

My poetry collection is on love and loss. Much of what I’ve written is based on people and events in my personal life. There is nothing overtly scandalous or offensive about it, but speaking from the heart and owning that requires a certain level of courage I haven’t achieved.

This example is nothing compared to other authors who explore more sensitive topics like trauma, abuse, or surviving assault. Depending on the nature of your work, you may choose anonymity via a pen name.

The Voice of Your Work

For Louisa May Alcott, it was A.M. Barnard. For the Bronte sisters, it was Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Oftentimes women and some men may choose a pen name opposite their given name to avoid assumptions of how their writing will read. 

Historically, women writing anything but feminine love stories, or rather anything at all, was not accepted by society. Alcott published many works that were not considered ‘appropriate’ during her life to be written by a woman. So instead of ignoring her creative calling for the darker, more intense side of life, she chose to adopt a pen name. 

In the present day, the standard of what is and is not acceptable has radically changed. Even so, due to deeply rooted sexist stereotypes, there have been instances where authors who write in distinct genres choose a pen name over their given name. 

With that being said, it is important to note it would be unethical and irresponsible to choose a pen name solely to misrepresent yourself as an author to secure work that specifically calls for certain author criteria. This article about the scandal involving The 2015 Edition of Best American Poetry does a good job of summing up why it is a bad idea.

Building Your Portfolio and Readership

We’ve considered two compelling reasons for authors to write using pen names. However, there are also important reasons to consider writing using your given name.

When I’ve had to write a biography for articles I’ve submitted, I struggle to fill the 50-or-so words I’ve been allotted. Because I am writing a piece using my given name, I want to include other work my reader may find helpful. That limits me to only including work I have published under this same name.

You want to show off all the work you’ve accomplished in your writing career as a whole, but when you choose to write under two different personas, you will not be able to capture all of your credentials without confusing your reader.

In addition, you will find publishers who are unable to establish who you are, as an author, may be hesitant to work with you. Without established portfolios or platforms to support your credibility and ability as an author, this may be a risk they are not willing to take. I encourage you to decide whether a pen name is a path you’d like to choose before you begin to build your portfolio. Once you’ve decided, make sure it is a name you can stick with and carry with you throughout your writing journey.When deciding to write using a pen name or your given name, keep in mind the pros and cons of each choice before submitting or hitting publish. Regardless of your choice, make sure it’s the right one for you. One that will propel you in the direction of what you want from your writing journey. 

Bio: Holly Garcia is the author of an upcoming self-published poetry collection, All The Ways I Loved You, and is working through her debut historical fiction novel. When she isn’t working on these projects, she writes non-fiction essays and is a freelance resume writer. Keep in touch at garcia.hc0502@gmail.com


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