Using a Pen Name: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Some authors and writing teachers will advise you against using a pen name. They will warn you about the challenges of branding a pen name on top of your real name. Well and good, except sometimes you don’t have a choice. I used a pen name to adapt to the market. When you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few things to remember.

After almost two decades of trying to publish “serious” novels, I wrote a romance book under my pen name, Vina Arno. I made both decisions (writing romance and using a pen name) to adapt to a cutthroat traditional publishing market. It paid off. I have two traditionally published romance novels between 2015 and 2018—publishing breakthrough, at last.

My third book, My MacArthur, a “serious” historical novel, got published under my real name. It’s a dream that came true after two decades. I would not have lasted this long if not for my romance books under my pen name. Here are the pros and cons of using a pseudonym.

Three Pros

#1 You can write in different genres. In the traditional publishing world, there exists a line between genre (such as romance) and literary fiction. The separation between your genre and “serious” works will help you sell your manuscripts to traditional publishers. Also, the separation is beneficial in terms of targeting readers.

#2 You can remain anonymous and maintain privacy. This is particularly helpful if you have a day job and your employer is sensitive about activities outside of work.

#3 You can start over. When authors fail to sell enough books, they sometimes need to reinvent themselves using a pseudonym.

Three Cons

#4 It’s a hassle. You need to establish a new persona (bylined articles, social media presence, etc.) under your pen name. Repeat the process using your real name.

#5 It’s confusing. Sometimes a pen name can lead to “identity crisis.” It’s not easy to identify with multiple pen names. You’re likely to favor one name over the others.

#6 It’s a lot of work. This is directly related to #4. It takes time to build name recognition. It takes even longer if you have more than one name.

Read my original article published on Breakeven Books:

The Pros and Cons of Using a Pen Name

Get a copy of My MacArthur (digital format) (print format)

Barnes and Noble


 Learn more about My MacArthur

Read an excerpt.

Read the book club guide.


Who is Isabel Rosario Cooper?

Douglas MacArthur was a Rock Star

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