There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Some authors use pen names and others don’t. Each author will have to decide if having a pen name is right for him/her. But I thought I’d present a couple scenarios where it might make sense to have a pen name.
Why use a pen name?
1. You don’t want anyone knowing your real name.
Erotic authors fall easily into this category. If you’re writing something that might cause unease in your real life with people you know, a pen name can help buffer you. Or maybe you’re writing something that you know will cause a lynch mob to come after you. Not every book out there will make everyone feel all warm and cuddly inside. If you’re writing something controversial and you don’t want to deal with that controversy, you might want to use a pen name.
2. You want a different name.
Maybe you got a divorce and don’t want to use your spouse’s last name, so you decide to use a pen name. Maybe you don’t like your real name and wish your parents had named you something else. Maybe there’s already an author with your real name out there, and you don’t want to come up under their search engines.
3. You want an easy way to tell readers that a certain pen name is under a specific genre.
Let’s say you write multiple genres, so you decide to use one name for one genre and a different one for another genre. That way, readers know that a certain name will lead them to a particular book.
Should you keep your pen name a secret?
It depends on whether or not you want everyone to know the pen name.
It’s easier to market a book if people know about the pen name because you’re cross-promoting. However, just because you let people know the pen name exists, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically sell the book. I’ve used pen names and told people the books existed and got no sales from it. I’ve written different genres and put the same name on them that I use for my romances, and that hasn’t made a difference in sales either. So letting people know about a pen name doesn’t mean you’ll sell more copies. Keep that in mind as you decide whether to expose your pen name or not.
You might want to keep your pen name a secret if you have time to work under that pen name on social sites. A reason to expose a pen name might be lack of time to promote that pen name and by letting people know about the pen name, you save yourself promotion time. But if you have the time to blog, Tweet, FB, or whatever under your pen name, then you might want to do it.
You want to be free to write books you want without readers requesting you write a certain book. This only works when your pen name isn’t well-known to many readers. Let’s say you’re already a well-known author with a busy writing schedule, but you want to write other books to that wouldn’t be popular with your readers. You might also want the freedom of writing something that few, if any, people want to read. I don’t believe that the goal of self-publishing has to be writing books to make money. Sometimes authors just want to write books and publish them for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with this. If this fits and you want to be an unknown author so you don’t have pressure coming in to write this or that, this might be a reason you’d want to keep a pen name secret.
You know the material you’re writing could cause grief if your real life circle of family and friends found out. Hey, why stir up trouble if you don’t have to, right?
If anyone can think of anything to add to the list, feel free to comment. :D