Authors use pen names for assorted reasons. Here are some that come to mind.
To Hide Their Identity
Sometimes an author needs to not identify themselves to protect them and their loved ones. This might be because they write about a highly volatile topic or a significantly personal one.
A pen name protects them and keeps them safe.
Some established authors want to try a different genre without it having any possible negative impact on the sales of their existing books. A pen name accomplishes this.
To Avoid Embarrassment
Sometimes authors grab a pen name to separate them from their genre.
One example of this might be someone publishing erotica but who doesn’t want anyone to know. Of course, there are other situations as well, such as the soccer mom and PTA president writing graphic horror or the gruff construction worker writing romance.
To Not Confuse Readers
A fourth reason to use a pen name is to avoid confusing readers. For example, an author of Amish romance might use a pen name for their sci-fi books.
This isn’t to imply that some readers wouldn’t enjoy both genres, but most won’t—and might stop reading the author altogether. Yes, the book cover should identify the genre, but some readers will still miss that.
In addition to readers, genre hopping can also confuse the Amazon algorithms and start suggesting the wrong books to the wrong readers.
My Take on Pen Names
My recommendation is to avoid pen names whenever possible. It quickly becomes too complex and is too time consuming to manage.
Yet, I’ve gone this route—sort of—with a quasi-pen name.
Most of my writing is biblical Christianity for the Christian market. I publish those books using Peter DeHaan.
I don’t want to confuse readers (or Amazon), so I need to make a delineation, but I can’t use a real pen name because I have two PhDs, one relevant to each area. It’s hard to claim PhD status on a pen name.
When I’m ready to publish fiction, I plan to do so under a third name: P D Haan, which when you say it, sounds like my real name. I don’t anticipate much reader overlap between these three areas, so I’ll minimize confusion by using three somewhat different names.
My three pen names are not a secret, but I think using them does make marketing sense.
Pen Names Conclusion
When it comes to pen names, do as I say, not as I do.