People often think of using pen names as an unscrupulous thing to do: why is the author hiding? what does he or she have to hide? is there something dishonest afoot? While some of these questions could, indeed, have unsavory answers, here are five good reasons why writers do and should use pen names.
Branding means establishing a reputation by way of a readily recognizable name. When you have done this, readers will likely read your material when they encounter it, read about you when they see your name, and seek you out as an author. Or, they might do the opposite if they don't happen to like your work. This is true whether you write fiction or nonfiction.
If you plan to have web sites in several diverse niches, it's better to be known as an authority in each niche rather than a jack-of-all-trades who knows only a little about any one of them. You can brand yourself in each niche by using a different pen name for each and using it nowhere else.
2. Disguising your Gender
If you are a female writing about professional football, you might not be seen as credible. If you are a male writing about natural childbirth, you probably won't be seen as credible, either. While this isn't necessarily so, why take the chance when using a pen name eliminates the issue?
In either case, your knowledge may be equal to that of your opposite-sex colleagues, but human nature won't allow you into the club; gender bias is real.
3. When Anonymity is Safer
If you write about controversial subjects or things that violent people find threatening--drug dealers, for instance--exposing yourself is a needless risk. Many writers have come to grief because their identities and whereabouts are known. The recent unfortunate experiences of journalists in violent countries proves the validity of this one.
4. When Your Real Name is Not Easily Pronounced
People like 'easy,' and they like to be able to 'think' the pronunciation of your name. If they can't do that, they aren't likely to remember it--or you--and probably won't remember how to spell it, either. Certainly, any author wants to make it easy for his readers to tell others about his work, the expectation being that he would gain more readers. You won't get any word of mouth advertising if readers can't talk about you.
5. When You Just Want Privacy
In the event that you should become a 'famous writer' and you don't want to be hounded when out on the town, a pen name separates the public you from the private you. To many, perhaps most, people, fame is desirable and they seek it, but there are also those who simply ply their trade to earn a living, and living, to them, is not sharing your personal life indiscriminately.
In an effort to be memorable, don't create bizarre pen names. Pinkand Whitesheets or Cando Itall are not good choices! Neither should you choose a name that could be subject to ridicule, dark humor, or sexual innuendo; guess what human nature will do with those. Remember that your name will be permanently attached to your writing and your writing will be 'out there' forever. Choose wisely.
Jo de Jong
A modern day Don(a) Quixote riding to the rescue of the written word.