From the Writer’s Relief staff: laptop

There are a lot of reasons for a writer to have a pen name—from a difficult-to-pronounce (and therefore difficult-to-remember) last name, to switching genres, to privacy needs, and others. But you might be confused about just how far you should take it. Do you really commit to it and make no mention of your real name, or do you give out both and risk confusion? The following guidelines will help you with those decisions.

You should always include your real name in your cover or query letter. Only mention your pen name if you’ve published other material under that name. You want editors and literary agents to know that you’re professional. You wouldn’t give out a pen name when you’re at a job interview or meeting a professional associate. Being up front about your real name (and your pen name, when necessary) is just good business, and on top of that, there’ll be no confusion when payday comes.

So, where in the query letter should you mention your pen name? Write a sentence in the body of your query letter stating your pseudonym: I write under the pen name Alex Samson is sufficient.

How about on your manuscript? There are two standard options you can choose from.

1) Use your real name in the contact information at the top-left corner of your manuscript and in your byline—then, underneath, put your pen name, like so:

Your New Favorite Book
Jin B. Lederhosen
(writing as Alex Samson)

2) Use your real name in the contact information and just your pen name as your byline. As long as you have that pen-name sentence in your cover letter, an agent or editor will be able to tell which is which.

Your New Favorite Book
Alex Samson

It’s always sensible to err on the side of caution. As long as you’re totally up front about both your real name and your pen name at some point in your submission, you’ll be fine.

There are no concrete rules when it comes to using a pen name in your book, short prose, or poetry submissions; these are really “best practices.” And, of course, always default to the individual editor’s or literary agent’s submission guidelines if he/she specifies the method by which you should note your pen name. But always make sure you use your real name on a professional level and your pen name only when you’re publishing. And don’t get the two mixed up!

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