However, sometimes your real name can cause you problems. Take thriller writer Don Winslow, who wrote the fantastic book California Fire and Life, and many other fine books, is not connected to a guy who uses the pseudonym Don Winslow and who writes erotica that seems to be of the "you've been a very naughty girl" variety. But you'll often find them mixed up in references, as if Don One is moonlighting as Don Two.
Writers will switch names if they want to lose their track record in book store computers. Some are even fairly open about switching names, I guess figuring no one is going to tell the computer. Some are not so open, leading to one embarrassing nomination for "Best First" mystery novel when it was not an author's first book.
Some writers use two different names if they write two different kinds of books. Ruth Rendell became Barbara Vine for psychological suspense rather than straight mystery. I think it might also have been a matter of publishers not wanting more than one Ruth Rendell book a year. Another author I know of uses one name for children's picture books and a second for YA.
Be careful about creating a whole life for the person behind your pen name, like the woman who called herself JT Leroy did. Laura Albert, 40, has acknowledged that she is JT LeRoy, the supposed 25 year old male author of gritty, graphic, best-selling novels like "SarahS and "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things," which was made into a film. As JT Leroy, he supposedly drew from his own experiences hustling, living on the streets and selling sex. Other writers befriended him, as did Gus Van Sant [Full disclosure: Gus Van Sant lives in my town! I used to work with the guy who starred in his first movie, Male Noche! I have seen Gus in person!] The backstory was so great. It got "him" a lot of press. Now the woman behind it all doesn't seem to realize that if the backstory sold the book, maybe it matters. "When asked if she felt any shame about misleading people, she replied: 'I bleed, but it's a different kind of shame... If knowing that I'm 15 years older than (LeRoy) devalues the work, then I'm sorry they feel that way.'" Um, it's a little bit more than the age difference, honey.
Do you know of any authors who have changed their name to write something different, write under a pseudonym, or write under two names?