Dean Wesley Smith has an excellent article on using pen names. After reading it, I get me thinking. I'm sure the question to use or not to use a pen name has happened to almost every writer. I briefly thought about it, and decided not to. The reason I didn't is egotistical; I wanted to see my name on the cover. After I self-published Adventure Hunters, and got a couple of reviews and blog interviews, it gave me a thrill seeing my name on the cover and post titles.
A friend of mine uses a pen name. She said she wanted to protect her family; her writing was hers and she didn't want to get her family involved. That is a perfectly good reason. Press, good and bad, can affect those around you. Dean Wesley Smith also has a good point about using different names for writing under different genres. Some of Stephen King's darkest books are written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym. Another good reason is maybe the author isn't a person but a group. L.A. Graf, a prolific author of media tie-ins, has my favorite pen name. It isn't a woman, but three women, actually. The name is an anagram for Let's All Get Rich And Famous.
But if you are going to use a pen name, why would you reveal it? That's something about Smith's article I just don't get. He reasons that most readers won't follow an author who crosses genres; if one is a mystery writer, his regular readers won't pick up his next book if it is a western. For some readers, that may be true. But not for me. Just the opposite; if my favorite author wrote in completely different kind of book, I'd be more willing to give it try, because I know I like the author and have a certain expectation of quality. Plus, I like to see authors branching out. Not every effort is solid, sometimes when an author gets out of their comfort zone, they fail. But at least they tried, and I know they tried, because their name was on the cover.
To me, pen names should be secret. I'm sure astute readers will be able to figure out who wrote what, especially in the digital age where cross-referencing from various sources is so easy. But to me, a pen name doesn't really matter. It's the writer's talent. If they're good, I'll follow them, no matter what nom de plume they put on the cover.