You may be surprised to learn that “pen name” has its own pen names—nom de plume, literary double, alter ego, alias, and pseudonym. Whatever you call it, there are many reasons why a writer might want to use a pen name. And unlike the name you were given at birth, you get to decide what your pen name will be! But how do you choose the perfect alias for your persona as a self-published author? At Self-Publishing Relief, our experts have some ideas that can help you choose a great pen name when you’re self-publishing your writing.
How To Choose A Great Pen Name—Sorry, Silence Dogood Is Taken
Determine Why You Want To Use A Pen Name
Privacy. Perhaps you’re an elementary school teacher and don’t want your students discovering your more adult writing. Or you may be a serious scientist who prefers that your studious colleagues don’t know you write romance novels. Maybe you don’t want fans finding your personal information and camping out on your doorstep hoping for an autograph. Creating a pen name will help you keep the different parts of your life separated.
A too-common name. If your name is shared by many others, like John Doe (seriously, according to the Census Bureau there are potentially 14,000 people named John Doe in the U.S.), you might want to choose a more unique pen name to avoid being confused with someone else.
A difficult name to spell or remember. Conversely, if your name is difficult to pronounce or spell, or if it’s so long that folks have to take a breath between syllables, you may want to simplify the issue by using a pseudonym. While you want your name to stand out in a crowd, you don’t want fans struggling with the pronunciation or spelling. If potential buyers can’t spell your name properly, it will be harder for them to find your books—and harder for you to make a sale.
The same name as someone well-known. Is your name Charlie Manson? Theodora Bundy? Enough said. Or maybe you’re Joseph Kenneth Rowling, and you go by J.K. If you share your name with someone notorious or with an author who’s already famous, you might have better success using a pen name for your self-published writing career.
Writing in a different genre. Writers who want to switch genres during their careers sometimes find it best to keep different forms of writing separate. J.K. Rowling did this when she began writing crime fiction using the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. If you write dark, adult fantasy and want to try your hand at sweet picture books for young readers, it might be best to adopt a pen name.
Know The Elements Of A Great Pen Name
Easy to remember. Your pen name should be something unique, maybe a little unusual—after all, as a writer, creativity is what you do best! You don’t want your pseudonym to be too “out there,” but you also want it to stand out to readers. The pen name “Starry Snowflakes” may be a bit much for readers to take seriously, but “Aurora White” sounds like a professional writer and is easy for potential buyers to remember.
Rolls off the tongue. Make sure the pen name you choose has a nice rhythm to it, maybe even incorporating a little alliteration. Test your potential pseudonym by saying it aloud a few times. (You should probably do this when you’re alone and not while grocery shopping or in a work meeting.)
Easy to spell. Readers often use an Internet search engine like Google to learn more about authors they’re interested in, so make it easy for them to find you when they do! Though unusual spellings may seem like fun, a potential fan searching for Kaitlyn Sabastian spelled as “K8lynn Sabastchin” might get confused. And if your readers can’t find you—they can’t find and purchase your books or show up at your next reading event.
Has meaning to you. You might want to consider adopting the first name of a beloved relative or someone you admire to make your pseudonym truly special. Or, if your given name is Albert but you’ve always felt you were a “Stephen” at heart, now’s the time to make that wish come true! You could also use your favorite word or place, or a play on it, for a fun and different author name. Make sure your pen name isn’t too close to your inspiration’s real name, though, to avoid any confusion—we don’t recommend you write horror using the pen name Stephen Kling.
Suits your genre. Your pen name doesn’t have to match your genre, but it may help you be more memorable and appeal to your audience. While Benjamin Blood is a great name for someone writing murder mysteries, Benny may prefer to switch to a softer, less gruesome-sounding name if he’s writing romance. And Bunny Fluffington might want to consider a more dramatic pen name if she’s writing thrillers.
What If The Pseudonym You Have Your Heart Set On Isn’t Available?
Unfortunately, you may come up with the perfect pen name, only to discover it’s already taken. You might want to consider using a variation—a different spelling or middle initial—that’s different enough from the name already in use so that readers don’t confuse the two of you. But the best option may be to rethink your pen name entirely to come up with one that’s uniquely yours.
Have Fun Creating Your Pen Name!
As a self-published author launching your career, the pen name you choose now could be associated with you for a long time—so make sure it’s something you like! And once you’ve come up with the perfect pen name, these articles from our experts have tips to help you use your pseudonym effectively.
QUESTION: What’s your favorite author name?