This past spring, I was asked about pen names by someone writing an article for the RWR (the magazine all RWA–Romance Writers of America–members get monthly). The question was whether it was okay for authors to choose their own pen names, or if publishers and agents were going to want to have a say in the name. Then, a few months ago, I was writing a quick email to someone and realized their pen name was, I’m sorry to say, so ridiculous I could not ever imagine addressing them by it. So I thought we should talk a little about pen names. For some of you, it may be too late, but for the rest, read on and let’s discuss things to consider when choosing a pen name.
Does it sound like a porn star?
You want people to take your writing seriously, start by giving them a name that says you take your writing seriously.
Would you be comfortable sharing the name with your family and friends?
If you think you might be embarrassed to have your mom, dad, old high school acquaintance, or how about your current boss, find out your name, it might not be the right one.
Can you answer to that name for years to come and feel comfortable with it?
Your plan is to grow your writing career, I assume. Will you still want to be called by that pen name twenty years from now? Is that the pen name one they can share in the history books without blushing?
Will people feel foolish or awkward calling you by name in person?
Remember, it’s different to have someone speak the name than to write it. Try having people close to you call you by that name.
How difficult is it to sign?
Think positive. Someday, 500 fans are going to be waiting in a line for your autograph, will you be able to sign that name smoothly 500 times?
Does anyone else have a name so similar you may be mistaken for them?
Unless, of course, you don’t mind being mistaken for Jenna Jameson. Many of us wouldn’t, just as long as it was someone saying they thought we looked like her ;)
Will readers be able to read or spell–or most important remember–your name?
Things that can make this more difficult include long, complicated names, names with apostrophes (those can also mess up coding in html/metadata) and names that are so unique/unusual, most people haven’t seen them before.
Can you purchase the domain for the name you’re considering?
Not only the domain, but the Twitter and Facebook names? If you haven’t settled on a pen name, lack of availability of any of this may be a reason to choose a different name.
*Word of caution: if you search for a domain name and it’s available, be prepared to buy it, even if you haven’t settled on that name. It’s worth the $7 to $10 investment per domain to reserve a few options. There are people who watch sites like GoDaddy, to see what people search for, and then buy it, hoping you’ll come back and decide you want it and pay a higher price for it.
Other things I’ve heard should possibly be considered: where will you be shelved (in a digital world, this probably won’t matter), how common is the last name and who will you sit near at booksignings (I often joke I’m going to write a book so I can sit next to Julie James at a booksigning, but I’d probably have to change my first name to Jenny because there are other James between us. Jenny James. And now I’m probably getting dangerously close to Jenna Jameson).
At the end of the day, a pen name may be one you use for years. Yes, you may have the opportunity to use more than one (not always a good thing) but it’s still important to be careful in your selection. As your career grows, in addition to the name on the cover of your book, it’s a name you’ll use on the internet, on forums, on social media, in interviews, at conferences, at dinners and drinks and casual meetings with readers. It’s the name that may become as much *you* as your real name, so make it one you can wear proudly.