Redux: choosing a pen name

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Last August, I blogged here about things to consider when choosing a pen name. I hope you’ll go and read that post before you read the rest of this one, it covers a lot of basics of what you should think about and I think it’s a great post. I’m not going to repeat all of the advice I gave there, in this post. However, I do have a few things to add to it…

Do you really need a new pen name?

If you’re already using a pen name, do you need a second? Some reasons people choose a second pen name are…

*to reboot their careers. If your sales have been dismal in the past, booksellers will either order really low print numbers or none at all from your original pen name, so agents/publishers might suggest a new pen name for this reason, to help give you a second chance with booksellers. They might also suggest a new pen name if your original editorial content wasn’t….very successful (please note I avoided saying abject failure) with readers, got bad reviews or just didn’t seem to catch on.

*to avoid mixing wildly different genres. By this I mean, if you’re writing erotic romance and YA, you might want a new pen name (as an example, erotic author Megan Hart recently sold a YA series that she’ll be writing under the pen name Em Garner ). Or perhaps inspirational and a sexy romance series. Author Lucy Monroe wrote a few inspirational romances under the pen name LC Monroe. It’s possible you may want to do the same if you’re writing very divergent genres.

I will point out that some authors, Carrie Vaughn, for example, write under one pen name (in her case urban fantasy and YA) regardless. This works for her and allows her to focus on building one brand name.

However, you might not want to choose a new pen name just because you’re writing romantic suspense and paranormal romance. Genres that are simply different in subgenre, or not on two ends of the spectrum of the fanbase don’t necessarily demand a new pen name. In fact, often they won’t. Think of how hard it’s been to build your brand, engage in social media, develop a website, do promotion and marketing for your first pen name. Now imagine doing that–all of that, with equal energy and enthusiasm–for a second. Or a third. Think long and hard about choosing a pen name, or a second or third, if you’ve already built your brand and presence under another name. You can build a brand and still write different genres under one pen name. It’s been done, and done successfully.

Alternately, if you don’t have a pen name, is there a reason to choose a pen name, or can you use your real name? Some people want to use their real names, and that’s perfectly fine! However, there are a multitude of reasons (too many to cover here) for people to choose a pen name and that’s perfectly fine as well.

How different from your real name does your pen name need to be?

Remember, you’re going to be answering to this pen name for (hopefully) the rest of your life. Maybe you want to keep your “real” first name so you don’t have to train yourself to be called by a second name. Or maybe you’ve always wanted a new name and now’s your chance!

Can you build a brand around this name?

This is really similar to some of what I said in the earlier post, but it’s worth repeating. You’re going to be building your career around this name. Do you want to build a brand around Sexy Kitty? Or do you want to build a brand around a name like Nora Roberts? (uh, just don’t choose THAT name, k?) Which name will have the most appeal, will make readers feel as if they can trust in the quality of your work, in your story and your storytelling? That trust, that quality, that voice…those are your brand and you want a name that fits your brand and is going to have mass appeal.

Is someone already using that name?

Like, you know, Nora Roberts. Even if your real name is Nora Roberts, you can’t use it. I’m sorry, but the hassle and fallout you’d deal with don’t make it worth it. And your name would NEVER be at the top of the Google/search returns. Probably never even in the first ten pages of Google hits.

Now, is it possible to use the same name as someone else? Sure, Angela James is also a very famous female hockey player. In fact, she’s going to be the first one (of two) women inducted into the hockey hall of fame. That’s a big deal. Yet I still manage to hold my own in the search results. But it takes a lot of work, time and attention to keeping my rankings active. I also am lucky that she appears to have no interest in social media, because I got to most of those names first. I don’t, however, own (and neither does she). That honor, to my eternal regret, goes to a runner. I’ve managed to build my brand around another website name (Nice Mommy, Evil Editor) but I’ve done that, along with building my search rankings, over nearly a decade. I’d imagine most of you want easier discoverablity than within a decade, so consider choosing a name that no one else in a public position is using.

What name are you using now?

I know a lot of writers who aren’t yet published, who are on social media, developing a presence, developing a brand and relationships with readers, fellow authors, agents and publishers under the name they don’t intend to use for writing. This is a big mistake. Let me say it again: this is a big mistake. It’s never too early to pick a (suitable) pen name and start building it. It doesn’t make sense to put time and effort into developing a social media presence with a name you’re not going to put on the cover of your books. It will create more work and effort for you to move those people over to your new social media accounts, and also to get them familiar with the “new” you. Start building familiarity now! (just make sure you go back to all of my original points and pick a pen name that’s not going to make an agent or publisher recoil in horror)

Ultimately, choosing a pen name is actually a pretty important endeavor. Not one to do flippantly or cavalierly. Put some thought into it, research your options and spend a few days getting used to the pen name before you make a final decision. This might be the name history remembers you as!