How to choose a pen name

So, now that you know Isabella Cooke is a pen name, I feel I can give some advice on how to choose a name. This info is gathered from various sources and advice from other sites, long with my own findings and experience. Obviously with a leaning towards erotica pen names.

First off, you have to decide what kind of pen name you’re aiming for. Do you want something rather normal, like ‘Sarah Clarkson’? This kind of name is less obviously a pseudonym. It’s a believable name. The other end of the spectrum would be what I’d call a ‘porn name’. ‘Dick Hunter’ is a good example of this kind – you know that either it’s a very unfortunate name, or it’s to do with porn.

Both have their pros and cons. A porn name means that no-one is going to mistake what you’re about. They can often be a bit humorous, and act as something to draw in readers, all by themselves. However, people might not take you as seriously. It might make readers question the literary merit of what you write.

On the other hand, a normal name can give you a bit more legitimacy. People won’t question how serious you are and might assume that you at least put all you can into your writing, instead of coming across too jokingly. It is, however, a bit boring. It won’t draw readers to you, as you’re just another person.

The next major choice would be to pick your pen name’s gender. There’s plenty of argument that you should pick the gender which fits best with your target audience. There’s also an argument that it’s easiest to have the gender as your own gender.

Once you’ve decided all this, it’s just a case of picking a name. It should be rather simple, as writers pick names for characters all the time. Think of your pen name as a character and name them. It’s pretty simple… in theory. This step took me the longest. I aimed to have a list of five names to take through to the next step.

The next step – test the names. Mull them over in your head. Consider introducing yourself as your pen name. Does it get the response you want? Any that don’t fit right, discard. If you’re running out, come up with some new ones.

When you’ve got names you think you like, it’s time for the usability check. This is simple, but also very important. Google your pen name. Search the stores where you intend to sell your books. Search Facebook. What comes up?

Sarah Clarkson (http://tinyurl.com/joks7ba) is already an established author on Kindle, so I wouldn’t use that. There’s no point in getting your books muddled up with someone else’s – it’ll probably mean losing sales.

Isabella Cooke (http://tinyurl.com/hxahnos) is only similar to someone who has posted one book on Kindle, and it’s nothing like what I write, so I’m quite happy to use the name.

The Google and Facebook checks are important too though. If your pen name is only the real name of one person, it’s a bit tight to use it – imagine if you had a very uncommon name, and someone with your name became well-known online for writing smut. That’s potentially all kinds of embarrassing. On the other hand, if your name is the same as a million other people’s, then you’ll be lost in a crowd. Finding balance is good.

If you’re really fond of a name but it doesn’t pass these checks, maybe try changing the name slightly. Sarah Clarkson can become Sarah Clarke without too much difficulty. Dick Hunter could become Dick Fisher (…. okay, maybe not 😉 ).

Most importantly with this, don’t rush. with any luck you’ll be making money under your pen name for years to come, so it has to be one you’re happy with.

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2 thoughts on “How to choose a pen name

  1. I’ve always wanted to write under a pen name, but luckily my name will pretty much be a pen name one day soon anyway. While I go by ‘Millie’ (and always have) my real name is actually Amelia, and when I get married I’ll lose the ‘Schmidt’, so essentially the brand I’m building around ‘Millie Schmidt’ will be based on a pen name. I’m kind of glad the my name ‘Schmidt’ will get to live on – even if I do get married.

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    • That’s a really nice idea actually – you’ll still get to honour your birthname and have a pen name that means something to you 🙂 I did toy with a lot of pennames which I just didn’t feel invested in, so having that link to yourself must help with that, I assume.

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