Pub Rants

What’s In A Pseudonym?

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STATUS: It’s going to be a work weekend. I can already tell. I just don’t like to make clients way for too long for feedback and I’m just behind. I need to rectify that and a good solid work weekend ought to do it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TALK TALK by Talk Talk

So you want a pseudonym. Then all I say is choose wisely and maybe keep a few things in mind.

1. Pick a name that means something to you. For this reason, a lot of authors will often choose a family surname or a maiden name etc. Then google it. If it’s too common, you might have trouble reserving the url etc.

Also, you don’t want a name that’s also going to pull up the best porn sites on the web or something equally as unpleasant. You laugh but there it is. When I google my name, I get mostly references to myself, an actress and painter, and an athlete. Not bad company…

2. If you are going to create a name, make it one that is easy to recall or memorable in some way that’s interesting or ethnic (if that’s your background), etc.

3. Here’s a thought. Maybe check out a bookstore and the shelves in your genre. Who will you be sitting next to? Heck, if you can grab the casual buyer, it might be worth choosing a name that will give you excellent shelf position. Mercenary I know but it’s something to think about.

4. At the Borders’ computer, how many names will pop up in an author search when you plug in your pseudonym?

I’m probably missing a few good tips so if they come to mind, feel free to share.

48 Responses

  1. Kim Stagliano said:

    You might want to consider Google searches before you get married too. I mean, Google my last name. I’m only grateful I’m not my brother in law John….


  2. Diana Peterfreund said:

    pick something with your same first name. you don’t want to not answer when someone calls your name at a signing.

    Do not pick something cutesy. Believe me, other people have already thought of “Paige Turner” and it didn’t work for them either. And don’t pick something that ALREADY sounds like a porn name, or a character on Lord of the Rings, or similar.

  3. Anonymous said:

    My publisher asked me to choose something between Keyes and Kinsella. I kept my first name, went to the phone book, checked out what was between those two names and picked out something I liked.

  4. Melissa Biemans said:

    Between Keyes and Kinsella is a good place to be if you write Lit Light…. in the same area would be between King and Koontz for Horror. Good idea about the phone book.

    I have two questions on this issue.

    First, I really would like to use my own last name, but people have trouble pronouncing it in every day conversation. It’s an easy way to get rid of teleamarketers, but not a problem I want to have when people come to ask for my book at a store. It’s a simple problem, ie pronounced as in bee not by. Would you suggest a change or should I keep it the way it is.

    Second, I’ve heard that in some genres (especially 9-12 adventure novels), a male or perceived male name will sell better than a female name. J.K Rowling comes to mind. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Is this something that a first time author should think about?

    For both questions, will your agent, if interested, bring up the matter and suggest you make the change?

  5. emeraldcite said:

    What’s the best way to approach using a pen name in a query? Should you wait until acceptance, or should you mention it up front? Thanks!

  6. Wendie O said:

    Ah, my co-writers and I did the shelf test — and I insisted on SHORT. So now our pen name books are perfectly placed in the library near the Berenstein Bears and Clifford.

    -wendieO (the W part of C.W. Bowie)

  7. Katie said:

    Well, you all beat me to it. I was going to say that the first name should be something you won’t have difficulty answering to when you’re at signings, talking to journalists, conversing on forums, etc.

    Me… I did this, plus #1, #2, & #4. Those three beat out #3, which doesn’t do much for me, placing me in the midst of all the other thousands of real or wishful Scottish background. 🙂

    Oh well.

  8. Speak Coffee said:

    ooh! Good point on the “google it” suggestion. My chosen pen name comes up as a New York attorney – I’m hopeful to superceed her in my google ranking 😉

  9. spyscribbler said:

    I didn’t know I wanted to write when I chose my pseudonym. I hate it now, but there’s not much I can do.

    One thing, along with #2: I see a lot of erotica authors choose names I would have absolutely no idea how to pronounce. They’re just a jumble of letters I couldn’t remember for the life of me!

  10. Sarahlynn said:

    I’ve been considering using my middle name as my last name, and I just submitted and sold my first short story, so I need to make up my mind soonish. But I’m worried that as a mystery writer called “peyton” I’ll always be on the floor – as Patterson is likely to get eye-level shelving.

  11. Chumplet said:

    My chosen pen name is my maiden name. When I Google it, I come up at least a dozen times on the first couple of pages.

    There aren’t many Cormier authors except for Robert Cormier.

    The name suggests a connection with my Acadian ancestry, something I feel passionate about.

    Another suggestion when choosing a name – when shoppers enter a bookstore, they tend to scan the shelves from left to right. A surname near the beginning of the alphabet might get their attention before they become bored.

  12. Melissa Biemans said:

    TO sarahlynn:

    The book store I work at usually has Patterson on the floor, if that makes you feel better. It all depends on how many books come before it, how many we have faced out vs put in spine out and were P falls in the alphabet.

    Patterson, in our store, has the bottom shelf in block 6 and top shelf in block 7.

    I just wouldn’t want to be a ‘Z’ author because that one is sure to be on the floor.

  13. superwench83 said:

    Coming from someone who, until I got married, has the same name as a porn star: Yes, it can happen. I never would have believed it until I Googled it a while ago, but there’s a porn star with my first name and maiden name. And my maiden name isn’t really that common!

  14. Kathleen Dante said:

    More suggestions:

    – Make sure it’s easy to spell. Imagine a buyer calling a bookstore and having to spell out your name.

    – Don’t choose one that sounds like another author in your chosen genre. For example, Lynda Howert?

  15. Kris Eton said:

    I am the only “Kris Eton” that comes up in the Google search. And that was a fluke. I won’t discuss why I chose the pen name I did, but it does have some significance to me personally.

    I thought short was important. And unique….but not too unique. The worst I’ve seen is someone trying to find me by typing in “Kris Eaton,” which isn’t too far off the real spelling.

    There also are very few writers with “E” last names.

  16. Jana Lubina said:

    My nickname is Lubes. It tends to generate alot of porn jokes, but if I ever venture in erotica….

    Lubina is also a type of fish apparantly, and a river, but otherwise I’m all good.

    Regardless , I did register my domain name.

  17. LeeAnn Flowers said:

    I’m still trying to get published, but I did put some effort into my name choice. I couldn’t wait to get rid of my maiden name, and I love my married name. I’ve even been told that my name belongs on the cover of a book.

    Should fame become too much, I also have no problem going back to my maiden name if necessary. This way I keep my identity without having to go through a lot of trouble.

  18. Carrie said:

    I agree with it being a name you’ll remember to respond to. And while you’re at it, a shorter name can be larger on a cover. I feel strongly that you should have the domain name for your name, so if you’re looking for a pen name, make sure you’re going to be able to get the .com and go ahead and reserve it.

  19. Anonymous said:

    The Z’s haven’t hurt Sara Zarr any so if you have a good book, people will find it – even in the Z’s.

    When you query, can the writer use their pseudonym or should they stick to their real name?

  20. MsHellion said:

    I did pick one with the first two things in mind, but forgot the third.

    And I didn’t use my first name because I’ve never liked it. Plus it’s not a very contemporary sounding name; and I want something that suits “contemporary”.

    Of course, everyone knows me by my online handle: Hellion. That’s usually the name that’s screamed at me in crowded lobbies. But I’m pretty sure publishing under: Hellion Wheels isn’t going to fly in any market.

    Another thing to maybe consider. Look at the romance section of several stores and find out where EYE LEVEL is–and what the last name is. I don’t know if that matters a whole lot, but it may if you’re not yet established as a MUST HAVE. I’m a lazy shopper.

  21. Becky Allyn said:

    I’d like to also ask the question a few above have posted – at what point in the process do you introduce the fact that you want to write under a pseudonym?

  22. Joelle said:

    Meg Cabot wrote under the name Jenny Caroll. Guess where that sits on the shelf? Right next to Meg Cabot, or very close. I highly doubt that was an accident. I believe she wrote under two names because she had so many books out at once, so that was pretty good strategy. While you’re looking for one, you notice the other. If that’s you, then that’s worth keeping in mind.

  23. Just_Me said:

    I have the problem where my first name, married name, and maiden name are all unpronouncable by someone raised in the USA. And even my parents have trouble getting their tongues around my middle name… for me a pen name is a necassity. I’ve picked one that I’m test driving that is similar to my name, close enough that I can remember it, but not so close that people won’t remember it.

    And I picked a surname that was close to my favorite author at the front of the alphabet. I don’t mind being mercenary.

  24. Jana Lubina said:

    becky allen — from what I’ve read on other blogs that have addressed this issue; you start using your pseudonym right away. And agents don’t need an explanation or justification. Just stick your pseudonym on all correspondances and don’t switch back and forth.

    Right? Anybody else?

  25. Jana Lubina said:

    Also, to further add to this discussion; I understand that people may want to publish under a pseudonym for a varity of personal reasons. But when that reason is a hard to pronounce ethnic name — I think that’s sad.

    I’m Croatian, and although my name is not difficult (well Jana is pronounced like Yana and most don’t get that at first glance obviously, but whatever) it is still my name.

    If anything I’m more apt to take a longer look at a bookcover that has some unusual or exotic name on the cover simply because the mind automatically stumbles over the uniquiness of it and is forced to look again.

    But that’s just me. It used to be a trend in Hollywood to change an exotic name into something more ordinary, but even Hollywood got over it.

  26. Anonymous said:

    Does that rule about Google searches mean that I shouldn’t use my name? I mean it’s not the most common of handles, but it’s a family name with a long history!

    -Buxom Sexypants IV

  27. Anonymous said:

    “2. If you are going to create a name, make it one that is easy to recall or memorable in some way that’s interesting or ethnic.”

    I always figured that if I became a published author, I would choose a pseudonym that definitely WASN’T ethnic. My real name is obviously Asian, and I think a lot of people expect Asian authors to write ethnically themed literature. Stuff about the Asian-American experience and all that. I admit that that’s what goes through my head whenever I see an Asian name. The problem is that I was never interested in writing AA literature, and I didn’t want people glancing over my name because they figured otherwise.

  28. Vivi Anna said:

    I chose a name that I liked, that sounded cool, and looked cool when I wrote it out. I also did numerology on it and it was a good solid lyrical sounding name for me. And deep down it suits me to a tee.

  29. Anonymous said:

    I have had the nick name Sir John since I was 12. What are your thoughts on such a name?

    Johnny Ray

  30. Anonymous said:

    I write SF/Fantasy for the most part, however I have two MS that are in progress that are quite diferent. They are both paranormal romance, I have seriously considered using a penname for these since the two Genres are so diferent. I actually chose my penname from a character that I axed early on in my MS but loved.

    CM Jefferies/Belia Frost

  31. Reviewer X said:

    I actually like my name because it has a lot of Es in it and it sounds musical, IMO. If I ever become a published writer, I’ll probably use that or my middle name. And my last name is ethnic, as is my middle name, but they’re not SO ethnic that it gets in the way. I know a lot of people find it important to embrace your roots, but I hate having to stumble over an author’s name because it’s unusual. To me, it’s a bad eyesore. And believe me, I’d know, because one of my middle names (one I’d never, ever use) is Greek, but in English, it sounds like two random words put together in a way that would be distracting.

    Oh, and my last name would have VERY good shelf positioning. Hehe.

  32. Marilynn Byerly said:

    As others have said, choose a name that most people can spell. In these days of Google and Amazon, a misspelled name means you don’t make a sale.

    My real name is Marilynn which is a variant spelling, and it has plagued me my whole career. No one ever gets it right.

    My last name isn’t hard to spell, but people still get it wrong.

    A few years back, one of my novels won a major award. The announcement had my first and last name spelled incorrectly, and left the hyphen out of STAR-CROSSED.

    That award sure didn’t help sales.

    Marilynn Byerly

  33. Janice said:

    I googled my married name and found a YA vampire romance writer.

    So I thought great I’ll just use my maiden name then and googled that and nothing came up.

    My maiden name is easy to remember but can be just a bit confusing Seagraves–see what I mean? And it’s a little longish too.

  34. JulieLeto said:

    You can start using your pseudonym whenever you want…but think about this: what if your publisher doesn’t like it? And you have to change it? Maybe they have an author with a similar sounding name and they don’t want confusion. Maybe you think it’s easy to pronounce and has good placement, but they don’t.

    Nearly every author that I know who has used a pseudonym (including myself) had to negotiate that name with the first publisher. So my advice is to wait and not use a pseudonym until after you have a contract. (That’s when you discuss it with your publisher, but it’s wise to let your agent know you intend to use it.)

    The URL advice is good. They’re pretty cheap, so reserving a few isn’t a bad idea.

  35. Cindy Procter-King said:

    When I chose my pen name for my erotic romances, I went with the “means something to you” option. And I would never choose a pen name without googling and checking the domain name availability first. However, even though I did all that, a year later I still got a nasty email from the “real” person with the same name as my pen name (never mind that her legal first name is the longer version of my pen name’s first name). I didn’t find her when I did my search, and I explained that. She was gracious for about two days, and then was angry at me all over again. I finally had to tell her to stop contacting me, and, to her credit, she did.

    I have a friend who took as her pen name the name of a character in one of her books pubbed under her real name. I tried that, but when I googled the name of a secondary character in one of my unpubbed manuscripts, yep, I found out the name and domain was already assigned to a porn star. Too bad, because it was a great name, too (and not porn sounding to me!)

  36. Cindy Procter-King said:

    I actually don’t agree with needing to choose a pen name with the same first name as your real name. It depends on the person. To me the name Cindy belongs to a blond 7-year old second-base baseball player. Don’t ask me why, it just does. It’s my name, and I like it, but I REALLY LIKE that my pen name’s first name isn’t Cindy, because it helps me separate the two writing personalities in my mind. I guess at RWA National this summer I’ll find out how much trouble I have answering to two different first names, as I’m signing under my pen name at the lit autographing. However, personally, I don’t consider it an issue. Yet! We’ll see.

    I do agree to make your pen name easy to spell. My real last name is always misspelled. Either Procter is spelled as Proctor or the hyphen is left out between Procter and King. Or both! When I see Cindy Proctor King, my skin crawls. Those two Os look creepy to me, and the absence of the hyphen puts a crick in my neck (not to mention it changes where you’re shelved – I consider my last name to start with a P).

  37. Anonymous said:

    Also keep in mind that if the sales on your first couple books tank, as mine did, you will probably be asked to change your name by your next agent/publisher.

  38. Dave Shaw said:

    I find it interesting that so few here are mentioning the issue of a name that’s a little too common. When I google mine, I find what looks like more than 25 different people. The domain name comes up as being ‘for sale’, so no one’s actually using it, but someone’s squatting on it. I’m thinking about using my initials rather than my first name, assuming I ever get to the point of publication, but I think I’ll wait until I secure an agent before making that decision. Anyone think I should decide sooner?

  39. ~~Olivia said:

    As for telling an agent or a publisher about your pen name, don’t. I’ve been submitting using my pen name and no one has ask if it was my real name or not. When we get to the contact, then I will fess up and have the contract done in my real name.

  40. Anonymous said:

    I thought I’d use my Hakowi name– LukUn’Dacowch. In Hakawi it means “One who cannot find remote.”

  41. Anonymous said:

    Hm… This has made me think. I was planning on using my real name, but it is strange. My last name is memorable–IMO. My first name, however, is Arabic.

    When I google my name… well, I pretty much get nothing, except for a couple of my posts on a discussion board. So I don’t have to worry about that.

    Anyway… I was thinking something along the lines of JK Rowling, with my initials and my last name.

  42. J.E. MacLeod said:

    I use my initials and wonder what people are going to call me when my book comes out in the Spring.

    btw- I subbed with my real name and it was no big deal to my agent or my editor when I said I wanted to use the pen name.

  43. Lynn Viehl said:

    Publishers often insist on multi-genre writers and writer-for-hires using pseudonyms (I currently have nine.) I recommend the writer who goes this route personally pick out the pseudo whenever possible; that way you don’t get stuck with one you hate. Also, look at the name versus the genre you’re writing for; Lilith Saintcrow, for example, is an excellent and lyrical name for an urban fantasy writer, but probably wouldn’t do as well in inspirational fiction.

    When you use an ethnic name, find out if it has a separate meaning in the native language. Aphrodite Cajones may sound cool, but you’re actually pairing the name of goddess with testicles.

  44. Josh B. said:

    I have been wondering what the best way to make a pseudonym for my name, I’m almost done with book one of my Novel and my last name would be really hard to pronounce which isn’t so great.
    I thought about just cutting my last name short to Bell but there’s already someone by that name but I suppose that wouldn’t be so bad.
    I tried to do different things with my name and going with something like Bellon or Belda with the first two letters of my middle name but doesn’t seem to work either.
    I am related to Charles Dickens so I thought about using Dickens as my pseudonym last name but I really don’t know.
    Everyone tells me how great this book will be from everything they’ve read but if I do choose Dickens and don’t live up to His greatness {Even though I am a very good writer from what people have told me I don’t know if it can even happen} I don’t know what I would do.

    Over all I have no clue what name I should Pick, anyone have any advice for me?

  45. Rogers said:

    I’ve often heard that you should pick a surname that is alphabetically close to a super-famous author’s name so that your books will be glanced at more frequently in the bookstore. But I’m afraid if everyone did that the “K” section in Barnes and Noble would be pretty hard to navigate.

    Some people flip through the phonebook or use a random pen name generator. I just used my mother’s maiden name as my last name, and my grandmother’s maiden name as my first name.

    Whatever you do, make sure it doesn’t sound even a little bit like a porno name, like Dick Wood or something.