Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name

by Calista Taylor

Choosing a pen name is often a choice dictated by a variety of factors, but like most decisions that deal with building a platform and a brand, it's not only personal but business.

I first decided that I would need a pen name when I started writing steampunk. My real name has more of a chick lit feel to it, but worse, there's a porn star with the same name. As a result, the chances of googling my name and finding ME instead of the popular G-string starlet would be slim to none. Not a great way to be easily accessible to readers.

With the decision made to choose a pen name, I quickly came up with a checklist.

  • Google Hits—When choosing a name, put the first and last name in quotes and google it. I like the number to be under 1000 hits (or close to it). That guarantees that by the time you're well into your platform building, you'll have taken over that name, so that when someone googles it, they'll primarily get your website, your Twitter/Facebook account, or your blog.
  • An Available Domain—You'll likely want to put up a website to help promote yourself, and since it's likely you'll write more than one book, it's best if you put your website in your name, rather than your book title. Having that domain be available is a huge plus, though there are ways around it, like adding "author" to your name. Not great, but still an option, if you have your heart set on a particular name.
  • How easy is the name to remember? Pronounce? Spell?—This is HUGE. If no one will be able to remember it, say it, spell it, then it's probably not a great choice.
  • Does it suit the genre you'll be writing?—This deals with not only the feel of the name (sounding too modern when you write historicals, etc), but also with whether the name sounds too male/female when it's a genre that's dominated by a particular sex. For example, writing romance with a name that sounds male may turn off some readers.
  • Does the name sound like a joke?—Picking a name that sounds too fake (often done to fit the genre to an extreme) can be a turn off. Remember—this is still a business venture so naming yourself Luscious Fantastique just because you write erotica or Vampira Nightshade because you write paranormals probably isn't a wise move.
  • Is the name already being used by someone else?—A porn star (lol)? An actor/actress? Another author? Is it too close in the way it sounds to another author?
Whatever name you choose, I highly recommend using it for your Twitter account (both the user name and the @name), because each tweet gives that name another hit on Google. This means that before long, when someone googles your pen name, they will get you, or one of your tweets. This will of course lead to your Twitter account, which should also have a link to your website, blog or books, making it fairly simple for any readers to find you.

My favorite place to look for names is, hands down, the Baby Names section on Parents Connect (though the recent addition of video to the site is making me crazy). They offer a cool feature that allows you to find names with a similar feel to a particular name, or names that sound similar. This becomes useful if you really like a name but can't use it because it has high hits on Google, or doesn't meet one of the other criteria. Now you can easily find a different one that "feels" the same.

I hope this list will help, if you're considering pen names. Have you already chosen a pen name or plan on using one? What were your criteria?


Darke Conteur said...

I was in the same boat as you. If I did my name like J.K. Rowling, all roads led to a disfuct author or a bridal boutique, and considering one was a business, I figured it would be a constant battle. Writing out my full name brought up links to an actress, so that route was lost. I don't mind using a pen name. One persona writes the stories, the other sells them. :)

Hannah Kincade said...

This is my pen name. I chose a name that when placed on the shelf will put me next to a couple of my favorite authors. LOL. A little strategic placement. ;)

Stephanie said...

I have a whole list of pen names in mind should the occasion arise (which it might, since I am interested in more than one genre). I am blessed to have a unique enough last name that I figure I should use it, but I have also incorporated some family names and other names which have meaning to me, while still fitting genres and being unique, when designing my "new" names. It's important to me to choose names that have meaning in addition to just sounding good, but maybe that's just me?

LD Masterson said...

When I started out I wanted to write as myself, Linda Leszczuk. The real me. But the first publishers I had a chance to talk to on the subject said no. Something about Leszczuk being too hard to spell, pronouce, remember, etc. But I still wanted to write as me so I opted for my maiden name, Linda Masterson - and promptly discovered there's already a published author by that name (she writes children's books). Now I've settled on maiden name with initials. We'll see how it goes.

Matt Sinclair said...

I will be using my initials, which are unique enough that I was able to get my Website domain without a problem, even though my full name is otherwise fairly well populated by cricket and American football players as well as a fictional gay detective and an all too real Tory finance loudmouth. Crowded room.

Calista Taylor said...

Darke, it's always so hard when each name we choose turns out to be a bust.

Hannah, LOVE the strategic placement next to your favorite authors! It'll be like always hanging out with good friends.

Stephanie, I too always check out the meaning of a name-- and it's always fantastic when you can incorporate a family name.

LD, it can be hard when we want to use a name and it ends up being a no-go. Luckily, it sounds like you've found a solution that works for you.

Matt, at least your crowded room is interesting! lol.

Jean Oram said...

Great ideas on how to track down a good pen name. I was going to use a pen name, but the name was taken as a dot com. It feels silly in some ways to use that as a reason not to use that name, but you know... I'm a complicated being. Sometimes I do still consider a pen name for privacy reasons. I guess what I am saying is that maybe I haven't completely decided yet!

Jemi Fraser said...

I ending up lucking out. I decided to blog & tweet one afternoon and decided to choose a pen name. I chose a first and last name from my family history - I kinda like it. I didn't generate a single Google hit under it - which was very lucky.

Sophie Perinot said...

BRAVO for hitting all the major practical considerations! I am constantly astounded by the number of writers who select pen names for fanciful reasons without considering for a moment whether a potential reader will be able to spell the name, whether a corresponding domain name is available, etc.

Ciera Linnert said...

I was unlucky enough to read this years after I had chosen my pen name. It was really funny though because, having two, I can see what happens and pick which one suits it more.

This is one of mine though. Googled it and found out that a couple of the results were actually me :) And I was at the top! I didn't have to go searching through everything.

It is easy to spell and say (I hope), well harder than my normal name. You should see when someone tries to say that with only looking at the letters. "But a b and a h together?"

Ciera Linnert

Morgen Bailey said...

More people than not call me Morgan (with an A) because it's the usual spelling. I do wonder how much web traffic I lose because of it, although one Morgan Bailey is a porn star so at least they'll have had an interesting journey finding me.
Morgen (with an E)