How to choose the PERFECT author pen name: and when you should!

How to choose the PERFECT author pen name: and when you should!

Update: this is an older post that still gets a lot of traffic, so I made a video on some critically important pen name tips that will help you sell more books. Watch the video to learn more.

For a long time I thought using an author pen name was disingenuous. Plus it gets confusing to readers if you are called by different names in different places and nobody is really sure who they are talking about. But pen names (nom de plume) can be useful.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think my name “Derek Murphy” is cool at all. Annoyingly, there are several other Derek Murphys on Amazon, which gets confusing.

If you have a boring or plain sounding name, a cool name that fits the genre may help sell more books. If you’re a woman writing action or a man writing fantasy romance, a gender-neutral name (J.K. Rowling, J.F. Penn) might be a smart move.

Another reason you might want a pen name is if you write in very different fields: for example I write non-fiction academic historical/philosophical books, and if I start cranking out short paranormal stories (which I hope to) or inspiration how-to books for authors and artists (in the works now) using the same name *might* weaken my reputation in my main field (unless they’re totally awesome. but still…)

Or if you write spiritual how-to books and also something like how to clean a toothbrush (industrial/practical). At any rate, a handful of books in the same field or genre makes the author sound more like an expert, rather than a jack of all trades; if they see that you write about all sorts of different stuff, and that you don’t have a consistent way of using and punctuating your name, they might view you as unprofessional.

What are you hiding, and why?

Something you need to consider is, what is it you don’t want people to find out? Are you trying to keep your real life away from your author life? Do you write erotica and don’t want your family to find out? Are you a militant atheist for some books but pious Christian for others? Of course it can make sense to segment things, especially your audience, but the bigger the secret, the bigger the risk.

Think about this, if people learn the truth about who you are, will they feel betrayed, surprised, confused, let down? If so, that can be dangerous for your reputation.

Setting up a Kindle book project with a fake author name is easy, so it won’t matter… but what if people like the book and start searching for the name? They won’t find anything. They’ll assume it’s a fake. They’ll assume the author is hiding and unapproachable.

Even if they love the book,  they won’t share it or comment on it, because it’s just a book, and they can’t forge a relationship with a book.

But pen names can help sell. If your name is Lacey Darling and you’re writing a spy thriller, having a cooler name might influence just enough early buyers to make a difference. (On the other hand, if your book is good and  people love it, having a name like Lacey Darling will stand out and help brand you.)

I’m not convinced that pen names help sell more books. I’d probably urge against picking a random fake name. But they can be useful in some circumstances.

The right way to do it

The only thing I suggest is not make it a big secret or mystery. Don’t set up different fake websites and fake lives of these fake people.

Own up to it all on your personal website. My name is ‘X’ and I write romance under ‘Y’ and thrillers under ‘Z’.

You might want to put an FAQ page or answer the question “why don’t I use my real name?”

For each genre and name, try to use the same font, size and style for the author name (Especially for a series). However, if you don’t have a genre and your books are all unique, I’d focus more on making a great cover than making your name look the same way.

Still, branding is about elements of repetition.

How to create your author pen name?

Try to start from your real name and make little changes. Maybe use your middle name, or initials, or a name that’s almost the same but a little cooler. Use a friend’s name that you’ve always envied.

There are also a few neat online generators for pen names, here are the links for two, you can find more. Just keep clicking until you see something you like and copy it down. Find 5 that you like best, then ask your friends and family which seems to fit the target genre. You may have to mix and match.

Then, go to amazon and search for your name, to make sure somebody isn’t already using it.

Ps) These are also great for thinking up character names!

If you want to create a whole new identity, with names, addresses, social security numbers, credit card numbers and more with 33 nationalities and 24 countries, you can try this android app:

The Joy of Branding

For the past few years I have been using a penname: I used my initials and got my audience to vote on their favorite, which was Drake Mason. The kind of cool thing about Drake is that he’s my fantasy version of myself, so I can pretend to be much cooler than I am and hope some of his dashing confidence rubs off on me. I’ve found bringing some of that branding – the things that make you feel good or cool – into your real life, can boost productivity and motivation.

Silly, impractical things that announce your brand and your intentions can make good “awards” to give yourself; basically bribing your inner child to sit still so you can do more work.

Want to make a living with your writing?

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  • Elly Green Posted

    Thank you! I am an erotica author and did chose a pen name because my real life and author life don’t get along well. Since I only blog and write as an erotica author, I don’t really have any trouble keeping up with my other “false life.” My real life isn’t exciting enough to be out there in cyber space in any real way – I’ve checked just in case.

    My favorite part of your article was the suggestion to start with your real name and tweak it. That’s what I did.

    I took the initials of my first two real names and my maiden name.

    But, a side note on initials… no one platform can seem decide on how those should be written. So, L.E. can be that or LE or L E… no rhyme or reason. Instead, I chose Elly… phonetic spelling is great, isn’t it?

  • Tfeazel Posted

    I have nearly finished my second book, and write under the name Thomas Anderson.
    I wrote my first book in first person with the narrator being named Tom Anderson.
    A quandary has developed with my second book containing the name Tom Anderson as the main character. The book is written third person.
    Is that a strange occurrence where the author’s name is used for the main character, and the narration is in the third person?

  • Moon moon Posted

    The point was nobody knew she was Robert Galbraith until someone exposed her against her wishes. Nobody would have found out if it weren’t for that.

  • Erik Darius Posted

    I have a pen name in place and using it to publish my first book. It was suggested to me that hiring and securing a male model to become Aaron Steel (my pen name) would grow my franchise even more. How would one get started in the right direction with that?

  • Giselle Lindsey Posted

    I plan to use a pen name for my first novel for security reasons. Although I have worked very hard to keep everything ‘PC,’ the subject matter is contentious. In this day and time, people who disagree get spiteful in many ways. I worry that there could be hate mail, rude obnoxious comments … or worse. If this should become widely published, threats may follow. (To be clear, it is not THAT contentious. But all I would have to do is give the general topic, and you would understand the possibilities of backlash).
    But I have so many questions about using a pseudonym. When does one become whom?
    How does one begin to build a platform? As you mentioned, I would almost have to create an alternate life to keep separate from my own? This is the writer. This is the author.. Also, I have found several people with the same name. Would I put them in peril? Or should I just “man up” and face the consequences as my characters do?

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