Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pen names

Writing status: Revising my completed manuscript #amediting

What I write: MG fiction plus a non-fiction

Tentative date to start querying: Jan 2019

Time to start building writer's online presence: NOW (if not yesterday!)

Problem: My name

My first and last name are difficult to both pronounce and spell. I'm worried that using my legal name could make it hard for readers to find my books (eg Google Search for author/title). Using a pen name seems like a good solution. At this point in my writing career, I want to start tweeting, building a writer's website, and maybe blogging down the road. Obviously this would all get set up under the name I'm planning to use if/when I publish. Being a typical nervous woodland creature, I wanted to check with the QOTKU before taking the plunge.

One recommendation is to pick a pen name that doesn't compete with any other major names or persons out there already (you actually mentioned this recently in a Jan 2018 blog post). Another idea I've seen is to have a pen name that might resonate with my generation of readers.

I feel like I've got one chance to get this right and I'm spinning my wheels trying to decide on a "perfect" name. I'd hate to pick something then spend time branding and promoting myself only to find out down the road that the name I chose doesn't work for some reason or another.

Cheers from the writing trenches!
You guyz crack me up, you really do.
I'm not sure what scenario you've envisioned wherein your name doesn't work for some reason or another. Well, ok if you're a writer named Charles Manson in 1967, that's probably not going to work in your favor if your book is published in 1969.

But you have no way of predicting what, if any, name will become associated with a psychopath. In other words, you cross that bridge when you come to it.

Pick a name you like. Pick a name that's short and easy to spell. Try for a name that isn't spelled three different ways: yanno like Reid. Read. Reed. (oy)

Pick a name you like. Don't try to find the perfect name or you'll start obsessing, and you should be obsessing about your writing, not your nom du guerre.

Pick a name you like. You don't have one chance to get this right, and the stakes aren't anywhere near as high as you think they are. Lots of people have had more than one name in their professional creative lives, and not all of them are Sean Combs.

21 comments:

Kathy Joyce said...

OP, given how much time we writers spend agonizing over character names, I can see how naming yourself could be paralyzing. Pick something that leaves an interesting mind image. Too bad Axel Rose is taken :) I'm suggesting Pancake Joe (or Jo).

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Dorothy Roberts.
Please don’t pick Dorothy Roberts because it’s my pen name if I ever have one. It’s a combo of my mother’s first name and Roberts; my father, brother and husband are all named Robert. Perfect for me, right?
Um, I don’t think so.
I googled my pen name.
Well...not only am I an activist who went to Yale and Harvard, and have done TED talks, I’m black. Mom and dad would be proud.
Maybe I’ll be Dot Bobs.
I googled. I’m shoes.

Lennon Faris said...

Also, don't pick an 'ethnic' name (unless that's you!). I think it was mentioned on this blog - some time in the last few years a poet had chosen an Asian name for his pen name, and he was actually Caucasian. People were very upset (when they discovered his identity - I think part of the issue was he was keeping his true identity a secret).

I see letters and numbers in color. I chose the color combinations that I liked best and came up with Lennon Faris (it looks adventurous, grounded, and somehow also dazzling in my mind). Then I googled to make sure I wasn't renaming myself a psychopath.

Mister Furkles said...

OP, I use my cat's name. You may use one of our late kitties' names. Here are three that will definitely not become well known as a psychopathic serial killer's name. And you won't need to worry about being confused with other writers:

Wuddley Wuggley Koon
Tober Tupper Tooper Toos
Winny Woopy Woo

Of course, some might think you are ethnic Chinese if you use Winny Woopy Woo but life is fundamentally difficult and nothing is purfect...except cats.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Lennon, your name always makes me think of John Lennon and Ferris wheels.
As far as I know, I'm the only person with my name in the US. And my last name means "Oak Mountain."
So I'd be good with either Scandinavian mysteries or fantasy. Though I've always like my great grandmother's name, Zuleme Fish.

Julie Weathers said...

Marsha Skrypuch has done very well even though lots of people misspell her name, including me and I have "known" her for years. She used to offer me lots of good advice on the Children's Lit Forum before it went extinct. OP could always use initials instead of a first name. Personally, I'm convinced that's the key to success anyway. JRR Tolkien, GRR Martin, JRR Weathers. Works for me.

There used to be a champion rodeo cowboy who had a very difficult Czech last name. Invariably a reporter would ask him about it and he said he didn't worry about people mispronouncing it or even misspelling it. His bank was used to it. As long as they put it on a check, he was good.

Has anyone ever seen the movie Don't Tell Her It's Me? Lizzie Potts, also known as romance writer Viveca Lamoureaux sets up a photographer for a dinner to introduce her to her brother. The photographer later lambasts her about romance writers and phony names. Really? Viveca Lamoureaux? It was Lizzie's mother's name if I remember correctly. Anyway, it's a family name.

Look through your family tree and see if there is some combination you like.

Jarrett Krosoczka, Jef Czekaj, Jon Scieszka among others have embraced their uniqueness. Jarrett says they have a quarterly meeting of authors with difficult to pronounce names. You could be a member.

Dena Pawling said...


I also write MG. Probably 4-5 years ago, I was at where you are now. I obsessed over a pen name for several months, maybe even a year, for all the reasons you mentioned, plus one more.

In the end, I followed this advice – pick a first name you'd be likely to answer to if someone called you from across the room. Pick a name you wouldn't mind signing hundreds of times when people line up with books in hand. Pick a name that has a meaning only you and maybe a few family members knows the back story.

And be amenable to changing it.

Then I followed this social media advice – pick a platform you'd find fun/interesting, and get started. I chose a blog and twitter. I write about legal and military topics [I'm an attorney and my oldest son was in the navy]. I tweet about interesting legal and military topics. NONE of this is related to MG, so the “platform” I'm building isn't relevant to what I write. But I'm having fun, and learning about things like how long it takes to write a blog post and how much of a time suck twitter is. I'm following industry folks and learning about publishing.

Let's say I'm offered rep today [brief pause while I swoon after typing that]. I'm looking at several months to maybe 2-3 years of further revisions, out on sub, contract negotiations, more revisions, pub time, etc. [pause]. That's plenty of time for me to build a new platform, after discussing the then-current state of the industry and MG with my agent [pause again]. And I won't be making the same mistakes I made when I first started.

Here's two informative links I found

https://themillions.com/2006/08/hard-to-pronounce-literary-names.html

http://www.pegasusbookexchange.com/2009/11/pronunciation-guide-to-some-difficult.html

Congrats on your completed MS!

Rakie said...

A difficult to spell/pronounce name might not be as much of a hindrance as you think - two of my favourite authors are Leigh Bardugo and Paolo Bacigalupi, and i'm constantly spelling them wrong (yes, i did have to google them both just now). And it's possible that even the most common name will get pronounced wrong (example? where i'm from, Juan is pronounced Joo-ann).

Cheryl said...

I had my pen name all picked out to distinguish between the romance I write and the fantasy. I took my grandmother's first name because it's exotic in English but easy to spell and my husband's middle name because it's a fairly common last name and also easy to spell.

Turns out there's exactly one person on the internet with that name, and she's a model. So time to pick a new last name.

But I blog and tweet under my own name. When the time comes I can disambiguate, but not now.

RachelErin said...

Seconding what Rakie said - as long as people can remember the first few letters, google will autofill for them. And with an unusual name, it's much easier to be the first or second google result, and your are more memorable and harder to mix up with other authors. Kristen Lamb has an interesting take on this - why unusual names can be great for authors in the digital age.

You can also do things with keywords in the back end to include common mis-spellings, so if people do misspell your name in google your page still comes up (the joys of meta data!).

I worry my name is too common in my space - sure it's easy to spell (my last name is much less usual) but there are a lot of Rachels and Raes and so on who write YA SFF, some with my same initials. It would be very easy for someone to be looking for me and end up on one of their webpages....It means I have to do more work to have a high google rating since there is more competition.

KariV said...

This comment trail is gold!

LOVE what Dena said.

nightsmusic said...

My pen name was more from necessity because of a stalker, than anything else. And yes, if I were ever published, I'd be that reclusive author who doesn't ever like their picture taken, also because of said stalker. Thus, my non-name here as well.

2NNs! I have a pair of Dot Bobs! I love Bobs! You could do worse ;)

Colin Smith said...

I agree with Janet, Opie. Don't sweat it. When Jim Grant left British independent television to write novels, he was already experienced at picking pseudonyms, having used plenty in the course of his professional life. For his author name, he chose something with single syllables, so it would be easy to say and remember. He also wanted a name that was closer to the beginning of the alphabet so it would be at eye-level on the bookshelf, and something with warm, friendly connotations. The name he chose? Lee Child. :)

In your case, Opie, I like the idea of you keeping your unusual name. You could add a pronunciation guide in your bio on the back of your books. I think that would be cool. People will feel smart for being able to master it. :) Moreover, it will make your brand that much more distinctive.

BTW, you don't have to have an unusual name for people to mispronounce it. J. K. Rowling? It's Rowling as in bowling. I still hear people pronouncing the "Row" as if it rhymes with "cow"!

BJ Muntain said...

Andrzej Sapkowski has a very successful fantasy series, partially due to the series of games it inspired. When I Googled him just now, I didn't even try to use his name. I just searched for the Witcher series.

If you have something people can search besides your name, you're gold. People will remember that longer than they remember any name - even if your name is John Smith. (By the way, a name as common as John Smith is even worse than a hard-to-spell name. You'll never find the particular John Smith you want in a search.)

Even people who have known me for years sometimes have problems spelling my last name. It's not that it's difficult or anything, but it's too close to other things - like 'mountain'. And it's often pronounced 'mon-tain', which gets in the way, too. But I like it, it's pretty unique online, and I never have to worry about having to stake out my name in social media, etc., because I'm the only BJ Muntain out there.

whipchick said...

I have a common first and very common last name, and the most recent big-deal people with my name were both women media figures who made sex tapes. So I added a middle initial that's unique, and now I'm the only one who pops up on the first Google page.

Steve Stubbs said...

Don't now if Charles Manson is such a bad name after all. The psychotic killer in the movie HALLOWEEN was named Michael Myers. But that does not seems to have harmed Michael Myers, who appeared in several bad spy movie spoofs as Austin Powers.

I read that when Nathan Birnbaum decided to go into show business, to disguise his Jewish identity, and also to distinguish himself from Nathan Birnbaum, who was a famous writer at the time, he called himself George Burns.

There were several other high profile people who called themselves George Burns at the time but he did well with that name anyway.

When Michael Douglas started acting, there was another actor using the same name, so, being an admirer of Diane Keaton, he called himself Michael Keaton instead.

Or you could use a knockoff name. Johnny Cash seems to have inspired Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Money. Prepare to be satirized if you do, though. When Chubby Checker started singing, someone at MAD magazine noticed the resemblance between his name and another singer named Fats Domino. So they published a satire announcing the appearance of several others, including Corpulent Parchesi and Lanky Lotto.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Whipchick, I think you are very smart 😀.

Colin, I agree with you on the "keep your unusual name".
BTW, I am glad you are back here on the blog, didn't see any sign of you the last two days.
Hope it wasn't because of you critiquing my first chapter, speaking of which:
I'd really like to thank you for this!

It was like, well do people here know that from some centuries ago when you were kids and had thought you'd brushed your teeth well and then used those plaque-indicator-pills to chew?

I thought I had brushed my first chapter well but when I opened Colin's critique: ALL RED. Haaa, ha ha ;).

He said it reads like a cobble road. That's my writing handicap as a non-native English speaker, sigh. Also, you guys have sooooo many words - I thought I had known most of them but no, you keep inventing synonym after synonym all the time :/.

Anyway, I used to live in Paris and there, cobble roads are the most beautiful ones 😀.

Colin Smith said...

OneOfUs: I've been quiet because a) I haven't had anything useful to say, and b) while at work, I have to use my phone to comment and I HATE typing anything of length on my phone. My fingers are too keyboard-trained, and my thumbs came into their prime before the texting era. :)

I liked the "cobblestone" analogy. There's nothing technically wrong with the text, and it gets you where you're going. But it's a bumpy ride, and not the most comfortable. Even if it looks pretty. :)

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Colin, oops, I meant "cobblestone" not "cobble road". Too bad ;).

I'm using a phone to comment here, works fine for me.
Hopefully your boss isn't an undercover-opie-Reider and will fire you one day. You should be working, man ;).

AJ Blythe said...

I don't have time today to read all the comments =( so apologies if this has been said.

OP, the best advice I can give is to google the name you want to use first. Make sure:
1. There are no porn stars, serial killers or authors with that name.
2. How much google space does someone with the same name take (turns out the original pen name I wanted to use is the same as a famous footballer - he had the first 3 pages of google hits). It's no problem having the same name as another person, but I don't want to make it any harder to get my name to the top of google search than it has to be.
3. The names don't have an alternate meaning (my Grandmother's name was Fanny - here in Oz it means something totally different to the US!).

Finally, the best advice I was ever given is to keep your first name (or a name you are known by) so when you are at conferences, book signings etc and someone says your name you respond!

I really am AJ, just changed my surname for my pen.

I took a pen name for two reasons, the first for privacy (I am not on social media as the real me anywhere etc) and the second because at the time I was working for an organisation that wanted to approve everything that was written for publication and technically could lay claim to it. Didn't want them connecting dots. No longer work there, but am quite comfortable (and as established as a non-published author can be) with the pen me.

Beth Carpenter said...

I didn't know to google first years ago when I invented my pen name, and yes, there is a famous murderer who pops up ahead of me on google searches. The threat is real.