How to Choose the Perfect Pen Name
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Have you ever thought about publishing under a pen name?
There are many reasons why you might choose to do so. Perhaps you'd like to share your stories in secret, select a name that's more memorable or a better fit for your genre, market stories in various genres without causing confusion, or distinguish yourself from another writer or creator with a similar name.
No matter the reason, choosing a pen name that best fits your publishing needs can be tough. What factors should you consider? Is the use of a pseudonym right for you? Let's discuss in today's article, writer!
Should you use a pseudonym?
The use of pseudonyms isn't nearly as necessary for some authors as it may have once been. In decades and centuries past, women often published under male pseudonyms to increase the likelihood that their work would be respected, while the desire for privacy or to uphold family honor drove writers of all genders to take up a pen name or two.
Times, however, are a'changing. The push for women's equality has improved respect for women's work, privacy means less as most of us can be found on social media anyway, and an increased tolerance for a wide variety of topics and stories means writers are far less likely to scandalize their families with their work.
But just because the landscape of the publishing industry, and society as a whole, is changing doesn't mean that pen names don't have their place. You may wish to use a pseudonym for any of the reasons we mentioned earlier: for anonymity, for better marketing, to avoid confusion when writing in multiple genres, or because an established creator already bears your name.
The choice is up to you!
What should you consider when choosing a pen name?
If you intend to make money from your writing, you are, in essence, building a small business. The name you choose to use when publishing represents your personal brand of storytelling, so it's worth giving a bit of thought.
Here are a few factors I recommend considering when mulling over your potential pen name:
- Is it fairly easy to pronounce and spell?
- Does the name flow well when spoken aloud?
- Does the feel of the name match the genre you're writing?
- Are there any other authors, creators, or celebrities working under the name?
These questions should certainly be taken as guidelines when choosing your pen name. Some readers may have trouble pronouncing a name if it's from another culture or some authors may feel most comfortable using their given names even though they don't quite align with the feel of their genres, but that doesn't mean they should use a pen name instead.
Again, I'd like to reiterate that the use of a pseudonym is a highly personal choice. Do what feels right to you. If you're curious about the instances that might call for the use of a good pen name, let's take a look at Judith Rumelt's case.
Judith wrote popular Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fan-fiction for years before deciding to publish her own Young Adult urban fantasy series. Knowing that her given name sounded a bit outdated to a YA audience, she decided to publish under a pseudonym instead: Cassandra Clare, author of the bestselling The Mortal Instruments series.
Judith Rumelt tailored her author name to her audience, choosing a pseudonym that held the right feel and familiarity that would best appeal to YA readers. Could she have published under her own name? Absolutely. Would her books have become just as beloved? It's a strong possibility, though we can't know for sure.
But Judith Rumelt's choice to use a pen name certainly worked well in her favor, and it can for you as well.
Choosing the perfect pen name...
In all likelihood, the author name you choose to employ won't make or break your success as a writer. It may help you gain a tad more notice, keep your work secret from family members, co-workers, and the like, or even allow you to publish in multiple genres without confusing readers.
But at the end of the day, a name is a name. It's how you choose to employ that name that matters. If you feel most comfortable publishing under your real name, go for it. If a variation on your name would help you stand out from other creators, give it a chance. Or, if for any reason, you'd like to use a completely fictional pen name, go forth and rock your choice, writer.
If you're having trouble brainstorming a pseudonym that fulfills your needs, try checking out this customizable pen name generator from the folks over at Invaluable. It truly is, well... invaluable!
One final note: I'd like to encourage my fellow women writers to feel confident in publishing under traditionally feminine names. I understand the patriarchal undertones that still flow through present society; the pressure to use your initials or choose a more androgynous pen name can be tempting — and it's certainly okay to do so if you'd like.
But if you're only considering these options because you worry certain readers won't take your work seriously otherwise, they likely aren't the readers you want picking up your books anyway. The same applies if you're a writer with a non-Eurocentric name. The world is changing for the better, and I'd love for us to be a part of that change in this small way.
All that said, at the end of the day, there is no right or wrong in the pen name game. So long as your name is unique and you're proud to slap it on the covers of your books, you can rest assured that you've chosen the perfect pen name for your work — no doubt about it. Now, writers... Let's get to publishing our stories, shall we?