So, you’ve thought about the pros and cons of choosing a pen name and decided that the pros outweigh the cons for you. Now what? You throw your hat in the air and squeal, ‘the sky’s the limit!’ In purple marker on a piece of scrap paper, you write the name you always wanted as a kid, throw down the marker and tip your chair back triumphantly, contemplating it lettered beautifully on the covers of your future novels.
Wait. Don’t write it in stone yet. Before you irrevocably decide what name you’re going to use, there are a few things for you to consider.
Keep it sensible.
It goes without saying that you wouldn’t choose a hard to pronounce name, but choosing an overly elaborate one isn’t a good choice either. ‘Sapphira Goldsinger’ might sound fantastic but it also doesn’t sound real, and you want your readers to feel that there is a real, approachable author behind the stories. Aesthetic is important, but ‘Diana Elvira Victoria Samantha Montgomery’ says nothing so much as ‘I’m a teenage girl with delusions of grandeur’. Now, you’re free to have all the delusions of grandeur that you want, but if you want to be taken seriously as an author, you need to keep those delusions secret, at least at first.
If you don’t want a whole new name, you can use pair the initials of your first and/or middle name with your last name. Or you can keep one half of your real name and change the other half, like using your real first name and a fictional last name.
Don’t choose a ‘bandwagon’ name.
As my writing partner said, Terry is a common first name in fantasy, but hitching your wagon to the star of someone else isn’t a guaranteed trip to the moon, and it strips away some of your individuality.
Choose a name that compliments the genre.
If you intend to write comedies of manners that are set in the Victorian era, choose a name that fits the style of that time without sounding so old fashioned that readers wonder if you’re a fake.
Look up your intended genre on Goodreads or Amazon and pay attention to the names of the authors writing those books. Whether you’re writing a legal thriller or a sweet coffee shop romance, try to choose a name that fits your chosen genre, but is still unique enough to say YOU.
If you’re intending to cross-genre write under a single pen name, it’s a little trickier, but still entirely possible to choose a name that is unique but also flexible.
Try to make sure you won’t grow tired of the name in three years.
Your writing career will hopefully be around long-term, so make sure your name is one you will be comfortable with for a long time.
Check your state laws.
Having a pen name is not illegal, but even if you’re using your initials you might need licensing from your state. I am not a lawyer, but the degree to which you choose to use your pen name may have legal ramifications for you. Especially if you’re using your pen name to receive checks, which means it’s actually a separate business identity, in which case you usually need to at least file for an Assumed Business Name. This isn’t a very complicated process in my state, just a fee and a wait of 10-14 days. You’d need to research your own state laws to find out what they require. Even if you’re only putting that name on the front of your books and using your real name for all else, you might need ABN licensing.
IMPORTANT FYI: I am not qualified to give you legal advice so I strongly encourage you to research the laws of your state for yourself and make sure you’ve filed the correct paperwork- if any is needed- before you begin.
And that wraps up our mini-series on pen names! Do you have questions, opinions, or want me to elaborate on a particular point? Comment and let me know!
Merry Writing… and may your pen names be fantastic!