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Things to Consider While Choosing a Pen Name

A pen name should be chosen only after investing an ample amount of thought and time, because your entire writing career will depend on it. So, before you pick one up for yourself, know what this Buzzle write-up has to say.
"While I was writing I assumed it would be published under a pseudonym, and that liberated me: what I wrote was exactly what I wanted to read."
― Nicholson Baker

A pen name has many synonyms―fictitious name, professional name, pseudonym, nom de plume, and nom de guerre. On the other hand, I came across a rather amusing definition of it that read, "pretend name of an author." When I contemplated on the definition a little, I realized that it was worded correctly, because that's what it actually is ... "pretend name"―of an author of course.

There are various advantages of using a pen name. In case the author writes on various topics or in different genres, using a pen name would be very useful. For example, let's say an author is an expert in writing on serious topics, like business and finance, and also likes writing fiction stories, like romance or erotica. Also, the author who is known for writing books on business might not want his followers to know that he writes on sleazy stuff as well. In such an author's case, a pen name could save him from losing his readers as well as reputation. The other advantage that a pen name can provide him is 'gender neutrality.' But to avail maximum benefits of a pen name, it should be chosen properly, and Buzzle will help you become aware of the things to consider while choosing a pen name.

Are You Comfortable with the Name?

Will you be okay with any random pen name? This is the first thing that you should consider before selecting an apt pen name. Read this section, and think about it.

I'm sure, every author wants to grow in his/her writing career and obtain a respectable position as a writer. Don't forget, you'll be achieving it all with your pen name. Your readers will know and remember you by your pen name. If you become history, you will be mentioned by your pen name.

After twenty years, would you still love to be known by your pen name? Can you tell your family, friends, or acquaintances about your name? If it makes you feel foolish, awkward, or embarrassed, probably it's not the right one. Envision that your pen name will have an association of a lifetime with you. So, don't compromise and select just any other name because you found it funny or cute. Give it the time and thought it deserves, and select one that you are most comfortable with.

Is it Easy to Spell and Pronounce?

Apart from the comfort factor of the pen name, you should also make sure that it is easy to spell and pronounce. If you come up with a name that is difficult to pronounce, maybe your readers will not want to recommend your book to someone. They may not ask for your book at a library. Why? Because it could be pronounced wrongly and may sound foolish in front of others. This is the reason your pen name should be easy to pronounce.

On the other hand, if your pen name is difficult to spell, readers may find it hard to search your book in the library's inventory or even on the Internet. They may type in the wrong name, and the search engine won't be able to return your book or website to them via search results, eventually making you lose out on readers. Therefore, it is advised to stay away from complex names that are difficult to pronounce and spell.

Tip
Do not pick up a name that has an apostrophe, like O'Dowds, O'Connors, D'Angelos, or accent marks, like the ones in Gracián or Vernón. They can usually mess up with the coding, and the computer might not be able to take it up correctly.

Does Your Pen Name Sound Professional?

Not only should your pen name be easy to spell and pronounce, but it should also be professional. The idea is to get a name that should be memorable, not mock-able. I had mentioned earlier that you should be comfortable with the pen name you choose. There is a thin line of difference between being comfortable with the name and being professional.

Let me elaborate―you are comfortable with a name for a romantic novel, and think that it doesn't sound like anything that can be made fun of. But from a professional point of view, it may sound too purple prose. E.g. Katelyn Augustine Townsend. You may have to downplay it to something like K.A. Townsend. Get the drift? ... Keep it simple, professional, and workable, yet unique!

Is it Similar to an Existing Author's Pen Name?

If you are trying to pen your pen name in a way that is too similar to an existing author's pen name, you are doing yourself no good. If pulling a slice of readership from the existing author's valuable readers is your subtle aim, it would be better if you give it up quickly.

I'll give you three reasons for this: (i) Work ethics! You have to stand on your own two feet and gather readers on your own merit; (ii) You will be creating a bad impression amongst readers as well as eminent members of the writing industry, who can easily identify your foul play; (iii) Your aim of snatching readership will work against you, by making the other author whom you are trying to copy, more popular.

I'm sure, you don't want any of the above to happen. Therefore, steer clear of coming up with 'similar-to-the-famous-author' names.

Will it Help Locate Your Book in the Library?

One small trick that could at least guarantee 'a look at your book' in the library is by using the correct initials. If you find that a particular best-selling author in your genre of writing has his name starting with 'B', maybe you could think of starting your pen name with 'A'. People are going to rummage the library shelves from left to right to locate that famous author, and in the process, may come across your book. This process is called 'tailgating'. But you need to keep in mind that, you are only going to ride in the visual prevalence of the best-selling book and not try to snatch the readers. I reiterate the importance of not using names that are too similar.

The second trick would be to start your pen name with the middle alphabets of the alphabetical system. If you start your pen name with alphabets from D to T, you may have better chances of getting your book picked. It is just another smart trick, because the books are normally arranged in the alphabetical order of the name of the author. It makes your book shelf-friendly by putting it at the eye level of the reader. Anyway, who will want to bend down to locate a book kept at the bottom corner of the shelf?

Your pen name has to be distinguished because it is going to last all your life. If you give it the time and go through the painstaking process of selecting the best one for you, I'm sure you'll get favorable returns in the form of sustained readers who will respect you as a writer.
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Published: September 17, 2013
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Excellent tips on pen-names! thanks so much! - LadyBeatrice [December 7, 2013]