To Pen Name or Not to Pen Name…

Paraphrasing the Bard, it’s a BIG question — an important one, too — and not a subject to take lightly before your first book is published or before you publish in a new genre. There are pros and cons; and we can argue ourselves blue trying to come up with a “right” answer.

I know from personal experience that you can put five writers on a dais and ask the question about when you should use a pseudonym, and you’ll get at least seven different answers. Here’s a summary of the wisdom I’ve gathered:

  • If you have established expertise in a topical area and have built a “following,” use the name you’re already known by. This applies most often for authors of nonfiction or memoirs.
  • If you have a name that is difficult to pronounce or spell, consider how people will find you. My real last name has letters in it that aren’t heard and other combinations that are pronounced a particular way, and potential readers could have difficulty trying to figure out how to look for me. Hint: If people have stumbled over pronouncing your name verbally your whole life, get a pen name!
  • If you have a name that sounds so different from your genre that it doesn’t fit, consider a pen name for that genre. Would we expect Magnus Brutus to write romance?
  • If you are already published in one genre and plan to make a big switch, consider a new pen name to match the new genre. For example, if you write bloody suspense under one name and switch to inspirational young adult books, you might want to be identified as someone… different!
  • If you change your writing name — pseudonym or real name — when you start a new writing direction, remember that you’ll have to rebuild your fan base. They’ve already found you and “liked” you under your original writing name; now you’ll have to start over again, unless you find a way to link the two names together.
  • Once you decide on a name, claim everything you can for it. The one thing you’ll always have control over is your website, so grab the domain name for that first thing! There are companies that monitor Internet searches for a name, and if something begins to look remotely popular, they buy the name and will only resell it to you for $$$. Even if you aren’t ready to build the website, buy the domain name now. And don’t forget to pay the annual renewals on time, too! The same applies for a series name, a tagline, or anything else that could direct people back to your wonderful work.

Remember — your pen name is your first marketing tagline, and the more thought you put into selecting it and protecting it, the easier your writing life will be.

Do you use your real name or a pseudonym? How did you make that decision?

Yvonne Kohano is the author of the Flynn’s Crossing Series. The first two books of the series — Pictures of Redemption and Flashes of Fire — are available from Abbott Press. Keep an eye out for book three: Naked Intolerances.