Going Incognito: How to Choose A Pen Name
Every time you publish a book, you’re putting your name out into the world.
People will look for you on Amazon and other bookselling sites, they’ll look on social media sites, and they’ll look for an author website.
Being a well-known writer and having your name instantly recognized might be the ideal for most self-published authors.
But, do you really want all that attention focused on your true identity?
What if you’re a member of the PTA at your child’s school, yet you want to write a bodice-ripper?
What if you are known for writing business books, but you want to write in an entirely different genre?
Using your own name in any of the above instances could cause problems, either for promoting the book you wish to write, your day job, or even the safety of you and your family.
What’s a writer to do?Choosing to write under a pen name (a.k.a. writing under a pseudonym, a.k.a. nom de plume) is an option writers use for many reasons.
Why do authors use pen names?
Here are a few of reasons for going incognito:
Using a pen name allows you to change as much or as little about yourself as you wish.
If you are male, you can become female (and vice versa). If you usually write non-fiction business books, you can create a new pen name to write fiction or academic works.
If you are already well-known in the religious community, you can create a new persona to write for the secular market.8 Steps To Writing A Sales-Driving Author Bio
A pen name allows you to take a hard-to-pronounce or long ethnic name and shorten it, so it is easier to spell and pronounce.
Chikalinski becomes Chik, Hladisova becomes Ladd, and Goytiom becomes Guy.
Creating an easy-to-remember name will go a long way toward boosting your branding.
Not only are they easier to recall, but they are also easy to write and create logos around if you choose to build a full-blown business around your nom de plume.
Creating a pen name that matches your niche makes it easier to remember.
Case in point: “Remington Steele,” the pseudonym created by a woman who wanted to start a private investigation business.
Rose Tanner could be used by a man who wishes to break into beach romances.
And Jon Byte could be created strictly for writing technical computer manuals.
Staying safe is another reason to use a pen name.
If the topics you write about have the potential to jeopardize your job, your social standing, or the safety of your immediate family or yourself, creating a pen name could be your only choice if you wish to be published.
Keep in mind it is never okay to create a pen name for illegal purposes.
Don’t create a pen name as a way to get around a contract, infringe on another author’s name, or to write something you’ve promised not to write about.
How to Choose a Pen Name
Now that you’ve decided to use a pen name it’s time to choose one.
Picking a pen name is even harder than naming a baby because you need to come up with a last name as well.
Some authors will even go so far as to create a whole character, complete with backstory, to go with their name.
Do you want a name that’s obviously fake? Many authors will use names that are common to their genre when picking a nom de plume: names like Kandy Kisses for romance, Prairie Dawn for westerns, Jack Hammer for true crime, and Star Knight for sci-fi.
Still, other authors will choose less obvious pen names and make the spellings unique, like changing LeeAnn to LeighAnne, Jane to Jayne, or Charles to Chaz.
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Here are a few pen name generator techniques:
Grab a pen and some paper and start going through the alphabet.
Decide if you want a male or female name and then start writing. Adam, Alan, Alfonso; Betty, Barbara, Brenda; Clifford, Charles, Cameron. You get the picture.
Click a Button
Name generators are easy to find online.
Namegenerator.biz – This site generates random names using the fewest filters. Click a button and get a name. Don’t like it? Click the button again and get a new name!
There are various generators available at this site; you can search for a first name if you already have a last name you like, or you can search for a last name if you have a first name you prefer.
Name-geneator.org.uk – Like the first generator, this site has various generators available to use, but they also offer filters, such as nationality and type of character.
Fakenamegenerator.com – This is an amazing site. Not only does it give you a name, but it also gives you a complete identity to go along with the name.
Set your filters to show nationality, gender, and age, then click the button.
Your resulting alias comes complete with a fake address, social security number, mother’s maiden name, phone number, birthday, email, username and password, place of employment and job, physical description, favorite color and the car he or she drives, as well as a few other things.
There’s even a map showing you approximately where this person would live.
Search, Search and Research
Check everywhere to see if the name is already in use:
Look specifically in the genre or niche you are considering. If there is already an author with the name you want, you may want to consider changing the spelling, adding a middle name or initial, or picking a new name altogether.
Choosing a name based solely on the idea of riding on another author’s coattails is never a good idea. It only confuses readers when they think it’s the same person. And, if the other person has a brand built on that name, you may find yourself in court.
Do a trademark search to see if anyone has claimed the name already. Again, don’t infringe on anyone else’s name. It’s just not worth it.
Head over to betterwhois.com and search for your chosen pen name as a domain. Many authors snag their names as domains to promote their books.
If the name you want is taken, is it an author? Once again, consider adding a middle initial or changing the spelling of the name, if needed, to alter it, or create a new one.
Check social media for the name you want to use. Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, Twitter – even Pinterest – are all places you want to check to see if the name you want to use is already taken.
There’s a very good chance the name you choose will be someone’s real name. A quick Google search will tell you just how popular they are – and it will help you decide if you need to alter the name or come up with an entirely new one.
Claiming Your Pen Name
Once you’ve settled on a pen name, it’s time to claim it.
Start by securing the domain name and social media accounts, if possible.
Register the copyright on the pseudonym. In most cases, you’ll want to note your real name on the registration form as well, so you never have trouble proving it’s your pen name.
Next, create a “doing business as” (dba) for payment purposes. Add it to your bank account, and set up a PayPal account if needed.
You’ll probably want to create an email address for your pseudonym, too, so you can stay incognito as you deal with editors, cover designers, and all the other people involved in getting a book put together, as well as fan mail.
Go ahead and create a bio for your new name now, to cement the persona in your brain. You’ll need it for the back cover of your book anyway.ASP 83: Pen Names: Should You Use One?
Keep in mind there’s a good chance your die-hard fans will find you if they really want to, even if you use a pen name. The question is, do you want to make it easy for them, or hard?
Make it easy for your fans:
- Create a primary website under your real name or your brand and list all your pseudonyms on one page with links to their respective sites.
- Include your real name on the registration form to copyright the pen name.
- Use your photo on the back of the book and in all promotional materials across all media.
- State in the author bio that “this author is a fictional character.”
Make it hard for your fans:
- Keep all your websites, email addresses and social media accounts separate (this could get hard if you have multiple pseudonyms).
- Do not list your real name on the registration form to copyright the pen name.
- Do not provide photos or do public appearances.
- Do not say anything anywhere about the name not being that of a real person.
Whatever your reasons for choosing a pen name, make sure you’ve thought through all the pros and cons entirely before setting the wheels in motion.
Decide beforehand if you want to be completely hidden behind the name, or if it’s okay if word leaks out that it’s you.
Having a pen name could give you the life you always wanted – one book at a time.