6 Questions to Ask Before Choosing the Perfect Pen Name

Posted on Posted in Author Platform, Marketing

So you want to choose a pen name but don’t know where to start. It’s okay. A lot of aspiring authors encounter the same issue. I’ve already explained why you might want to choose a pen name, so let’s take a look at how.

Here are 6 questions to consider as you decide on your pseudonym:

1) Are you likely to attract more readers in your genre if you’re writing novels as a male or a female?

This is a big deal. Especially if you’re female in certain genres which publish more male authors. While there are many successful female authors, in the science fiction and fantasy genres it’s harder for women to get published. Why? Because most of the readers are male and for some reason, they are more likely to buy from male authors. I’m not saying all men are sexist by any means, or that men only buy books written by men, but major booksellers have statistics to prove men buy from men and women from women, so publishers are more likely purchase a book from a male because it sells easier.

2) Would your name be easier to remember, pronounce, or spell if it was more generic?

If your name is hard to pronounce or remember, readers won’t remember it when you want them to buy the book or find you online. A good rule of thumb is keeping it simple and having a last name no more than 8-10 letters long. Even that might be pushing it.

3) Is your name so common that it could be easily confused with the name of someone else?

Google your name. How many hits does it get for someone else? If there are others with your name and they fill the first two pages of the search results (or even just one), try a different name. Google it again. Rinse and repeat until you find something unique.

If you share the same name as a criminal and you write crime, it may help you get more hits with the right audience, but you may leave a bad taste in readers’ mouths. Sharing the same last name as another author with higher publicity means your name will get drown out in the search results. Remember that you want to find your way to the top of the page. If the name is already highly publicized by someone else, you want to choose something else.

4) Does your name invoke a positive association with the fiction genre that you’re writing?

For instance, if your birth name is Cherry Clapp, you may face hurdles in the Romance genre. The last thing you want is a name that makes readers think of something negative. This is another great use for Google. Take some time to search for a list of names until you come across the right name for the search results you want (without the negative impact).

5) Where is your preferred pseudonym likely to be shelved?

Shelf placement is a huge key if you plan to sell in bookstores at all. Once you have a few names that didn’t come back with big warning signs from Google (already in use/negative connotation), take the list to the bookstore and see where it would be on the shelf. Anything on the bottom two shelves is a harder sell for b-list authors. The ideal placement is within the line of sight. It’s true that every bookstore will be a little different, so make an afternoon of browsing different stores to see how you would rank on various shelves.

It’s also important to consider how close you are to a bestselling author. There are pros and cons to this placement. The con is that readers may be more likely to choose the book by someone they’ve heard of. The pro is that your book will fall into the line of sight of more readers no matter what shelf it’s on, and thus you are likely to increase sales.

6) Did you ask potential readers how trustworthy they find the name?

Sometimes what you think is best isn’t what your readers would agree with. Since you are selling to them, give them a chance to offer their feedback on the name. It also increases engagement and the likelihood they will purchase the book(s).

For instance, one author I coached chose the last name Grey. Her google search came back positive with the full name. Her shelf placement in stores was most often line-of-sight and close to another bestseller in her genre (Goodkind). The name also fit with her writing style (she likes playing with gray areas of what’s appropriate). To be sure she had the right name, she also tried a poll, using 5 different names she was satisfied with, and let her friends (who read her genre) decide. All she asked was this:

Which author would you be more likely to purchase a book from based on name alone?

Once she had her answer, Grey took those responses to heart. In the end, she found her pen name and was satisfied with the results.

It’s important to keep in mind once you choose a pen name for your genre, you need to keep it. Readers will become confused if you continually switch the name and will no longer seek our your work. The only reason you may want to consider a different name would be if you are writing a book in a different genre with a very different target market (for instance if you write fantasy, there’s no need to change for sci-fi, but you may want to change it for mystery or romance).

Did you already choose your pen name? How did you come to your decision? What processes did you use when selecting it?

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