March 30, 2011

Pen Names- Choosing the Best One

The right name can make the difference between success and failure. Depending on what genre you write your given name might not be the best choice.

Juvenile Fiction-

Research has found that boys prefer to read books by male authors. This is due in part to the reason J.K. Rowling has sold millions of copies; in the beginning many thought she was a man. Girls don’t have a preference, once upon a time most authors were men but boys will pass over feminine sounding names.

Using initials is better than using a masculine name (unless it is one that can be either gender) because children don’t like to be lied to. If you go to a book signing or event to meet your fans you don’t want them to be disappointed. You didn’t say you were a man they simply made that assumption.

When J.K. Rowling first became famous in the United States an article in Disney magazine came out referring to her as a man. At first I thought this was a typo but there were several times the author used the title, “he”. By then J.K. Rowling was quite famous so I’m not sure if this was on purpose or if he just hadn’t done his homework.


In most cases if a man writes a love story there is no happy ending for example: Bridges of Madison County or The Reader. A geographic, judicial, war or cultural situation keeps the lovers apart. Romance novels have a formula and rules you must abide by, the biggest one being there has to be a happy ending or it isn’t considered a romance. Because of this romance publishers prefer to print books by women, however, there are many male authors who write romance under a female pseudonym. I bet some of you had no idea. I could name a few but won’t blow their cover.

Women aren’t like children and won’t be angry if they go to a book signing and discover their favorite author isn’t female, on the contrary, some are intrigued. Publishers have discovered that masculine authors do not sell as many books in this genre so in the interim it will be in your best interest to use a female sounding name.


This is a magical, mysterious genre and readers like names that reflect the same. Here in Oklahoma we have an author who has sold thousands of books under the name Mercedes Lackey. To her friends she is simply known as Misty Dixon.

Writing More Than One Genre-

If you write more than one genre, it is a good idea to have a different name for each category unless they are similar. For instance, if you write for children and romance you would definitely need two pseudonyms. You wouldn’t want little Timmy to look up your name at the library thinking he has found a book about a Scottish rogue who rides a horse through the woods only to find the kilted fellow instead riding a damsel.

If you write romance and recipes it won’t be such a big deal to change your name.

T.A. Barron writes juvenile fantasy but also has written a few adult books on outdoors and hiking. He uses the same name without the fear of his youthful readers picking up one of his non-fiction pieces.

Overused Names-

If you have a very common name and there are already more than one writer using it then I recommend using a variation or pseudonym.

Put in a search with Google, Amazon or Barnes and Noble to see if your name has already been used. You should really do this even if you think your name is out of the ordinary. It’s near impossible to be original but you can change it up a bit. If you are a woman maybe use your maiden name as your middle name, use an initial or whatever works.

Why does it matter? Depending on what the other author(s) write or how well known they are you might not want to be confused with them. If, for instance, your name is Stephen King, when people put in a search they will get the famous author’s pages long before yours ever comes up in a search.

If say the other author writes erotica and you write religious material that could be a problem.

When at writing conferences you don’t want to be confused with that other writer all the time. It could be annoying.

Where to get name ideas-

You can look in baby name books, online name sources, rearrange your existing name, cemeteries, ancestors or make one up.

Romance authors typically have floral, French or girlie sounding names.

Fantasy authors tend to be organic, Celtic or wiccan in nature.

Mystery writers tend to like masculine sounding titles.

Erotica likes innuendo pseudonyms like Lovejoy, Tart and Dewy Tulips (These names are already taken so don't get any ideas).

Go to your local book store, browse online or visit the library to find one just right for you.

Whatever you choose make sure you do your homework before you settle on a byline.

Buying a domain name-

Another reason to choose one that isn't already taken is because when you get famous you will need a website. If someone has already bought your domain name this could be a problem. For this reason even though you may not have anything in print it is a good idea to buy that domain before someone beats you to it.