How to Choose a Pen Name

Selecting-an-Author-Pen-Name

Kindle authors can have many reasons for using a pen name. It could be for marketing purposes or it could just be for their own personal security.

But regardless of why one chooses to use a pseudonym, or pen name, the selecting of that name can play an important part in your book’s marketing.

Don’t believe me, check it out!

In this article, we will discuss:

  • Why someone would choose a pen name
  • Example pen names and famous authors
  • Marketing tips on how to choose the right pseudonym
  • Pen Name Generator and their use

The good news is that Amazon and other platforms are okay with authors using pen names.

There is nothing illegal about it and as you will see in this article, there are many legitimate reasons for choosing to work under a pseudonym.

Besides, there are also many famous writers who still work under their own pen name and not their real name…some of which will surprise you.

Why choose a Pen Name

There are a myriad of reasons why an author would choose to use a noms de plume, as it is sometimes called. These reasons can include:

  • Fear of reprisal
  • Not wanting to mix their personal life with their professional life
  • Their name is too close or the same as someone else that is famous, creating too much competition for branding
  • The URL for their name has been taken
  • Desire to protect themselves or their family
  • Better marketing opportunities
  • Their name doesn’t fit the genre
  • You want to write in different genres and not confuse your fans
  • Just for fun

I cast no judgment on these. I myself have published extensively under a couple of pen names – although, Dave Chesson really is my name.

I do this because I work for a U.S. embassy and wish to separate those two worlds for professional reasons.

And I am not alone. People like J.K. Rowlings, Dr. Suess, Lee Childs, and others are doing it as well for different reasons.

One crazy example is Chris Naish who just had a little fun using his pen name of Jack Offonew for his latest book Write, Rubbish, Repeat.  “It was just a separator from the serious books so people didn’t get confused more than anything.”  I would venture to say this sets the tone for the book.

The point is, there are a lot of legitimate reasons as to why someone would choose a pen name instead of their real name.

How to Strategically Pick the Right Pen Name

The biggest mistake that authors make in choosing a pen name is that they don’t consider the marketing value that a pen name holds and just rush into a decision.

Understand that the name you use for your writing can have a large effect on your book and your platform.

It can become the domain name of your website.

It takes up a significant section on your book cover and stares your reader in the face.

In essence, it becomes your author brand and reflects your work.

And like most brands, it’s important that the name evokes the right emotions and is something our target market likes or wants.

So, before you choose your pen name, you need to consider the following five criteria.

1. Identify the Right Age For Your Pen Name

The age of a speaker plays a huge role in the psyche of the readers.

If you are writing an instructional book, then it isn’t a good idea to choose a young name or a name that is younger than that of your target reader.

Let’s face it, who wants to learn from someone who is younger, right?

So, using demographics, we can figure out that if your target market is 45, then your name should reflect that or older.

First, you can figure out the demographics of your target market by doing the steps listing in my article here.

But how can we choose an “older” name or a name that is specific to an age? Its not like you can quantify the age of a name. Or is there?

It turns out that like fashion, the popularity of a name comes and goes.

We can tell that someone wearing bell-bottoms is referencing the 60’s right? Well, we can do the same with names.

Thanks to the Babycenter.com, they keep a list of the Top names of that particular year.

So, say your target market is 35-year-old females, and you want your pen name to be perceived as a 41 year old female.   You would type in “Top Names of 1974  babycenter” into google and select Babycenter’s link.  Now that you have the list of names, choose a female name that you think fits.
Choosing a pen name with babycenter

Since Babycenter.com isn’t very easy to navigate, I would just recommend typing into Google “Top Names of (year) babycenter” and selecting Babycenter.com’s results.

In many cases, people will choose two first names for the full pen name. Using the example above, we get:

Jennifer, Amy, Michelle, Angela, Lisa, etc…

2. Does Your Name Fit Your Niche

Allison Potter was ready to publisher her new thriller book until her publisher told her that her name had to go. Allison was a name of yester years and Potter conflicted with the Harry Potter series – something we will discuss next.

The name ‘Allison” was safe sounding and old. She needed something that was risky and dangerous like her books.

After much deliberation, she finally chose the name of Ali Knight. Sounds much better right?

So, one thing to consider when choosing your name is whether or not it fits with your genre.

When choosing your name, check out the other books in the genre.

Do you see any similarities popping up?

Are others using initials?

Are they all male of female?

Sadly, there is not tool to help you out with this, so hopefully as an author that understands your target market and your competition, you’ll be able to choose the right name that fits the mood your market is looking for.

3. Is the Domain Available?

You might not intend to brand your pen name or write more books under it.

However, if your book takes off and you want to pursue it, it will help if your name’s domain is available…otherwise you will be stuck taking a second rate URL or having to pay a lot of money to get your name’s URL from a squatter.

So, before selecting that pen name, just check to verify the URL is available. That might save you a lot of heart ache in the long run.

You can just type the name into a search bar and add a “.com” to the end; however, the best way to ensure it is available is to go to GoDaddy.com and type it in there.Checking your nom de plume URL

There, GoDaddy will let you know if it is available, or even if it is for sale.

4. Is the Name Easy To Remember or Spell?

This isn’t a shot to all those difficult names out there, but understand that someone is more likely to remember you if your name is something that sticks out and is not too difficult to spell.

Just imagine it. Your fan is sitting there trying to remember your pen name.

“Oh, what was it,” they say scratching their head.

Or worse, its something they can’t even begin to spell.

How will they ever type you into Google or Amazon and find you?

5. Is it close to Another Famous Person’s Name?

For many authors, they might think that leeching off of someone else’s fame is a good tactic.

A couple of years ago, someone started writing ebooks about niche websites and used a pen name of “Pat Flynn” of which the real Pat Flynn was not pleased – especially since the books were very low quality.

However, trying to leech off of someone’s else’s fame is not fruitful and can get you and your book into hot water.

Instead though, you want to beware of coinciding with another famous author, person, or character.

Most likely, you won’t get your author name URL plus it will be near impossible to rank on Amazon or Google for your name.

People naturally looking for you, will have to go through pages and pages on the other person before they can find your work or website.

So beware having a name that coincides with someone else’s that is more popular than you.

That can be a real killer.

To check to ensure you are not coinciding with someone else, do a Google Search of the name and see what comes up.

When I do this for “Dave Chesson” it turns out there is a famous skateboarder in the UK who has the same name. Luckily, he isn’t ubber famous or else we would be in major competition for Google space…although safe on Amazon space since he doesn’t’ write.

Hopefully he doesn’t get mad at me for overtaking the “Dave Chesson” search…sorry bro!

Pen Name Generators

Now that you have some marketing tips, it’s time to talk about pen name generators which are sometimes called pseudonym generators.

A pen name generator is a piece of software that will randomly go through a database and choose legitimate sounding names.

Generally, if you use the steps above – especially the part about the age of a name – then you should be good for the first name.  However, sometimes figuring out a interesting last name that doesn’t scream “I’m a fake” can be difficult and this is where a pen name generator can come into play.

Although there are a couple of them, one that I like particularly is Fake Name Generator.

This pseudonym generator is above and beyond any other.  Not only will it generate some legitimate names, it will also create real addresses and other aspects so that you can give your new persona some supporting context.

Also, you tell the pen name generator that you want a specific gender, and even be from a specific culture.

How about them apples!

So, a pen name generator can provide a little creative push in helping you in choosing a pseudonym.  However, do not let that pen name generator dominate your decision factor and ensure the name you ultimately go with follows the above marketing recommendations.

So, What’s Your Pen Name Going to Be?

As you can see, there are many things that should go into the choosing a pen name.

It shouldn’t just be something you quickly decide but can actually help you in your marketing of your ebook.

It can be your brand and your identity. So, choose wisely, but more importantly, choose intelligently and use the tactics listed above.

In the comments below, let me know what you chose and why. Help other readers out and tell us your tricks on the pen name trade.

Cheers,

Dave-Signature

About Dave Chesson

When I am not fighting dragons or chasing the bogey man out of my kids closet, I like using my previous Online Optimization skills to help other authors with the 'technical' stuff and get the right authors to the top of Amazon and any other eBook service out there.

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  • stvwrd

    Another reason to use a pen name: Deciding NOT to use one is not a decision that is easy to take back. I’ve done a deep dive on this lately, and found that, since I published the book in print as well, and it has an ISBN, it is impossible to change the author name. Best you can do is publish a new edition under a pen name. I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to lose my 60+ good reviews.

    But then once the book was totally ready to go I figured out that since the book is about 50% longer now, I HAVE to do a new edition anyway. It’s not as bad of news as it seems though, because Amazon NEVER deletes a book from it’s records (only whether or not it is available, via used books or whatever), which means that all those reviews will still exist. And in fact…. I’m pretty sure I have seen Amazon put the same book in different edition versions on the same page, because I’ve seen “This review refers to an earlier edition” comments before.

    But then this brings up even more questions, such as: Does the title have to be exactly the same as the previous edition for it to get lumped together?

    Argh… what I wouldn’t give to have a friend on the inside at amazon somewhere right now…

    • How did I miss this comment. Great point….It’s way easier to go the other way – pen name, then real. And yes to the title.

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  • Andrew Taylor

    I use a pen name because I do not want to mix my PTSD and Moral Injury writing with my fiction writing..

  • Elizabeth

    I’m thinking about using E.R.M for fantasy young adult writing, will that work?

    • I’d recommend actually making it somewhat of a name instead of just initials. People associate with people. You can do E.R. Murphy or something like that.

  • MJ Barrelet

    Dave, great article! But I have a question on what picture of yourself do you upload if you have a pen name? I would want to use my pen name on emails etc, and find it’s more personable if you associate a picture with the name. Could I use an older version of myself? Any other ideas?

    • Hi MJ, thanks! That really depends on you. I know lots of authors who us a pen name but definitely don’t hide their pictures. I know one in particular who uses a picture of them 15 years ago. One key thing though, is what would your target market respond best to? If you’re trying to maintain some level of anonymity, then perhaps a picture of your staring off towards something – thought provocative, but not completely revealing.

  • J. Eddie

    I just have to bring this up, honestly it humors me more than anything else, quite funny indeed. This is a quote taken from the article above, read it and find out what “stares” you in the face. Provided a nice laugh for the evening.

    “It takes up a significant section on your book cover and stairs your reader in the face.”

    • Great find! Actually I just hired a full time editor for the website (yay) but haven’t gotten them started on previous articles yet. But thanks for the heads up.

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