3 Factors for Choosing an On-Brand Pen Name

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From BookWorks:

If you’re thinking about using an author pen name, you’re in superb company.

After all, countless top authors have chosen to make use of a pseudonym when releasing their work. Like George Orwell, the pseudonym chosen by Eric Blair so he could write about poverty without the fear of shame, or Mark Twain, the pen name favored by Samuel Clemens so he could compartmentalize his different writing styles/personas.

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In today’s exploration of author branding, I’m going to share my five top pieces of advice for ensuring your author pen name serves your brand in the best way possible.

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Remaining Ageless

As much as we might like to think we are not ageist, we probably are, at least subconsciously!

Whether we know it or not, we tend to look for one of two things when it comes to author age:

  • Sometimes, we like to seek out authors we feel to be in the same age bracket as ourselves. This is because we find such people to be relatable.
  • Whether we know it or not, we probably have subconscious expectations for how old an author should be. For example, would you rather read a history book by a fifty-something author or a teenager?

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In order to ensure your author pen name has the right feel in terms of age, consider the following possibilities:

  • Think of people in your life. Say, for example, you want your pen name to sound like a fifty-year-old man. Think about the fifty-year-old men in your real life. What are their names? Are they different from the names of your own generation?
  • Look at data. Data exists showing the popularity of different names by ages. Use this to ensure your name is a suitable fit for the age it purports to represent.
  • Look at reviewers. Check out the Amazon reviews for a particular genre. What kind of names do the people have? You can use this as inspiration for your pen name.

Ensuring your pen name ‘feels right’ in terms of age is an essential step in achieving similarity or suitability.

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Fitting Your Niche/Genre

Certain names have certain feels to them.

It’s kind of an intangible thing.  A vibe, almost.

Although there are no hard and fast rules for fitting your pen name to a particular genre, it’s worth considering whether it feels like a good fit.

. . . .

Authors publishing under their real name are obviously unable to express creativity. Their name is their name!

However, if you’re choosing your own pen name, you have a little more creative license to work with.

So how can you explore whether a potential pen name is a good fit for your genre or not?

Link to the rest at BookWorks

PG considered going by Esmeralda but changed his mind.

14 thoughts on “3 Factors for Choosing an On-Brand Pen Name”

    • It took me two days of seeing this when I scrolled through the comments to actually get it. This is why I only write humor instead of do stand up. I need those two days.

      Funny. 😀

  1. Authors publishing under their real name are obviously unable to express creativity. Their name is their name!

    This wins the prize for Egregiously Brainless Remark of the Week. I award the OP no points, and may God have mercy on his soul.

  2. I’ve published two nonfiction books under my real name, but those were back in the 20th Century. Nowadays there are half a dozen writers with variations of my name, plus an astronaut and a couple of “sports stars” with professionally-promoted web sites. I would be lost in the noise.

    So if I write anything for publication again, it will likely be under a pseudonym.

    • And there we have a valid reason.
      A friend of mine writes under a pseudonym to keep her fiction separate from her technical writing at the day job. Sensible. YA fantasy and corporate document management software don’t exactly overlap in the marketplace.

      An author needs to be able to own their brand. That is never going to happen if your birth name is Jim Patterson.

  3. PG considered going by Esmeralda but changed his mind.

    Hmm. “Esmeralda Hart” may work for fantasy/romance. It could be shortened to “Esme,” to rope in fans who miss Esme Weatherwax. I know a little boy named “Mars,” which would be an attention-getting name for a sci-fi writer. Someone should claim the surname of Mercury for that genre, too. Rock stars shouldn’t have all the fun!

    The OP may be right about going ageless with the names. Culture is a factor, though. In high school I had a classmate, a Polish immigrant, who was puzzled that American kids kept telling her that their grandmother or great-aunts were named Agnes, which was her name. She was the only other young Agnes I knew, the other one being an exchange student from Spain. I have never encountered a young American Agnes. The girls would probably need a pen name if they were writing YA or middle grade over here.

    There’s apparently a young British woman named Hephzibah, which sounds like the perfect name for someone writing about witches in colonial times. Didn’t Puritans love to use OT names: Jebediah Obadiah Jedediah Springfield?

    Then again, I noticed that Kris Rusch always uses “regular people” names when she has a pen name. Maybe Esmeralda and Hephzibah is too on-the-nose? But I lean toward the tongue-in-cheek 🙂

  4. I switched from using my real name because A) I don’t like it that much; B) there is a casting agent and a pop star with the same name, and C) I’d always had a different name chosen from when I was a kid, and first searches turned up no one else with that name (plus it could be seen as male or even gender neutral).

    I think pen names should suit the genre and be different enough that someone else isn’t using it. They should be relatively easy to spell and pronounce, and be something that doesn’t stick out on a book shelf.

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