Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Choosing a Pen Name

Choosing a pen name is often a choice dictated by a variety of factors, but like most decisions that deal with building a platform and a brand, it's not only personal but business.

I first decided that I would need a pen name when I started writing steampunk.  My real name has more of a chic lit feel to it, but worse, there's a porn star with the same name.  As a result, the chances of googling my name and finding ME instead of the popular G-string starlet would be slim to none.  Not a great way to be easily accessible to readers.

With the decision made to choose a pen name, I quickly came up with a checklist.
  • Google Hits-- When choosing a name, put the first and last name in quotes and google it.  I like the number to be under 1000 hits (or close to it).  That guarantees that by the time you're well into your platform building, you'll have taken over that name, so that when someone googles it, they'll primarily get your website, your Twitter/Facebook account, or your blog.
  •  An available domain-- You'll likely want to put up a website to help promote yourself, and since it's likely you'll write more than one book, it's best if you put your website in your name, rather than your book title.  Having that domain be available is a huge plus, though there are ways around it, like adding "author" to your name.  Not great, but still an option, if you have your heart set on a particular name.
  •  How easy is the name to remember? Pronounce? Spell?-- This is HUGE. If no one will be able to remember it, say it, spell it, then it's probably not a great choice. 
  • Does it suit the genre you'll be writing?-- This deals with not only the feel of the name (sounding too modern, when you write historicals, etc), but also with whether the name sounds too male/female when it's a genre that's dominated by a particular sex.  For example, writing romance with a name that sounds male, may turn off some readers.
  •  Does the name sound like a joke?-- Picking a name that sounds too fake (often done to fit the genre to an extreme) can be a turn off.  Remember-- this is still a business venture so naming yourself Luscious Fantastique just because you write erotica or Vampira Nightshade because you write paranormals, probably isn't a wise move.
  • Is the name already being used by someone else?-- A porn star (lol)? An actor/actress? Another author? Is it too close in the way it sounds to another author?
Whatever name you choose, I highly recommend using it for your Twitter account (both the user name and the @name), because each tweet gives that name another hit on google.  This means that before long, when someone googles your pen name, they will get you, or one of your tweets.  This will of course lead to your Twitter account which should also have a link to your website, making it fairly simple for any readers to find you.

My favorite place to look for names is, hands down the Baby Names section on Parent's Connect (though the recent addition of video to the site is making me crazy).  They offer a cool feature that allows you to find names with a similar feel to a particular name, or names that sound similar.  This becomes useful if you really like a name but can't use it because it has high hits on google, or doesn't meet one of the other criteria.  Now you can easily find a different one that "feels" the same.

I hope this list will help, if you're considering pen names.  Have you already chosen a pen name or plan on using one?  What were your criteria?