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How to choose the right pen name

Do you need a pen name?

So, you are thinking about publishing. That’s great! The first step of building your author platform is choosing the name you want to publish under. If you pick a new name to write under, this is called a pen name.

The ideal nome de plume is easy to spell, pronounce, and remember. Can you picture this name on a book cover? Different genres have different naming conventions. For example, romance authors are generally women. Thriller writers often have short, active male names. Initials are more common among sci-fi writers. Historical writers typically use surnames that match the culture they write about.

Does your real name fit those criteria? Using your legal name is the easiest choice, but it shouldn’t be made lightly. Using your actual name associates your past and present actions easily with your books. It also makes it easier for your fans to find out about your personal life. If you planned on being very open and active on social media this might be just fine.

How will your fans feel about the use of a pseudonym? In erotica, using fake names is expected, but publishing a memoir under a false name might court backlash from the reader community.

If you decide to create a pen name (or two) keep track of first and last names you like. Check out your family tree, the newspaper and even fictional characters. As a historical writer, I have the morbid hobby of checking out old graveyards for character names. I’ve found some neat ones that aren’t used much anymore that way!

The Best Pen Names Are:

-Short and balanced

-Simple to spell and pronounce

-Easy to remember

-Appropriate for your genre

My favorite author has multiple pen names. She started writing romantic suspense novellas as Stephanie James. Then she wrote full-length novels for a different publisher under her own name, Jayne Ann Krentz. I first found her books when I discovered her Gothic romances as Amanda Quick. But she wasn’t done yet. She also write fascinating sci-fi books as Jayne Castle. One of the most interesting, and dizzying, things she did was to write a series following one family through history where each book was written under a different pen name. It was cool, but confusing.

Nora Roberts has a different approach. All her romance books are under her real name. Contemporary, fantasy, suspense, doesn’t matter. She assumes her romance audience will read it all, and they mostly do. She is the second highest paid author in the world. When she writes thrillers she uses the moniker, J. D. Robbs. These books have a different audience.

The best sounding names have similar accent patterns. Also, consider the shape of the words. If your first and last name is the same length your cover designer could easily create a logo where your names were on top of each other. If one name is much longer it limits your options.

Now let’s test it. Say it out loud, ask a friend to write it and test it on a cover. You should search for your desired pen name and make sure it is not being used by an author in another genre. Celebrities with similar names can also hurt your brand.

If you choose to create a pen name, you generally must register it as a fictitious name that you are doing business under. In the US this usually a “Doing Business As” form filed with your state. You only need to file this paperwork once. Becoming an independent author is starting a business. There are really fantastic resources about starting a business at your local SCORE office, Library and online at

Once you have settled on a name you should save social media profiles and an email address with that name. Make sure you are consistent. You don't want to be Author Sarah Jane on one platform and Sarah Jane Writer on a third and the Twisted Tales of Sarah Jane on a second. Try different handles until you find one that's available everywhere. You do not need to start actively posting yet, just open your accounts and save those names.

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