Good morning, everyone!

It's Writer Wednesday again, and today we're talking about pen names.

Several of my friends have seen their first book contract in the last six months and I've been asked about pen names quite frequently lately.  I thought I'd share my thoughts with you.

So, let's look at what a pen name does first of all.

1.  It establishes an expectation for the reader.  The reader assumes that all books published by Joe Penname will have something similar.  Likely voice, perhaps structure, perhaps tone, and so forth.

2.  It establishes an author's first 'brand' -- it sets you apart from other authors in some fashion.  And it is where you want your readers to find you.

3.  It establishes a 'brand' for book buyers. For instance, Stephen King's full name is Stephen Edwin King.  A book buyer (likely) will not know Stephen Edwin.  Tell them Stephen King (or even King), and they make an automatic association.

Can I use my real name?

Mm... for the most part, yes, with a few exceptions covered below.  It is perfectly okay to use your real name, unless your real name is unpronounceable or, by some sad stroke of the fates, could be profane, or stand out for inappropriate/laughable reasons.  (This is the perfect time for Fred E. Kruger to consider a new name.)

Given that, how do you choose a pen name?

Really, a pen name boils down to personal preference.  There are several schools of thought, ranging from use something you'll never fail to answer, to pick one that will alphabetically fall in line near an author who's a household name.  I personally chose my original pen name -- Claire Ashgrove -- based on how I personally shop for books.  I start at the A's and browse to the Z's.  If I find a book I like, I usually stop browsing.

There are a couple things I think are important, which may be strictly myth, but do show some factual backing.

a.  Thriller, Horror, Action, and Fantasy / Sci-Fi trend with masculine sounding names selling better
b.  Do not choose a mouthful of consonants and make it somewhat simple for people to remember

When do you need a pen name?

This is super easy.

1.  When you, for whatever reason, don't want your real name associated with your work.  If you're writing erotic romance, or erotic fiction, and say you perhaps work for the Catholic Church... you might consider this option.

2.  If you are already published and you're wanting to separate a new genre from another genre.  In my case, I wanted a clear definition between what readers could expect as Tori St. Claire and what they'd get as Claire Ashgrove.  I'm not 'hiding'; I just didn't want to shock someone, and since books don't come with ratings warnings usually, this was the best way to go.  I have M.J. Marshall for my work on the Kill 'Em All project, because it's a 180 from anything I've ever published.  And I have two other pen names hiding around here for the same purposes.

3.  Remember that part up above where your pen name establishes a brand for the book buyer?  Well, it's not something anyone likes to talk about, but there are many authors who have experienced the unfortunate case where the best project in the world didn't sell like it was 'supposed to'.  Now book buyers hear that name and won't buy the book.  The author is forced to re-establish under a new name.  If you're having to let go of your real name for this reason, that can be a little disheartening.

That's it, really, as for when you need a pen name.

Questions?  Thoughts?  Feel free to comment away!

Looking for a freelance editor?  Try Finish The Story!  Proudly editing USA Today Bestselling Author, Nana Malone.


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"Victorians used the term 'limbs' as a euphenism for legs, which were thought to be so sexually exciting to a man, even a glimpse of a table leg could incite him to sexual frenzy. Table skirts were invented to prevent any unnatural unions between men and furniture."
(History Channel International)



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