Pen Names

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Juliet, by way of Shakespeare, got it right.

A name doesn’t make the writer, does it? It’s the words within the book that drive people to read others by the same author, right? Then why is the topic of names so important?

One of the first questions people ask me when they find out I’m a writer is “Will you be published under your name or will you take a pen name?” Which (as a side note) I find odd. Wouldn’t the first question be “How close are you to getting published?” and not “What name will be printed on your book?” Thanks for the vote of confidence, people. I wish it were that simple. Write. Publish. Pick a name. Voila! New Yorks Times Bestselling Author!

But no. Not that simple by a long shot. Anyone who’s tried their hand at writing and breaking into the publishing industry knows that much.

And to be honest, I’m not sure what to tell those confident people who ask about my published name.

As I toil through books, spending hours and hours of time with the characters, constructing a conflicting story with a satisfying ending, I think No way. I want my name on this book. I worked hard for it. Wouldn’t that be the greatest victory, seeing my name on the shelves of Barnes and Noble? Yeah. It would.

I think the question people really mean to ask is “Why do people pick pen names?”

So here’s a few answers I’ve come up with:

1-Anonymity. If you’re happily writing Erotica at night, while working a wholesome day job as a nanny, I’d say you wouldn’t want people to know your published name. Sometimes it seems much simpler to keep your day job and writing separate.

2-Difficult to pronounce or non-writing birth name. If your name is so unique or so ethnic that people can hardly pronounce it when you speak it to them, how will it read on a book cover? Will people skim over it because they get lost in all the mumbo-jumbo? Or will it roll off the tongue like Meg Cabot and Nora Roberts and J.R. Ward. Those names are simple. Clean. Bestselling. Go figure.

3-To sound more like a romance writer. I know this may sound ridiculous, but I’ve heard it mentioned on a few occasions talking with writer friends. There are some who believe there are “romance writing names” that take to the industry. In Romancing the Stone, for example, the leading lady’s name is Joan Wilder. She’s a romance writer and has a name known round-the-world. Yup. Joan. Wilder. Romance. Writer. Done deal.

4-Because there’s already someone using your name. And unfortunately, this is where I now fall. You see, there is another Kristin Miller* who writes for Women’s World. There is another Kristin Miller* who writes Young Adult. And there is yet another Kristin Miller* who writes for medical journals. If someone were to see my name in print on the cover of a wildly popular paranormal book and think I absolutely have to read more of her work (hey, I can dream), they’d most likely go home and google me. They could easily get lost in the other Kristin Miller’s and pick their books instead. (And of course be thoroughly disappointed-heh.)

5-Because their attempt at making bestselling status fell short. If, let’s say, I tried my hand at Kristin Miller and my sales flatlined, I might be persuaded by my agent or editor to take a pen. Publishers would see me as a liability. Wal-Mart wouldn’t stock me. I’d have to change my name to earn that fresh start back in the business. It’s happened to more authors than we realize. I met two last month…but I can’t remember which one of their pen names was their “real name” and which was their “current name” so I will remain silent.

6-Because the author wants to genre-hop. If I’m writing erotica as Kristin Miller (which I’m not, fyi), but also felt the desire to write Young Adult (which I don’t), I’d most definitely need a pen name. Keeping Kristin Miller might lose readership. Who’d want their teenage daughter reading something from the same person who writes hot, steamy scenes?

I’m sure there are other reasons for opting to use a pen name, but these are a few I came up with on this lazy Sunday morning.

When I started this writing journey, I was so focused on my own work and my own reward, that I didn’t see the big picture. I was selfish. I wanted my name printed on a book, darn it. Now I’m looking at the bigger picture. And that bigger picture includes many other clones of Kristin. I could get lost. You, my readers, could get lost.

And I don’t want that. That would be as tragic as a pair star-crossed lovers taking their life.

So…for the next few days I’m going to be tossing over names. When I pick one, I’ll let you all know so you can be sure when you visit my blog again that you’re not visiting the blog of one of those sneaky Kristin Miller-body snatchers.

*In no way shape or form am I suggesting that these lovely Kristin Millers aren’t good writers. I’ve never read any of their work. Now that I think about it, I think I should. And you should too. I think you should goggle them, read them, and love them because they have the most lovely name in the world. I am truly sad to have to shelve it.

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6 comments on “Pen Names

  1. Alitriona says:

    My name is Carol Oates. My son googled me during the week and asked me if my other name was Joyce. lol. Having said that, I'm using my own name when my first book is released in the near future. I went through the pros and cons and in the end decided. It's my name. I want my name on my work. I never considered taking a pen name, even taking into account everything you've said above. Maybe I'll live to regret it, lol. Too late now. Good luck with picking your name.

  2. Nathalie says:

    I've always enjoyed learning what famous authors use pen names and what they were. Adds a bit of mystery to the writer, I think.

  3. I think "googleability" is probably the most important aspect of a writer's name. You want your readers to be able to find you! I even google my characters names, just to make sure I'm not inadvertently writing someone pseudo-famous into my story.

  4. Alitriona–Congrats on your first book sale! My name will be on my first sale with The Wild Rose Press as well, so I feel your excitement! :)Nathalie–I see another post in there somewhere…a list of famous authors and the names they've used…HmmmmmA.J.–Googleability. I like that. And that is a brilliant idea to google your characters names as well. Hadn't thought about that–though now that I am, I doubt anyone would pick the random off-the-wall names I have. Slade. Ruan. Erock. Yeah. Pretty sure I'm safe. 😉

  5. Liz Fichera says:

    This post was perfect. I couldn't agree more with your Top Ten. An addition to #8 is the word: breathtaking. Whenever I see that word in romance novels (usually), I want to gag. It's so overused to the point that it means nothing.

  6. Liz–Breathtaking. Yes. I agree. *as I catch my breath

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