When I started writing erotic romance that included a bit of kink, I knew from the start that I would use a pseudonym not only to protect my privacy, but also because my legal name is difficult for people to pronounce when they see it written and hard for them to spell when they hear it spoken. And it’s long.
Since I was writing erotic fiction, I wanted a name that sounded sensual without being over-the-top sexual. So no Lolita, or as my husband jokingly suggested, CarLotta Cummings.
I had considered a lot of names, but kept returning to Cara — pronounced CAR uh — which means “dear” in Italian. A term of endearment. I liked that. For my last name, I was adamant: since I had the opportunity to name myself, I did not want a nom de plume that was derivative of a man’s name. So no Williams, Carlson, Mitchell, etc. I liked the sound of Bristol, which, by the way, DH suggested (so maybe I didn’t name myself after all.).
However, Cara is all mine.
But what about your pen name? Do you need one? Why would you want one? Here are some reasons:
- To establish an author identity separate from your other professional life.
- To protect your other professional identity/reputation. If you’re a school teacher and you’re writing about kinky sex, a pen name is probably the only way to go. If you work in an industry and you’re writing fiction knocking that industry, you might want to use a pseudonym.
- To protect your privacy and that of your family. Will your middle school or high school age child appreciate it when all his or her friends know what mom writes?
- To distinguish between the different genres you write. You don’t want readers to pick up your no-holds-barred BDSM novel expecting a sweet romance. Or pick up your historical novel and expect science fiction. Yes, covers and blurbs should alert readers as to which is which, but trust me, they don’t always!
- Your own name is hard to spell or too long.
- Your name is too common and used by too many other authors or too many other people period.
- You don’t like your name or it doesn’t fit your genre. If your name really is CarLotta Cummings and you want to write children’s books or religious fiction, you might want another name. If you’ve always hated your name, why not change it?
Things to consider when picking a pen name
- The tone. What feeling or emotion does it evoke? Does it sound sexy, authoritative, masculine, feminine, friendly, etc. How does it fit with your genre?
- Spelling. Don’t go creative. Pick a name that is easy to spell and use the most traditional spelling. You want readers to find you! Candy is a much better pen name than Khandi.
- Pick a name that is not used much. You don’t want to share a name with 30 other authors no matter how cool the name is. You can achieve distinction through the combination of first and last name, but also consider the commonness of the last name. Black, for instance, is used by many romance authors. In an alphabetical list, you want to stand out. Run a search on Amazon.com to see how many authors pop up with your name.
- Google your potential name to see who else has it.
- Check the availability of your pseudonym as a domain name, and on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and other key social media. Ideally, you want to be able to use penname.com as your domain, rather than authorpenname.com, or pennamewritesromance.com. If your name is not available, consider another one.
- Keep your name — first and last — relatively short. Remember, it needs to fit on a book cover. The longer your name, the smaller the typeface will need to be. Your name should stand out. For instance, Alexandria Covington-Williamson would not be the best choice for a pen name. Remember: when you are a rich and famous author and people are lined up around the block for your autograph, you’ll appreciate having a short name to sign. 🙂
The ultimate goal in choosing a pen name is to sell books. Your books. Make it easy for your readers to find you.