Monday, February 24, 2014

5 Tips for Choosing a Pen Name by Melissa Snark #Giveaway

“I suggest to my students that they write under a pseudonym for a week. That allows young men to write as women, and women as men. It allows them a lot of freedom they don't have ordinarily.”
Joyce Carol Oates
New authors wrestle with more than just the process of writing and publishing. There are a number of important related decisions to be made that will stay with you throughout your entire career, including whether to assume a nom de plume AKA a pen name. Reasons for doing so vary and can relate to privacy, liberation, branding and marketing decisions. Once a pen name is chosen, the author may find themselves in the same position again as they contemplate a genre change: young adult to adult; fiction to non-fiction; or romance to erotica. 

So, how do you go through the difficult process of re-naming yourself?

1.  Choose a pseudonym that is familiar or comfortable to you. After all, it's more than just a word; it is your identity within the literary community. The pen name will not only grace the cover of your first book, but it will also appear on your website, your social media pages, your business card, your swag, etc. 

I chose Melissa because it is similar to my real first name, Melinda. The words have similar (Latin) meanings: honey bee versus honey. Plus, if anyone ever actually asks for an autograph, I can mess up the first four letters of the signature before it became necessary to make a correction.

When I picked Snark, a friend didn't like it because it wasn't serious enough. However, I liked it precisely for the frivolity. Snark appealed to my sense of whimsy.

A snark, for those not in the know, is: 

     a. According to Wikipedia:  "The snark is a fictional animal species created by Lewis Carroll in his nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark. His descriptions of the creature were, in his own words, unimaginable, and he wanted that to remain so."  

     b. Per the Urban Dictionary: noun   Combination of "snide" and "remark". Sarcastic comment(s).  Also snarky (adj.) and snarkily (adv.)

2.  Don't use your stripper name or any other name gained from a Facebook meme for professional writing.

In my secret double life—where I earn gobs of money nightly taking off my clothing in a New Orleans nightclub—I go by Stormy Weathers. Sadly, in real life, most people would rather pay me to keep my clothes on. (Except maybe Mr. Snark, bless his heart.)

Here's a couple examples of what would happen if Facebook memes determined my pen name:
(I'm using my real life initials here:  M.S.M.)

Alpha Claw

Would anyone like to read my next erotic PNR:
THE MATING GAME by Alpha Claw?

Any takers?

 Duchess Tilly Smythe

OK, so that's not horrible. I'm keep that one in mind in case I ever write a Regency Romance.

3. You think I'm going to advise you to check out baby name sites for ideas, right? Right? Wrong! 

Aside from being a cliche, that piece of advice is next to useless. Anyone who writes fiction has already turned to a baby naming tool of some sort in their quest for unique or cool sounding names for their characters.

Real 3.  Check to make sure it's available before you make your final decision.  If you'd like to become the next Joan Wilder, then perform a search of Amazon to be sure there's not already someone writing under the name. Or worse, a dozen someones. I'd advise also checking on the availability of the domain name and the prevalence on social media sites. 

When you're a new writer, having a unique name is an asset. Having a memorable one, even more so.  Which brings me to my next suggestion--

4. Choosing a name that's too unique or unusual may not be the wisest decision. I've seen dozens of examples of common names with strange spellings. Or uncommon names with strange spellings.  

More than once, I've said: "The author had a weird name that started with a T like Tanya but had an R and a W so I have no idea how to actually pronounce it. No idea how to spell it either. Oh, and the cover was blue."

The same logic applies when you name your child. I've had friends with fairly common names spelled in unusual ways, which can be an eternal source of frustration when the Starbucks' barista can't get it right on the coffee cup. I have another friend whose first name is similar to type of rock. She is regularly harassed by airport security because her name sounds Middle Eastern.

I suppose your tolerance for having your name misspelled or mispronounced plays an important factor here. But to me it seems like a bad idea to deliberately pick a pen name that readers won't be able to spell or say correctly.

5.  A non de plume can help you break into a genre with high barrier to entry. Are you a woman trying to break into hardcore science fiction? Or a man who wants to write romance? You might considering using your initials in order to mask your gender.  Or a pseudonym may be the way to go...

So... What's your pen name?  Leave a comment and one randomly drawn commenter will receive an ebook of their choice from my works published.  :-)


  1. I would highly suggest keeping your first name (or a short form or something really darn close) and just assuming a last. My actual name and writers name are totally different...this becomes really confusing when I introduce myself at writing workshops. Which name do I use? I usually register under my real name but then someone will call Charlotte and I'm like huh? what? me?

  2. Charlotte,
    I find that I conduct so much email correspondence using Melissa that I sometimes use it when I actually intend to sign my given name. I haven't been to a workshop so I don't know how that will go down. :)

  3. I have no idea, but at least I've got something to ponder now. Cheers, great piece.

  4. I hate my first name--Vonnie. I've been called Bonnie, Connie, Lonnie, Ronnie, et al. So to end the confusion, I was going to write under the name Renee Davis. Four years ago, at a writers conference, I sat in on a blogging workshop, Blog the lady said. Set up a blog and start doing it regularly to build up a following. Sounded easy enough. I was still pre-published, so I had the time. What I lacked was a bit of common sense for I set the blog--Vintage Vonnie--up under the name I detested--my real name!!! ACK! What was I thinking? When I got my first contract, I told my agent I wanted to use Renee Davis, and she told me she thought that was a bad idea because I'd built this following up under Vonnie Davis. Well, darn.

    So--*glances at nails and coughs*--a few months ago, I was having a bit of a mental block when it came to writing sex. I mean I sweated sex-bullets writing those scenes. So, I got this bright idea!!! (bear with me, I'm getting to a point here) I thought if people threw kids in the water who were afraid to swim to get them to overcome their fear of water (a hell of an idea, I might add, being afraid of water myself), I thought if I made myself write erotic as an exercise, I could overcome the sex writing block. Made sense. Right. *someone please nod your head* So I started writing a humorous story about a bridal party going to a BDSM club for the bachelorette party, only the sister of the bride is keeping a secret. She's a submissive. And all these goofy things happen. By the end of chapter three, I was having so much fun with it I sent the first 3 chapters to my editor at HarperImpulse, asking her if this was anything she'd be interested in. Dear God, she asked if I could turn this into a series. I laughed at her email. She had to be joining. Sure, I replied. She contracted 3 of my BDSM stories, that aren't yet written, so now I HAVE to write sex, using words that make my eyeballs twitch when I see them on my screen. We agreed I wouldn't use my real name, so in a moment of madness I made a twist on the term "pink parts" and Pinky Parks was born. I don't suspect Pinky will become fabulously famous...but sometimes, to me at least, the craziest things happen. Pen names are important. Pinky sounds youthful and vibrant and whimsical and a tad bad, and my editor loves it.

    1. *Nods head* Except that I write erotica for Wild Rose and it's very draining with the sex sex sex. I'd like to move in the non-erotic direction. Not no sex, but just less explicit sex. So I'm currently working on a contemporary romantic suspense that's not erotica.

      I've confronted and slain the two pen names dragon too. I considered it but ultimately decided that readers will survive the shock of discovering that I write something other than erotica and werewolves. If I were moving from erotica to YA, I'd probably have a different perspective. But for now, I just don't have the energy to manage two online presences.

      Good luck with your new series! It sounds fantastic!

  5. Great post and very relevant right now. I've recently talked to several authors that was thinking of switching genres and trying to decide on a new pen name. Off to share!

    1. Thanks, Sandy. As I mentioned to Vonnie, that's a whole nother issues that I've had to consider also. Whether to adopt a second pen name for handle a genre change.

  6. I liked this post very much.
    I am glad I did a google search, becasue the first name I picked turned out to be a well know or at least well filmed porn star....ahem, not what I was going for, so I settled down with the exotic choices and looked for something that had meaning to me. After all, the intention is to have a long career and be stuck with the name for a while. I ended up choosing mine and my husband's middle names. Renee Charles. I goggle searched it and came up with nothing, although now I know there is another one of us out there, she added a middle inital to distinguish I guess. But none the less my pen name makes me smile each time I sign it.

    1. Thanks, Renee. I hoped this topic would resonate with readers. I've watched a number of friends agonize with the decision and I've done so myself. I'm glad you did the research and didn't wind up with the porn star name! LOL

  7. Great post. I kept my real first name and I think I chose the absolute best pen name for me. Lisa Rayns.

    1. Thanks, Lisa. Although, I've often wished that your perfect pen name was Ryans. :D

  8. I like this post. When I first started down this path I read Passionate Ink by Angela Knight. She recommended not going with stripper names, even if you're writing erotic (I write erotic romance) and suggested choosing something similar to your own name so that you will easily and comfortably answer to it. So that's what I did, and I wanted it simple. My pen name is actually my middle name and my last name but with the first initial of my real first name added to both. Initially I though this might be a problem, and worried about some people finding out and discovering who it was. It's truly not hard if they sit and think about it.. But then I decided, screw it. Let them find out. And I did test out various other names, but nothing sat right on my tongue. And my real name is actually taken by another author who writes SF. So, I went with it and currently plan to stay with it, even if I try out other genres. Though, some days I still find myself thinking I should have chosen something not so close to my name. And when I'm on line, I'm Anne Lange, all the time. I've even caught myself signing as such in my "real" life. LOL!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. LOL. So I looked at my Werewolf and Regal Names.

      Werewolf - using my real initials - Magic Storm. Using my pen name - White Shadow
      Royal name using my real initials - Earl Buntly of Wellington -

    3. Anne,
      I think the temptation to go with something trashy or sexy sounding is pretty strong when you know you're going to be writing erotica. LOL My pen name isn't any part of my real name but the first name is familiar so I'm comfortable with it.

      Don't you just love the FB naming games? *G* Thanks so much for commenting!

  9. I love this post, I've been struggling with a pen name for some time, not that I've had a lot of time to write lately. As a gag I set up an email account "". Even since then I've been trying to come up with a pen name that plays on that, or something that could use that "fluffybunnyllb" in a blog name. Any suggestions would be great.
    If I ever get my YA or non-fiction stuff cleaned up and publishable, I'm thinking about just using Laura B.

    1. Laura,
      Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :-) I'm not sure I could suggest anything appropriate other than to ask if you could use your mother's maiden name or the name of a grandparent? Often things that are familiar have good resonance.

  10. Great post. I know several people who write under pseudonyms because they want amenity, while others don't care. I used my first name (Debra) and my maiden name because it was unusual. Most can't pronounce it, but that's okay, hopefully it'll catch an eye or two.

    1. Hi Debra! Thank you! I think you're right about your last name being distinctive. Not sure I could pronounce it correctly either. But at least it's easy to spell and remember. :)

  11. Excellent post. Since my legal name is unique and unspellable even by family members, I chose to write and blog under a pen name. It's close enough to my real name that I will react to it. In fact, I have been called it many times instead of my legal name. I did the research it for a while before I picked it.

    Fun fact. The name of protagonist of my novel, Jordan Abbey, I originally picked out to be my pen name. Turns out I liked the name better for the character than for me.

    My pen name initials and my legal initials are the same. My werewolf name is Grey Beast and my royal one is M'lady Theodore of Tittington.

    1. Thanks, Sheryl. Your first name is a pretty unique spelling. I have an aunt Cheryl but hadn't seen the 'S' variation on the name before you picked it.

      Tittington. ::Snort::

  12. Renee Charles,
    You're my drawing winner chosen by! Congratulations! I'll drop you an email to find out which book you'd like. :-)