“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.”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.)
Would anyone like to read my next erotic PNR:
THE MATING GAME by Alpha Claw?
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. :-)