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How to Choose a Pen Name | Indie Journey

Have you ever considered using a pen name? A nom de plume? An alias? This week, I'll walk you through my process for choosing my own pen name (Del Hargraves, as a matter of fact), which is the same process several writer friends have borrowed with success.

Pen names are to writers what carnivory is to plants - not necessary for everyone, but favored by many. And just like carnivorous plants, pen names are often adaptations for environments.

Dean Koontz writes under Anthony North and Brian Coffey, Lewis Carroll was really Charles Dodgson, Stephen King assumes Richard Bachman, Agatha Christie wrote under Mary Westmacott, even Benjamin Franklin himself had aliases for his writings. The list goes on and on. Whether you're in need of one pen name, or several (one for each genre, perhaps?), the following step-by-step will help you choose.

There's no perfect nom de plume. There's no wrong one either. Pen names are as much about marketing as they are anonymity. Your name markets you as you become an established, published author. What name are people going to look for, discuss, search for more from?

Let's find out!

First, dip your fingers into some research. What genre do you plan to publish in? Who are the dominant authors within that genre? Are there trends within successful names? Certain starting letters, use of initials, overall feel of the names?

Optionally, you might consider your ideal audience. What age group are you hoping your books resonate with? What age range do you want people to associate you with as an author?

Now that you have a feel for the names in your genre and some trends, it's time to niche down. Do you want to present as male, female, gender-neutral, a cosmic entity? Is there a name you've always adored, someone you respect you want to give a subtle (or not-so-subtle) nod to?

Check popular names in certain birth years, write down whichever ones strike your fancy. Make a note of popular (and least popular) last names - most shelves get sorted by author last name. Look up lists of last names. A less common last initial may help boost visibility. Are there names you have attachments to? A play on your real name perhaps, or just looking to switch a first or last name for another?

Make a list of all names that interest you and possible combinations. Prioritize the ones that feel similar to others your genre, especially if they're still less common. Another King might be lost in the Horror shelves, and so might Lee or Little, but there may be room for a Lesley, or Kingston. Even better if you can find a last name that starts with Q - not much competition on that shelf.

Cross out any you're not sure about, or don't immediately like the sound of. If a name is easy to spell, but unique enough to remember and stand out in a search, you've got a candidate! Mix and match until you have several candidates fitting that criteria.

Search online and see if anyone else is already using those names as a public figure. If so, toss it. Move on. Sit on your options and see how you feel being known as that name, having a social media presence with it, signing it as your own inside a cover.

Now, do any those names feel like they would be on the cover of a book in your genre? Do any of those names feel like they belong to you?

Congratulations on your new alias!

Who are you now?


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