To Pen Name or Not to Pen Name? – ESP Workshop Notes

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ESP’s June 2018 workshop focused on pen names.

What are reasons some people use a pen name?

  • Genre considerations – Working across different genres
    • Writing in science fiction, fantasy and horror with one name isn’t uncommon
      • Dan Simmons
      • Stephen King
    • Different pen names are recommended for romance erotica.
      • I have a theory, the negative impact of that may be more on the romance side than the speculative fiction because of the HEA/HFN pledge.
  • Privacy
    • The desire to keep your personal life separate from your public persona
    • Writings might impact your other job
      • You work with children and write adult content
    • Don’t want your personal opinions to be affiliated with your books
  • Common real name
    • Smith, Johnson, etc
  • Famous person already has your name
  • Infamous person already has your name
    • Imagine writing children’s literature with the name Lizzie Borden
  • You don’t like your name
    • Ordinary name
    • Unusual name
    • Often mispronounced
    • You just don’t like it
  • Gender
    • Your genre accepts a specific gender more readily
  • Ethnicity
    • Changing your name to closer match your ethnicity
      • Assuming an ethnic name of an ethnicity you are not specifically to sell to that market is considered not acceptable
  • Adopt a different personility
  • Branding
    • Match your genre better

Potential complications

  • Using the wrong name
    • Difficulties increase with multiple pen names
  • Taking on a different persona
    • Trying to keep the persona straight
  • Multiple pen names, people finding your work
  • Being discovered/discredited especially if using an ethnicity not of your own
  • Building a brand for multiple names
  • Getting paid, doing business as (endorsements)

Ways of picking a pen name

  • Baby name lists
    • Often have meanings of names
  • Random name generators
  • Put letters together and sound it out
  • Pick a noun
  • Base on another language
  • Pick from a language you created

What do to do after picking a name or list of names

  • Google it
    • Are there any meanings you don’t want to be associated with
    • Is it more common than you want
  • Read it to yourself
    • How does it read?
  • Read it aloud
    • Does it pronounce smoothly?
  • Have a friend read it to you
  • Check what domain names are available

After picking a name, register a domain name. Even if you don’t plan on building a platform immediately. Waiting to purchase a domain name gives others a chance to register it before you.





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