What’s is a name? An author by any other name would sell just as much, right?
Well, I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that choosing your pen name, nom de plume, pseudonym or handle is one of the most important early choices that a writer can make. A good pen name can help an author stand out in a crowd and make their name–at least, if not their writing–more memorable. So, newbie authors, before you make this oh so important decision, take a moment and learn from my mistakes.
Mistake #1: Going with my initials. Ever since that lady, umm, what’s her name? Right, Rowling. Ever since J. K. Rowling made a huge splash with those Harry Potter books, everyone and their mother and their father too has adopted the two initial, last name pen name. I don’t know if folks think that by doing this, they can absorb some of J. K.’s mojo or what, but it’s an epidemic, and I am guilty of it as well. To cut myself a little slack, I chose to use my initials rather than my actual name because I publish academic stuff pretty regularly under my given name and I didn’t want to confuse either of my audiences. Also, I sort of like the idea of being a part of a line of L. M. (Louisa May, Lucy Maud) authoresses (that’s facetious folks). Still, though both relatively reasonable reasons, it still does not help the fact that in choosing this pen name I have ended up with something a little generic, especially since I don’t have a particularly unusual last name (unlike Senseis Alcott and Montgomery). I mean really, do you know how many other author L. M.s there are out there? Quick, do a search.
Mistake #2: Not being creative enough. So I went with my initials and my actual last name. Part of that was because as an author I wanted to stay myself. I didn’t want to adopt a persona; I wanted to be as “authentic,” if you will, as I could be. However, I failed to consider fully this fact. I am an author. I write whoopers for a living (or, more precisely, from which I try to make a living). Not only that, I write fantasy. Nothing about what I write or what I love bears any relationship to reality, so why should my pen name? What if, instead of L. M. Davis, I had decided to dub myself L. M. Pegasus or L. M. Medusa. Or, or L. Medusa Pegasus. Now that’s a memorable name. Also, did you know that even famous people who would probably only benefit from the use of their actual names use pen names. Again, that Rowling lady is a good example, but Ben Franklin too. He had dozens of pen names; one of them was Caelia Shortface. Imaginative, right–and maybe a little mean.
So, please, for your own sake, be imaginative!
Mistake #3: Committing too soon. I should have done a lot more research about the names that were already out there before committing to my pen name. As writers, I think that we get so absorbed in the worlds that we are building on the page that we don’t give full consideration to the very real process of world-building (or brand building if you want the common term for it) that we must do to get those stories out to the world. I think, for now, I am the only fiction writing L. M. Davis out there, but that could always change (especially if that Lisa Marie Davis in Washington who has just finished writing her first novel, decides to join the initial crowd. *All Lisa Maries referenced are fictional and any resemblance to actual Lisa Maries is purely coincidental and unintended*). When I decide on my name, I did do a search to see what came up, and not just on Google but on Amazon, B & N, and a few other book distribution sites. I was the only one, so I thought I was good to go. I didn’t think to search for just L. Ms. though, and that would have been wise.
So make sure to do a lot of research and creative research before committing to your pen name. You’ll thank yourself (and me :D) later.
Mistakes were made, yes. So very many. But in the end, I love my pen name. It’s grown on me and it’s really easy to remember for signings; plus, after four years and three books, it’s an integral part of the brand that I’m building. So while others may change names at the drop of the hat, I think I’ll stick with mine.