Posted by Kristen Hamilton on April 27, 2018 at 9:00 AM
Pen names are becoming more popular than ever for a variety of reasons: they can help your author name be unique and memorable, protect your privacy, or differentiate you from other writers in your genre.
But pseudonyms aren't for every author—there are some things to remember when choosing a pen name. Let's talk about the most important things to keep in mind before choosing a pen name.
1. Research your pen name.
Your pen name should be unique to the market. Don’t try to write as a celebrity or use the name of another well-known author. Research other author names in your genre, and choose your new name with care: your pseudonym should be memorable. Keep in mind that you’ll want to build your brand and author platform based on this pen name, so make sure it or a variation is available as a web domain. Most importantly, once you choose your pen name, you'll have to commit to it, so make sure it's something you like.
2. Use your pen name when publishing your books.
Your copyright page should include your pseudonym. Some authors include both their pen name and their real name on their book’s copyright page—that’s fine, but not necessary. If you're going the traditional publishing route, you'll want to communicate with agents and publishers with your real name but make it known upfront that you'll be publishing under a pseudonym.
3. Register your copyright.
An important step of publishing your work, especially if you're self-publishing, is registering copyright on your work. If you choose to register your work with the US Copyright Office, you can register with the pseudonym OR your real name (or both). If you choose to copyright your work for better protection against plagiarism or others stealing your work, the US Copyright Office shares some great information on using pseudonyms in the process of copyrighting.
When should you use a pen name? Here are some examples that would be good to use a pseudonym.
- You’ve published a book before—and it didn’t do well. A few of my clients have published work under their own name, but got terrible reviews on their first books. They are currently in the process of revising and republishing their work under a pen name.
- You don’t want your writing career associated with your day job. If you’re an elementary school teacher and plan to launch an illustrious erotica series, for example, choosing to publish under a name that isn’t your own might be a wise choice!
- Your name is hard to pronounce, difficult to spell or remember, or too silly to take seriously. I’m talking to you, Harry Twinkletoes. Because there are so many authors and books on the market today, you want to ensure readers are able to find you easily…and that means having an easy-to-remember, easy-to-spell name.
Using a pen name isn’t always a good idea, though. Step away from the nom-de-plume if any of the following apply to you:
- You shouldn’t use a pen name if you’re trying to avoid legal repercussions—such as if you’re writing negative things about people without their permission, and want to avoid charges of defamation or slander. It won’t work—sorry!
- Don’t use a pen name if you’re writing a controversial book and want to protect your identity from potential repercussions. If you’re going to write a book that takes guts…write the book that takes guts. Having the guts means publishing the book under your own name.
- Don't use a pen name if you're writing a memoir. Using a pseudonym when writing a memoir takes a step back from that honest, raw openness present in a memoir. It takes away from the intimate relationship between a memoir author and his or her audience.
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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of
Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing
services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several
authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have
topped Amazon's best sellers lists.
Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she
can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her
four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,
eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is
likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.