Building Your Author Platform: How to Choose Your Pen Name

Once you have decided to start building your author platform, the first thing you need to do is select the pen name under which you plan to publish. This is an extremely important decision, and for some authors, it will be more difficult than others. Your pen name is likely the first impression of you readers will receive (beyond your book–but more on that down the road), and you want it to be something that sticks with them and easily identifies you out in cyberspace.

The first decision to make is whether to publish under your real name or a pseudonym (fake name). There are valid arguments on both sides, and only you can make the decision that is right for you.

Publishing Under Your Real Name

  • You get all the glory associated with your books and author business.
  • It’s easy for you to remember and embrace when speaking with readers.
  • It makes you more transparent as an author.
  • It makes the business and legal aspects slightly easier.

Publishing Under a Pseudonym

  • You can separate yourself from your work. (This is especially nice if you fail miserably or write in “controversial” genres like erotica.)
  • It provides a layer of protection or privacy for you.
  • Certain genres, especially romance, have a long-standing tradition of pseudonyms.
  • It can help avoid readers’ prejudices against certain genders writing in genres considered to be dominated by another gender.

Google Your Chosen Name and Potential Connections to the Industry

While it is nearly impossible to avoid sharing your name with someone in the universe, try to avoid having an identical name to someone who is well-known in the writing industry. For example, if your name happens to be John Kenneth Rowling, publishing as J.K. Rowling probably would not be a smart idea. When your readers tried to find you online (once they realized you were not THE J.K. Rowling) they would be bombarded with search results for Ms. Joanne and struggle to find little old you.

Of course, this could also work in your favor and bring some “accidental” traffic your way. Maybe these readers would stumble upon you and be pleasantly surprised to find a new author. However, they could also feel “duped” or “cheated” to discover you are not THE J.K. Rowling and drown your book or website in bad reviews.

Personally, I chose to publish under a variation of my real name. My first choice was to publish as “Kate Colby.” However, a quick Google search told me that a relatively successful poet was already publishing under that name. By throwing in my middle initial, “M,” I was able to separate myself from her, thus preventing confusion and allowing me to dominate any Google searches that were meant for me.

Likewise, “Kate Colby” as a username was taken on virtually every social media site. Other than Facebook, most social media platforms do not allow multiple accounts to have the same username. However, a quick search on my desired platforms showed me that “KateMColby” was available on every single social media platform I wanted to use, which leads into my next point…

Keep Your Author Platform Cohesive

Once you have found an original pen name for yourself, use it in as many places as possible! Keeping your entire author platform branded under the same name has several benefits:

  • It makes you easier to find for readers who are searching for you.
  • When readers find you, it increases their confidence that the account is truly yours.
  • It groups your entire author platform together in search engine results for your name.
  • It makes your pages/URLs easier to remember.
  • It looks more professional.

My blog, my email, and every social media platform I use are under “KateMColby.” This makes it easy for my readers to find me on whatever social media sites they use, and it makes them feel more confident that it truly is me and not some other Kate they are finding online.

Admittedly, using your pen name online may not work out as perfectly as it did for me. However, try to keep your author platform as cohesive as possible. If you have to throw in an “author” or “fiction” here or there (ie: AuthorKateMColby or KateMColbyFiction), that’s okay! Just make sure you keep your accounts as searchable and obvious for readers as possible.

In short, selecting and using your pen name should be your first step in creating your author platform. Without your pen name, you cannot brand yourself nor establish an online presence. But remember: your pen name is not just a name. It is the “brand name” of your author business, and it is a strategic tool you can use to make sure you are unique, genre-appropriate, and easy to find online.

For those of you who skipped to the end, here are the actions steps to take as you move forward:

  • Select your pen name (real or fake)
  • Test your pen name online (Do you have a lot of competition with your name?)
  • Test your pen name on social media (Are accounts with your name taken?)
  • Repeat until you find a good balance
  • Use your name universally across your entire author platform

For more on building your author platform, click here.


Resources

What J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith Can Teach Us About Author Platform – The Book Designer

Pen NamesThe Passive Voice: A Lawyer’s Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

On Using a Pen Name and Selling 1,000 Books a DayThe Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast


How did you choose your author pen name? How do you feel about authors using their real names to publish? Pseudonyms? 

 

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Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and wine tasting. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

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Posted in Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles
36 comments on “Building Your Author Platform: How to Choose Your Pen Name
  1. […] A pen name (either your real name or a pseudonym) […]

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  2. Adam says:

    This is quite possibly the most comprehensive article on the subject of pen names I’ve found yet. I’m still of the belief that authors should choose to go by their real name more than a chosen one, but I definitely understand the reasons they might.
    Besides, who doesn’t want to have a cool story behind their chosen moniker, like Mark Twain’s. But still…I would suggest being careful with those choices. I know more than one author who has gone the route of choosing the name of authors who are slightly more popular than themselves (and write similar styles of stories) and riding on their coattails. This appears more than shady to me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much for reading and sharing your opinions, Adam! I agree with you wholeheartedly — I find it quite sleazy when authors select pen names that are the same as or close to famous authors as a way to raise their own profiles. Like you, I prefer authors to use their real names, but I fully understand why they do not for the sake of privacy or genre tradition.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing, Cindy! I know a lot of writers use different pen names for different genres, which is understandable if the genres are quite different. I can definitely appreciate that, and all your other, reasons!

      Like

  3. Great post again Kate. Wish I’d read it before I started publishing. If I had I would have added my middle initial to my writing name. Kate Evans is common as muck (the name, not me, of course). I’m still wondering whether it is too late to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel you. Kate Colby is pretty common, too, especially considering Katelin and Kathryn were extremely popular names around the years I was born.

      I don’t know that much about your books, but for anything that is self-published, it is not too late (just a hassle). That’s the glory of independent publishing! You could easily update your website and social media accounts to include your middle initial. I am sure there are ways to update your name in the Amazon and other retailers’ author accounts as well. Of course, updating the ebook files of your books would be easy, but the covers may be difficult, and any paperbacks already sold would be irreversible (future ones you could fix). I guess it’s just whether you think it is worth the time/money it might cost you!

      Like

      • Oh I know it would be possible from a practical point of view, it’s more about the hassle and whether readers would become confused – or am I dreaming that anyone has my books identified with my name? It’s also that thought of becoming a sort of ‘formally known as Prince’ kind of person. But it’s worth thinking about.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Got ya. I wasn’t sure if you were questioning the logistics of a change or simply whether or not it should be done. I’m sure you will figure out what is best in due time. 🙂

        Like

  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    NEW AUTHOR? – Kate has great advice for you (and seasoned authors might learn a few tricks too 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beth Caplin says:

    I unintentionally ended up with a pen name when I married and changed my last name. For consistency’s sake, I’m still publishing as Sarahbeth Caplin, but people in ‘real life’ who knew me as Beth Caplin now know me as Beth Stoneburner. It does get confusing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I had this issue with academia as well. There already was an academic Daniel Gullotta, but he is a dentist!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. C.E.Robinson says:

    Kate, an interesting topic! Glad I used initials now for Word Press as well as email. Not published yet, but on proposal used full name. Think shortening first name might work better – Chris Robinson. Don’t think it matters though, long or short. In the end, it might be the title that catches the eye more. Thanks for the thought. Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great posting and informative, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Interconnectivity between platforms is becoming more and more important. Being consistent is important. Solid points to consider for both views. Really good plan at the end of the post

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have seen posts on a few blogs stating or strongly implying that use of a pen name is unethical. No one seems to have a satisfactory explanation for WHY it’s wrong, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting. I haven’t heard that argument. I wouldn’t say that it is unethical unless the author is trying to impersonate another author (which I highly doubt many do). I don’t think real name or pseudonym should really matter to the reader; it’s much more for the writer.

      Like

  11. Lockie Young says:

    Hi Kate. I picked this up from that Ape character :). That was a great piece. My nick name is Lockie and my real name is Lockard, and since no one ever gets the spelling of either name right, I went with L.F.Young. My mistake was opening Faecbook pages under both names. I’ve decided I don’t have to worry too much about my privacy right now, and as long as it wasn’t the killing kind, a stalker might be fun at my age.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Galit Balli says:

    Great post hun I enjoyed this very much and very helpful 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Ben Y. Faroe says:

    Thanks, Kate!

    I’ve been wondering lately why anyone would use a pen name, aside from keeping an erotica line discreet or similar. Even writing cross-genre, I couldn’t see any disadvantage to keeping one name. As long as the branding per book is clear, you won’t disappoint readers, and you might pick up some genre-hoppers. This post shed some light on the question.

    I guess I’m also fortunate in that my name is unique (in the strict sense, as far as I can tell), I don’t (so far) have old books to distance myself from, and I have the freedom to strongly identify my real life with my writing career. But a lot of people don’t have those luxuries.

    One of my favorite examples of cohesive branding is the musical artist BT. I listened to a podcast or something by him, and at the closing he casually said something like, “or find me online; I’m BT everywhere.” And he is, in fact, @bt and facebook.com/bt and so on. I thought that was so elegant, not to mention incredibly impressive to pull it off with a 2-letter brand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. I’m pro-real name as opposed to pseudonym, but I do understand why some authors choose to use a fake name. I’m glad you brought up writing in multiple genres. I’ve never understood why authors feel the need to write in one name for thrillers and another for fantasy, etc. As a reader, I never limit myself to one genre, and I certainly do not expect my favorite authors to do so.

      Your example of cohesive branding is spot on. It doesn’t always work out that perfectly, but when it does, it is so much easier to help your readers/fans find you. I’ve been lucky that I can be “KateMColby” everywhere, and I think I might just have to steal BT’s line.

      As always, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      Like

      • Ben Y. Faroe says:

        Agreed. That one line changed (or at least crystallized) my goals for my own branding, long before I got started actually building a serious platform. And so far I’m byfaroe everywhere :]

        Heh heh. Now the only question is whether to pronounce it “by Faroe” or “B. Y. Faroe.” So far I lean toward the former; it’s quicker and less confusing since I write as Ben Y. Faroe, not B. Y. Faroe. Yet another brilliant luxury of my real name – it’s got attribution of authorship built right in!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. […] first steps in building your author platform are understanding what, when, and why and choosing the pen name you want to use. Once those steps are completed, you can take action. My suggestion is to begin by […]

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  15. […] (more on that in later posts). I wish I’d read her post on pen names a little earlier: https://katemcolby.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/building-your-author-platform-how-to-choose-your-pen-nam… Kate Evans is a ridiculously common name, and perhaps if I’d read Kate M Colby’s […]

    Like

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