I wasn’t planning on doing another Branding 101 post right away, but my commenters had other ideas. *smile*
If you read my last post, you know the steps to be Google-able. The last piece of advice I gave in that article was if all else fails—use a pen name. That suggestion led to several comments and questions, so I figured I’d write a follow-up post because I don’t want people to misunderstand my suggestion.
First, I want to clarify what I mean by “pen name.” As defined by Wikipedia (emphasis is mine):
A pen name may be used to make the author’s name more distinctive, to disguise his or her gender, to distance an author from some or all of his or her works, to protect the author from retribution for his or her writings, or for any of a number of reasons related to the marketing or aesthetic presentation of the work.
When we think of pen names, we often consider the privacy or marketing aspects and assume that means using a name completely different from our real name, such as Samuel Clemens writing as Mark Twain or an author using one name for their YA stories and another for their steamy romance. But I’m going to focus on one of the other motivations in that definition.
I brought up pen names last time to address the need to make our names more distinctive and Google-able. These types of pen names can be connected to our real name. They don’t have to be completely different.
James or Jim? Joanne or J.K.?
That’s an important concept. After all, once we’ve spent years working on our first book, we probably want to see our name on the cover. We want to see that name and think, “Hey, that’s me.” Many people don’t want to use a pen name because they worry they won’t feel that sense of ownership.
But what if it was our name, just tweaked to make it more distinctive? Being Google-able means trying to make our website, blog, or profile information show up on page one of a Google search. For this purpose, having a pen name might be as simple as adding our middle name or initial to our author name, using just our initials (like J.K. Rowling), or using our legal name instead of a nickname.
Let’s pick a random name to make the point. “Cindy Johnson”: 263,000 results. “Cynthia Jane Johnson”: 10,700 results. So if you’re having a hard time making your author brand Google-able, try Googling variations of your name to see if you can find one with fewer results.
If nothing helps, you still don’t have to go with a completely different name. Many people keep their first name and change their last name to something else with significance to them, a maiden name, a grandmother’s name, their name in a different language, the town where they grew up, etc.
The only other Jami Gold who shows up on page one of a Google search is an interior decorator in California. I don’t worry about confusion, as I make no secret of the fact that I live in Arizona and am an author. Google is more likely to ask: “Did you mean: jamie gold?” I’m not male or a poker player, so anyone who can’t figure out that one must not be trying very hard. *grin*
My point here is that pen names can simply be a variation of our real name. Experiment with Google searches, using quote marks around the full name with and without the word “author” (i.e.: “Jami Gold” and “Jami Gold author”). See if you can find a name to use that still feels like you.
Shouldn’t I Wait? What If My Publisher Doesn’t Like It?
This is a common misconception. I’ve heard many people say they were going to wait because they wanted to see what their publisher wanted them to do. They worry their publisher will make them change their pen name and they don’t want to waste all that time and effort. Um…no.
I started building my platform before I released any work. I picked my pen name (for reasons you mentioned above…someone else already HAS my real name and has snapped up all the virtual real estate thereto), grabbed up the domain, facebook, twitter handle, and everything else associated with it. And I worked on building it.
If we own all the “virtual real estate” (love that phrase!) for our author name—whether that’s our real name or a pen name—and we have a strong platform based on that name, there is no way a publisher will make us change it. The only reason a publisher would have for making us change our author name is if it matched one of their other authors. But we know our name doesn’t match another author because we’ve already done our homework with our Google searches and picked a name that had virtual real estate available.
Also, I’ve seen how difficult it can be to find a pen name a publisher agrees with. One of my critique partners, Rachel Graves, hadn’t established a pen name before receiving a book contract. She submitted dozens upon dozens of options to them before they agreed on one. Much easier to avoid that decision-making-by-committee hassle if you ask me. *smile*
I Have My Author Pen Name Picked Out, Now What?
We should start using our author name as soon as we start branding ourselves as authors, whenever we’re wearing our “author hat.” We should use it for our website, blog, social media profiles (Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, etc.), and when we leave comments on other people’s blogs.
When networking as an author, we need to use our author name. The consistent use of our distinctive name will build our brand.
Do you use a pen name? Why did you make that decision? Have you thought about using a pen name but decided to put it off for some reason? Has this changed your perception about what it means to use a pen name?Pin It