Branding 101: To Pen Name or Not to Pen Name

by Jami Gold on June 7, 2011

in Writing Stuff

Three theater masks

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.

This post was partially prompted by a comment by Kait Nolan on my last post when she made a great point about pen names:

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?

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81 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Roni Loren June 7, 2011 at 5:49 am

Great post! I do use a pen name. I kept my first name but changed the last. Not so much because other people shared my name. My first name is pretty unique already. But I write erotic romance and live in TX which is very conservative, so I did the change mainly to give one level of protection for kidlet and the hubby.

And I agree–do not wait until you get a book deal to change it. I started platform building with me real last name. Then when I realized I wanted a pen name, I had to go change all this social media stuff and my web domain and all that jazz. And I can’t even imagine the decision-by-committee thing with the publisher. Finding a book title that way was tough enough, lol.

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 7:27 am

Hi Roni,

Yes, we’ve talked about how I edited your last name for you on all posts and comments here to match your pen name, but other blogs didn’t do that I’m sure. 🙂

So you had to start over with building your brand and increasing your Google search rank. I remember after you first changed it, the links I had to you were showing up on page one of a search because you had such a blank slate. You’ve had to work hard to rebuild your brand with guest posts and changing your profiles. Thanks for the comment!

Learn from Roni, everyone. 🙂

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Frances Silversmith June 7, 2011 at 5:49 am

Jami,
great post!
I picked my pen name as soon as I started writing, and have been making a (so far rather half-hearted) attempt at building a platform.
The reasons I didn’t want my real name out there were manifold – starting with a need for privacy (and a pronounced disinclination to have my employer and customers in my real job know about my writing).
More importantly, though, the new name gives me a feeling of freedom, since I’m starting over from scratch so to speek, and my boring everyday personna doesn’t drag me down when I’m being Frances Silversmith. 🙂
Frances

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 7:48 am

Hi Frances,

Yes, that’s another good reason to take on a pen name. In addition to the distance Roni mentioned above – adding a level of separation between you and your work – you also wanted the freedom of a persona. Many writers are introverts and using a different name can provide an opportunity to present themselves as the author they want to be. Some might consider that deceptive, but I think as long as you’re still you, only better, you’re being true to your author-self.

I touched on this quite a bit in my earlier series on author branding: How we’re all made up of different facets and we always choose how to present ourselves. I know my sarcasm and wit are stronger when I’m in author mode because my “voice” is like “me-concentrated.” 🙂 So I think your approach is valid. Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee June 7, 2011 at 6:46 am

“Misti Wolanski” is my online identity and my penname. I do that for a variety of reasons, one of which is safety. My given name is an uncommon name, and it’s a rare spelling of that name, and… my name getting widely known would give me reason to fear for a close relative’s life.

I actually have another penname, unused, but I own the domain.

The “Carradee” handle I use all over as a unifier. “Misti” is taken all over, and I really would rather have Google focus on returning my websites and not my comments all over the place when my name is searched for. I’m also a bit of a gamer. I’ve actually picked up several fans from MMOs I’ve played and moderated. See “Carradee” in an MMO? I’ll be surprised if it isn’t me.

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 7:57 am

Hi Carradee,

Interesting! You use the Carradee name but link to the Misti website. That approach adds a bit of confusion, but if the benefits (like you mentioned gaining fans from your MMO time) outweigh that, then it might be worth it for you. You’re correct that “Carradee” is unique and memorable, so that name definitely works for building recognition. The challenge will be tying it back to your author work. Good luck and thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Carradee June 7, 2011 at 8:12 am

Yeah, I think it takes a bit more work to build name recognition—because I’m building for two names, not just one—but the benefits outweigh it, for me.

Still, like many things I do, it works for me, but I don’t recommend that others follow suit. (For example, I design my own book covers and rely on friends to beta my stories. Bad idea, for most folks—but I have several graphic designer friends to give me feedback, and my friends will crumple up a story and chuck it at my head if deserved.)

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 8:19 am

Hi Carradee,

LOL! Exactly.

The point is that you’ve thought this through and made a conscious decision about how best to build a brand for your situation. Many people use monikers just because they hadn’t thought about the branding issue. Thanks for bringing up the topic! 🙂

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Kait Nolan June 7, 2011 at 8:03 am

Kristen Lamb talks about this a lot in her book We Are Not Alone. There are so many people out there who hide behind some cutesy moniker, but as she points out, our books will not be sold under cutesy moniker. They will be sold under a NAME. If you’re not centering all your marketing efforts around building THAT NAME, then you’re wasting your time because readers won’t remember the RIGHT name when they go to buy your books. And face it, people are lazy If they don’t remember you, they will, most likely, go buy the books of the author whose name they DO remember because they branded themselves properly.

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

Hi Kait,

Yes, I agree. That’s where being consistent with our author name works in our favor. Advertising works on the concept of “number of impressions.” Our author name is our brand, so every time we use it, it’s similar to an ad impression when it comes to name recognition and top-of-mind.

There’s a reason I called Kristen Lamb awesome-dipped-in-glitter. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Kait Nolan June 7, 2011 at 8:10 am

Oh one other thing I forgot to say. You made the comment that some people were waiting to see what their publisher would say…that’s really going about things all wrong (them, not you). Because that’s giving up some of your power as an author. Historically authors had very little power in the publishing relationship, despite the fact that publishers would not exist without our product. But in this new age of social media, where authors have an unprecedented amount of control over how their career goes, it’s foolish to give up something THAT important. Authors should maintain as much control as they are able, and that includes building the brand, the reputation that THEY want as an author before their opus ever hits an editor’s desk.

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 8:22 am

Hi Kait,

Yes, very true! And again, I agree with you completely. 🙂

We are our brand. We are our author name. Own it. Be it.

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Rachel Graves June 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

“Dozens and dozens” is perhaps the understatement of the year. I carried a notepad of possible names with me for a while, eventually it was filled. An entire notepad filled with names, sigh. At one point I actually pulled out a listing of street names and started randomly trying them with my first name. I was thisclose to being Rachel First.

But honestly, in the end Rachel First wouldn’t have been so bad. It’s easy to remember, easy to spell, and genre non-specific. Yep, as I think about it, I think your next Blog-of-Great-Wisdom topic should be things to considering in picking a pen name.

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 9:41 am

Hi Rachel,

LOL! Isn’t there a name generator out there on internet somewhere based on the name of your first pet and the street name where you grew up (probably a porn name generator, now that I think about it *snicker*). Thanks for the comment!

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Irene Vernardis June 7, 2011 at 11:59 am

Hiiii Jami 😀

I think that the use of a pen name, first and above all, should be used for marketing purposes. It should be likeable and easy to read, in order to be imprinted for good in the readers’ minds. Readers should remember and very easily the name of the author. If it’s a long name and difficult to pronounce, it won’t be remembered or it will be subject to mistakes.

Take my surname for example, it’s a long and rather difficult name to pronounce and remember (although there are many more difficult). Chances are that someone will at least forget one of the “r”s, the most frequent mistake. And even if not, it is difficult to be remembered. So, it’s not a marketable name. I’ve already chosen my pen name, using my 2nd name and a part of my surname.

In any case, on the inside page of the book, where the info is provided, the copyright is stated in the author’s real name, to be legal. So, the author’s name is not lost to the readers.

In conclusion, the first thing to bear in mind when choosing a pen name is marketability – that is part of the branding. Easy to pronounce and remember.

Thank you for another interesting post 🙂

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Hi Irene,

Yay! Leave it to my commenters to add value. 🙂 Yes, marketing – the ability for a reader to be able to remember and spell an author’s name – is important when considering a pen name.

Also, just a note, in the U.S., copyrights can be registered under pen names. However, if the pen name is not linked to the author’s legal name in the registry, the length of the copyright is limited, per the U.S. copyright office. Copyright and pen name rules are probably different in each country. Ugh. Thanks for the comment!

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Suzan Butler June 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I’ve had two domains parked with potential pen names in addition to my real name in case I wanted to use one. I finally decided to use one because I wanted to write a contemporary YA. Now, I’ve been writing adult steampunk fantasy, but I decided to focus on my currently-more-profitable freelance editing gigs with my real name. I may use that third name I have parked for the fiction. Right now, it’s just hanging out. It’s a lot more work building from the ground up for a second presence, but I’ve noticed it going a little more quickly now than when I was building the first. Possibly because I know what I’m doing now. 😉

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Hi Suzan,

LOL! Here’s to making all the mistakes the first time around. 🙂 Been there, done that. Thanks for the comment!

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PW Creighton June 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Great post. I started using my Pen name because there are too many variants of Phil and Phillip out there to tolerate a google search even with my last name but PW… still dignified and perfect virtual real-estate 🙂

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Hi PW,

Thanks for sharing your story. And isn’t “virtual real estate” a great phrase? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Piper Bayard June 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Hi Jami! I do have a pen name. I chose to do so for two reasons. First, because my real name, K. Miller, is pretty common and doesn’t google well, and variations of it didn’t feel right. Second, because a friend of mine convinced me at 7 p.m. the night before Kristen was sending her final draft of WANA to Who Dares Wins that I should at least deter opportunistic creepy people by using a pen name if I was going to blog, because I was sure to be controversial. (My bio is in Kristen’s book so I wanted it to have the right name on it.) So I chose Piper Bayard. It’ a variation of Pieper Bayard, the Belgian gun manufacturer. I’d just seen it in a gun catalog a couple of days before and thought it sounded like someone’s pen name. Guess it sounded like mine.

I LOVE having a pen name for reasons I didn’t anticipate. It helps me compartmentalize my work and my family life. Since I work at home, putting on my pen name is like going the office. When I’m at Piper Bayard, I’m focused on writing and social media. Also, K. Miller is actually an introvert who doesn’t even keep an answering machine and only answers the phone for family, expected callers, and Kristen. Piper Bayard talks to hundreds of people every week and is happy to do so. It helps me compartmentalize my introvert and keep her feeling safe.

Great post as always, Jami. 🙂

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Hi Piper,

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I can understand the need to wear your “author hat” sometimes and how a pen name helps with that. And you named yourself after a gun manufacturer? That’s fantastic! I love it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Gene Lempp June 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I “almost” used a pen name but after a great deal of consideration and advice from Kristen Lamb’s posts decided to keep my actual name. Well almost, Gene is a shortened version of my first name but it’s what I go by in day-to-day life, so it is my name. At first I thought that Lempp would be an issue, then I did a Google search and there was only my posts to a couple of blogs, including this one. That’s when I realized that I already had a great name, I just had to have faith in it.

Now there could be one future exception to this. I write science fiction and science fantasy (which is a sub-cat of sci-fi). If I decided to write fantasy or horror or paranormal romance I’d most likely consider doing so under a pen name for the same reasons that Bob Mayer is also Robert Doherty, each genre has its own set of distinctive followers and I would want to avoid cross-genre confusion. But even if I did that I think I would always stay Gene.

Great Post Jami 🙂

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Hi Gene,

Yes, my other critique partner (who often goes by “Murphy”) spent her whole life running away from her real name, only to realize that it made for a fabulous author name. So now, instead of “Jan,” she’s Margeanne Mitchell – her real name. 🙂 Sometimes real works best. Thanks for the comment!

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Lynn Kelley June 7, 2011 at 11:03 pm

This is such a helpful and interesting post. I plan on using my maiden name when my edgy YA novel gets published. My other books are for younger kids, and I write under my married name, plus another pen name, BBH McChiller, with two co-authors. So, building three platforms seems intimidating. I need to give this a lot of thought. Thanks.

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Jami Gold June 7, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Hi Lynn,

Wow, that is a lot. It might make the most sense to do social media and branding stuff under your maiden name. The audience for the kids books aren’t on social media (unless you’d be trying to reach out to adults?). And the books with co-authors are probably a joint effort. Maybe your maiden name website could be the main portal to the websites for the others. Each of the websites should have the URL of the appropriate name to help with Google searches.

I don’t know if my rambling helps or not, but I hope it does. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Darcy Peal June 8, 2011 at 12:23 am

Using my real name (as posted) I get 800 Google web results and 140 image results, since most of them are about me or something I have posted I guess I don’t need a pen name.
I just need to clean up a bunch of dead links.

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 8:12 am

Hi Darcy,

Yes, it could be worse. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Jenny June 8, 2011 at 5:50 am

Hey Jami!
Great post. I love your website, it’s so useful. I don’t know whether to use a pen name, I’ve had a blog for 6 months, do you think it is too late to change? I would one day like to become an author, although that wouldn’t be happening right now. A pen name does sound like a good idea. I just don’t know. Thanks for the posts.

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 8:31 am

Hi Jenny,

First of all, it’s never too late to change. As my friend Roni Loren mentioned above, she changed names very late in the game. Her blog was listed under “Fiction Groupie” (rather than her name) and had 800 followers. Her Twitter was set up with her real name. She created a pen name only after getting an agent, and changed all her profiles. She changed the name of her blog to “Roni Loren – Fiction Groupie” just this past weekend after being shamed by Kristen Lamb. 🙂

The point is, yes, she had to rebuild her Google-ability from scratch, but all those blog and Twitter followers had to go with the flow (Twitter allows you to change your handle, you don’t have to start a new account). They might have been confused at first, but they eventually caught on because she kept her avatar the same. (Roni and I met about a year ago, before she changed names, but she’s been so thorough with the switch that I bet I’d have a hard time remembering her real last name anymore. LOL!)

Kait Nolan’s situation was similar to yours. She started her blog before deciding on her pen name. Her blog was listed under a moniker, so she wasn’t spreading her real name out there. She didn’t have too much trouble changing her blog to her new pen name.

This post isn’t trying to make anyone feel that they should throw up their hands and give up because they “started” wrong. It’s never to late to change – but if you’re thinking of changing, it’s better to do it sooner than later. 🙂

Hope that helps and thanks for the comment!

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Jenny June 8, 2011 at 10:55 am

Thank you! That was really helpful. I didn’t expect such a great response.Looks like I’ve got a bit of change to do. Cheers.

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

Good luck and I’m happy to help! 🙂

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Suzanne Johnson June 8, 2011 at 5:51 am

Great post! If I had it to do over, I’d have chosen a pen name to start with since my name is common, but I’ve spent too much time promoting my own (and I do come up as the top two searches for my name in Google). Now, I have written a book in a different genre (para-rom) and my agent thought I should go with a pen name so I picked Susannah Sandlin. LOL. Now when I do a search for that name, I get first, me, then genealogical sites featuring my ggg-grandmother, from whom I stole the name!

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 8:41 am

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for sharing your story! And you’ve done a phenomenal job branding yourself to come out on top with a Google search. I thought about using my grandmother’s maiden name (to honor her), but that would make my name too similar to the name of a character from a cheesy 70’s show. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Catie Rhodes June 8, 2011 at 6:25 am

I use a sort of pen name. Catie is just a diminutive of my longer first name. I thought Catie Rhodes had a sort of ring to it, and Rhodes is my maiden name. I like Rhodes because I’m proud of where I came from. Plus, Rhodes is easy to spell, and easy to remember. And, besides that, life changes as you go along. I’d prefer to use a name that will always be “mine.”

I do not use my “real” name anywhere online. IRL, I’m sort of like Piper describes herself. I’m kind of quiet and boring. I don’t socialize much, and the only people I’d call friends are my family. I enjoy my online socializing and adore the people I’ve met, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t want to build an author brand.

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 8:42 am

Hi Catie,

Yes, I like the spellings of your first and last name together. It’s very memorable – well done. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Lyn June 8, 2011 at 6:48 am

Excellent post, with lots to think about. My married name has a lot of connotations that have nothing to do with me, and it gets zillions of hits. It’s Washington, for Pete’s sake. I’m happy using it in real life, but it drives Google nuts.

So, pen name. You say to use the pen name in all author-y interactions. RWA requires its members to use their real names. How do you get around this?

And yes, it is confusing. There are folks on my FaceBook page who seem to have at least three names, depending on what series they’re writing at the time. I solve the problem by just never speaking to them. Well, mainly by just never speaking, because who knows who is “listening”?

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 8:57 am

Hi Lyn,

Ooo, great question! 🙂 (And I get to share all this obscure trivia that fills my brain. I have a photographic memory, so I remember a huge percentage of things I read – whether it’s important or not. LOL!)

The RWA membership form has a line for pen name, and whenever you do any RWA activities, you can specify which name to use. For example, you can choose to list only your pen name on your Nationals conference badge. On the RWA Yahoo groups (or their new myRWA forums), you can choose your display name.

A big part of branding yourself as your pen name simply comes down to how you introduce yourself to others. If you use your pen name in introductions, or list only your pen name on badges and business cards, that’s how people will remember you.

And I agree with you about how it’s confusing for an author to have multiple pen names. I’m not a fan of the practice unless the genres are very different, like YA and erotica. A local author uses one name for historical romance and another for paranormal romance and works hard to cross-brand them (her Twitter handle is actually a mishmash of both names). But Carolyn Jewel writes the same genres, historical and paranormal, and I have no trouble telling those apart. Hint: The covers are usually quite different. 😉

Thanks for the comment!

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Lyn June 8, 2011 at 9:23 am

Thanks so much for this information. Woohoo! Great to know. Good to have that kind of memory. 🙂

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 9:32 am

You’re welcome! I’m glad my bizarre memory is good for something. 🙂

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Barbara Watson June 8, 2011 at 7:46 am

With a name like Barbara Watson, a pen name beckons. Although I haven’t gone there yet, I’ve considered it, and your post smacks me in the head, saying, “Now is likely the best time.” Before I build an author brand. Before, well, everything. Much pondering in my future.

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 8:58 am

Hi Barbara,

Good luck with your decision. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Deri Ross June 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Really great blog. I’ve been devouring all your blogs on branding the last couple of days (along with blogs from Jane Friedman and Kristen Lamb) and it’s been eye-opening. I do have a question, though, and would love your opinion. I have had a Facebook for years now under my real name, which is Deri Pryor. Pryor is my married name. I’m now divorced, but kept the name to make things easier with my kids and bank accounts and other sundry details. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t, but oh well. The idea that I could turn my love of writing into a career as a novelist wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye, never mind the fact I’d never heard of the idea of branding oneself online. Anything I’ve done online has been under Pryor, and my FB has strictly been for socializing with friends and family. I would say other than a few writing friends I’ve made in the last year or so since returning to college, none of my FB friends have any interest in the writing life. In fact, most of them are friends I made in my previous life as an EMT or FB gamers. Now that I’m getting into writing more seriously, I worry that I will alienate tons of people if all of a sudden I stop playing Frontierville and start promoting myself as a writer (lol, but really I was addicted to that game for a while). I took the step of adding my maiden name, Ross, to my FB name a while back when I began tinkering with the idea of the pen name Deri Ross. Well, it’s not exactly a pen name, it’s MY name, exactly as it reads on my birth certificate (no middle name either), just not one that anyone in recent history would know. I have absolutely no desire to use my ex’s name in my writing career. I’m also engaged to be married, so my last name will change again if I choose to take my new husband’s name.Now, in your previous blog, you mention that FB frowns on people having two accounts, so that may mean that one would have to start a page if they want to separate their two lives. Is that what I should do? And, what tips would you have for promoting that page on my regular FB page to attract a following but without driving my non-literary friends mad? Also, do you think that Deri Ross is a good pen name? The only other one I find in a google search is a realtor in California. Unfortunately, she also has the domain http://www.deriross.com, so I worry about that. Should I change up my pen name, such as adding a fictitious middle initial to make it unique from hers? I thought about adding a K. (ala J.K. Rowling), but when I google that, it turns out DKRoss is a gun manufacturer. Of course, after reading Piper’s post, I think it would be cool, if it weren’t for the domain thing. What do you think? Do I ask too many questions? =)

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Deri,

LOL! Oh, you should see some of my epic emails. 🙂

I know many, many authors who have a personal FB profile and a pen name FB profile. However, that’s against official FB policy. Could they delete one of them without your permission? Sure, but FB could do that no matter what because we don’t “own” anything on FB. So I think that’s a personal call of what you’re comfortable with as far as page vs. profile, breaking FB rules, and potential risk.

As far as how to promote your pen name self on FB, I’d probably start with a status update or page invitation (I haven’t done any page stuff, so I’m not an expert on them by any means) telling everyone you’re pursuing your dream to be a writer and if they want to follow your journey, they can find you “here.” After that I’d mention it on your main profile only when big news happens, again with the link to your other profile or page. Does that make sense?

I like Deri Ross as a name. And plenty of authors have URLs with their name and the word author or books (i.e.: http://www.derirossauthor.com), so that alone shouldn’t stop you. Like I said in the post, go with what feels like “author-you” to you. 🙂 Hope that helps and thanks for the comment!

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Deri Ross June 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Jami,

That all helps me tons! Thank you so much! I’m going to ponder the page vs. second profile for a day or two, but I really appreciate the idea of adding the word “author” to the url. I hadn’t thought of that. I’m just dipping my toes in the water, so to speak, so I hope you don’t mind if I pick your brain some more in the unlikely event that I should have more questions. That was sarcasm, btw. LOL. I’m sure I’ll have more. Thanks again!

Deri

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm

LOL! I hear you. I’m glad that helped! 🙂

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Susan Sipal June 8, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Great post, Jami, as always. I feel like you’re talking to me again as I waffle between SP Sipal and Susan Sipal. I have the advantage that either way, not many Sipals come up (at least outside Turkey)!

Funny story — a few years ago when I had one of my Harry Potter analysis articles published online and fans were discussing it on a forum, someone questioned whether my name was for real. They thought I’d picked a pseudonym to hide a clue and figured Sipal spelled backward was lapis and SP was PS for Philosopher’s Stone! I’d never noticed what my name was spelled backward, but ever since then I’ve decided to make lapis lazuli as my favorite stone. 🙂

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Hi Susan,

LOL! That is funny. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Laura Marcella June 8, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I sort of use a pen name; it’s my first and middle name. It’s more unique than my last name!

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Hi Laura,

Oh, I love your name. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Michele Shaw June 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I’ve thought about this because my name is sort of common, and well…boring. So far, I haven’t made any changes. A google search brings up me and a lawyer, but I’ve considered my maiden name because it is quite unique. Thoughtful post, Jami!

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Jami Gold June 8, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Hi Michele,

Unique is good, but is it also easy to remember and spell? It can be hard to balance between “unboring” and “too unique.” Good luck with it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Sonia G Medeiros June 9, 2011 at 4:41 am

I briefly considered a pen name but decided to stick with my real name instead. I spent a lot of years not liking my first name because it was so out-of-the-ordinary when I was growing up. That and people were forever mispronouncing it. And it was too short to make a nickname out of. LOL. Extremely silly now that I look back. I’m proud of my name now and I want to see it on bookcovers (and the NYT bestseller list of course 😉 )

I didn’t check virtual real estate availability first though. I google okay though…so no worries. There are lots of Sonia Medeiroses but none that seem to be competing in the blogging or writing arena that I’ve seen. Besides, I’m Sonia G Medeiros 😉 I love my middle initial too. Like Michael J Fox. LOL

I had a funny thought. Wouldn’t it stink if you were a writer and your name was Susan Meyer or Stephen King. You’d be forced into a pen name. Sigh. Not to be able to use your real name because there was already a mega bestselling author out there who had it first. And imagine the fun if you did make it to the NYTBS list and somebody “outed” your real name. Oh the confusion. 😀

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Phoenix June 9, 2011 at 6:25 am

Well, it’s not like we’re in the Screen Actors Guild or anything. If your name’s Stephen King, use it. You have as much right to it as that other fellow and it’s not your fault if people buy the book just because of the name on the cover. How long have we been told not to judge books that way?

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Jami Gold June 9, 2011 at 8:18 am

LOL! Good point. 🙂

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Jami Gold June 9, 2011 at 8:14 am

Hi Sonia,

Oh that “outing” is a funny thought. 🙂

I like your name with the initial too. It has a nice rhythm to it with the hard “g” breaking up all the soft “s”s and other consonants. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Phoenix June 9, 2011 at 6:09 am

I’ve got one novel out under my name and plan to write others under the pen name of a supporting character (Bennu Wright) who is a writer and my Twitter ID. I’m torn on short stories. I’ll decide those as I go.
My reasoning, though, is that Phoenix (the entity) surfaces as a significant character and an influential presence in a sci-fi/fantasy series WIP of mine. I’ve already had readers asking me if I see myself in a godlike role after all my worldbuilding in my first novel without even a mention of “Phoenix”. No delusions here, but I really think it would confuse some people, so my use of a pen name is for the protection of the *ahem* vast masses comprising my future audience.

Don’t live wanting. Don’t die wondering.

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Jami Gold June 9, 2011 at 8:15 am

Hi Phoenix,

my use of a pen name is for the protection of the *ahem* vast masses comprising my future audience.

LOL! Love it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Gina Fava March 30, 2012 at 8:17 am

I enjoy your posts very much, and I spend a good part of each morning opening new tabs with links to your other blog articles. Thank you for your helpful advice on so many issues. The pen name discussion piqued my interest, because I recently adopted one. I’ve spent the last week or so building my platform around it, and it’s turned into an invigorating experience. I’m unpublished, querying two novels to agents, and feel almost reborn by the new moniker as I splash it about the various corners of the industry (blogs, contests, submissions, etc.) I’m astounded by the support of my family and friends, whom I thought might question the idea rather than embrace it. My two cents to anyone grappling with the decision–go for it! What’s the worst that could happen?

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Jami Gold March 30, 2012 at 9:42 am

Hi Gina,

Aww, thanks! *blushes and cringes with the hope the older posts aren’t too lame* 🙂

Congratulations on picking a pen name! And thank you for sharing your experience with what that meant to you. I know several people who have become so popular they wish they’d gone the pen name route. Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Valerie M. Feliciano May 4, 2012 at 11:02 am

Hi Jami,

Great post! I am just starting out as a writer. I have been wondering if I should use a pen name or not. I do like my privacy, but I also want to see my real name in print! The name I posted with is my real first name, my married last name, and the middle initial is the first letter of my maiden name. Is this name too long or confusing? And is this enough to (somewhat) protect my privacy? When I did a google search on it, only two results showed up. I would really appreciate your feedback. Thanks!

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Jami Gold May 4, 2012 at 11:21 am

Hi Valerie,

Unless you don’t usually go by your married last name, simply using a different middle initial probably isn’t enough to protect your privacy.

There’s no right or wrong answer here though. Everyone will have different priorities. Some of us want to see our name on our books more than anything else. Others want the privacy. Others want to make sure the name is easy to spell (Valerie works great for that, and your last name isn’t too bad–I’ve seen some much trickier 🙂 ). Others want to use their name for branding–both from the Google perspective and/or making sure their name “sounds” like a writer from their genre.

As far as too long or confusing, no, I don’t think so. I know many authors who use initials. But keep in mind that readers often deem them extraneous, so any Google-ability searches should check for the name without the initial too. Also, shorter names are better on Twitter (longer names/IDs take up more of the allotted 140 characters per tweet), so you might need to go with something like VMFeliciano there.

If you’re looking for other suggestions that might still feel like “you,” what about taking Feliciano (which is slightly tricky to spell) and turning it into Felicity (and using that as your first name) and then your maiden name as your last name? One thing to think about with that, however, is whether you’d remember to answer to Felicity at conferences and booksignings. 🙂 Many use their same first name and use their mother or grandmother’s maiden name for the last name.

I guess my point is there are multiple ways to come up with something unique that still feels like you. But only you can decide what issues (seeing your name, privacy, etc.) matter the most. 🙂 I hope that helps! Thanks for the comment!

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Iain brooks November 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Hi,

This is really interesting as I am thinking of using a pen name myself. I’m an artist / cartoonist and I have been agonizing over what to use – I think Iain brooks is too boring so have considered I.p.brooks but that seems to formal it’s the brooks part I find boring. Iain Peter brooks seems formal but also informal and googling it brings up no one but me, and in fact googling just Iain brooks only comes up with 35 names.
But I want to to some risqué and controversial cartoons and am scared of using my name so as people don’t get put off with my other work which is more ‘realistic’ style of drawing.
So I thought maybe I should use a disguise for the risqué cartoons and my normal name for my other work – but am I splitting my potential audience?
Also I am quite private as a person and think using a completely different name will allow me to set me free on what I want to say socially and politically without feeling a bit stupid and wondering what people think of me when I’m just plain Iain. Plus I have never been successful in my working life as Iain Brooks.

So decisions decisions – I’m currently tearing myself apart wondering what to do! Your thoughts might help me decide! Thanks

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Jami Gold November 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Hi Iain,

I happen to like “brooks” as part of a name, but I also understand the desire to add another level of privacy. 🙂

I know many authors who use different pen names for different genres, but in general, they’re open about using both names so they’re not splitting their audience too much. In other words, they use the different name so their audience can sort themselves (if you like A, check out my work under this name, and if you like B, check out my work under that name) and not so they can keep one name secret from the other.

If you did keep them secret, then yes, you’d be splitting your audience. The authors I know who keep their various pen names secret claim their audiences wouldn’t have any overlap, but I usually don’t agree. If the author can be interested in both topics, why couldn’t some of their audience? (I typically see this attitude from male authors who write science fiction and romance. Like women don’t read science fiction? No, he’s just embarrassed. 😉 Now a children’s author who also writes erotica–that I can understand!)

Good luck with your decision! Unfortunately, you’re the only one who can weigh all the pros and cons and figure out what makes sense for you. Thanks for the comment!

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Iain brooks November 29, 2012 at 5:21 am

Thanks for the reply! 🙂

After sleeping on it and realizing their are not too many Iain brooks out there; I have sort of woke up at peace with myself. I will use a moniker for my more risqué cartoons but will use one that I’ve used for years so its not completely secret. I’ve sort of realized that a lot of people like me in real life and think my opinions are well thought through and I can be quite funny so why hide in the virtual world, I will be all about my work online though – so this will be my public persona – I can still keep my personal life private.

It’s defiantly a relief to stop torturing myself on how to present myself! How long this lasts, we will have to see LOL

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Jami Gold November 29, 2012 at 8:43 am

Hi Iain,

LOL! Yes, most stress seems to be caused by having choices. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Wendy October 22, 2014 at 10:50 am

Thanks for a really great article! I have decided to use a pen name but tell people, so I don’t have to keep up a pretense and make up a story about my “alternate ego.” I am doing research and write on health subjects for men, and thought men would prefer hearing these things from another man. And regarding FB, I realize this is an old thread, but for those that don’t know, and author would post a page instead of a profile. It doesn’t give you the same abilities to get friends, etc, but there could be some advantages. Thanks for a great post and discussion thread!
~Wendy

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Jami Gold October 22, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Hi Wendy,

Thanks for sharing! I’ve never heard anyone say that they wish they hadn’t used a pen name, but I’ve often heard people say that they wished they had. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Dave Withe (Newburydave) November 27, 2014 at 11:23 am

Hey Jami;

It’s me from Twitter. I just found your blog from a link in Marcy Kennedy’s e-book about Twitter for Authors. I signed up to follow you by email.

This topic is a bit of a connundrum to me. I established my onlie handle ‘Newburydave’ back in 2008 on the Baen’s Bar slushpile (Baen’s Author in Training space) when I started to learn the writing craft while recovering from double bypass surgery. (long story , mostly about God and the reason why my misspent youth uniquely qualified me to write spiritually themed Speculative Fiction).

I’ve used that handle exclusively for forum access since then, I started an online Sf author’s peer to peer ccritique site thta has international reach as Newburydave, it’s even my Twitter, Facbook and Wordpress Blog name. You might say that I occupied almost all of the cyber territory as Newburydave. People on line refer to me by that name. I’m about the only hit on a Google search for Newburydave.

Well, I’ve started to get published, mostly due to the friends I made on my my authoars crit site (the Anomalous Sandbox). Not a lot, a few short stories and a Novella; but they are all listed under my real name Dave Withe. I’ve started ghostwriting under my real name as well.

I didn’t realize I had a branding problem until I read Marcy’s book and this blog post.

Guess I’ll have to discuss this with my posse’.

thanks for the wake up call.

Write on sis

SGD
dave

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Jami Gold November 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Hi Dave,

Interesting! It sounds like you’ve done a great job branding yourself, and now you need to tie that brand to your author name. 🙂

You have a couple of different options. You could simply try to announce your author name and book information on all your channels. A low-key way to build that connection–and keep tying them together–is to incorporate your author name and information into your signature on all these forums, etc.

Or you could use Dave Newbury as your author name, as that would create an easier tie-in situation. For example, people wouldn’t question a Twitter handle of @newburydave with a name of Dave Newbury.

Personally, I’d probably go for the latter option unless you have other reasons for sticking with “Withe” for your author name, but only you can make the best decision for your situation. Good luck with figuring out the best choice for you, and thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Dave Withe (Newburydave) November 28, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Jami;

Thank you for the quick response and advice. A lot of pro’s and Con’s there.

I’ve thought of using Dave Newbury but it doesn’t really feel right. Makes me think of the Newbury Book Medallion award for childrens books (such as “Make Way for Ducklings” from my childhood).

Withe has the Pro of being a very uncommon name on this side of the Atlantic, (common as dirt in the UK and Europe from what my son tells me, we were kind of a Pan-Celtic family). However Withe is also a bona fide Microsoft Autocorrection spelling error. My son has to spell his name as With.e for his employer’s paycheck processor to print all the letters. The Microsoft and other SW default is to correct it to With.

I suppose I could use the ancient Erst spelling of Wyth. Have to Google that and see. Our name is the root of the Old Pan-Celtic word for Covenant and Escrow, for reasons from very ancient history.

You also mentioned masking gender as a reason to change my name. I write romances, a few anyway. My most successful short story to date is a historic time travel romance set off the New England coast. Many women, even my wife, asked me when I was going to expand that story into a novel.

My name in Erst is Dewi which might be mistaken for feminine among non Welsh / English women. Don’t know. I did use Dewi Sant as an alias on line once, but my Welsh coorespondents thought I was being presumptous.

Well, thanks for your insights and suggestions. I appreciate your blog. I’ve really got to revive my Blog (a Wordpress.com blog) it has languished for many years. Hope I can be as niformative as you are.

Blessings on you and your labors

Dewi Wyth
(aka Dave Withe, Newburydave)
😉

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Jami Gold November 29, 2014 at 10:03 am

Hi Dave,

Yep, there’s no easy answers, which is why you’re the best person to decide how you want to proceed. Dewi is cool, and you’re right about how that could mask gender. And I kind of love the Wyth spelling. 🙂

But this is about you and not me. Good luck finding something that works best for you! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Vee January 21, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Is there a legal process that has to be taken before assuming a pen name? Does it have to be registered somewhere to be able to claim legal rights to it? I would like to use a pen name but want to ensure I take the right steps before doing so. Thank you in advance for any information you could provide me.

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Jami Gold January 21, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Hi Vee,

I’m by no means an expert, but as far as I know, any legal requirements depend on how deep you want to use the pen name. Just to use one on a book cover and social media accounts? No, you don’t need to do anything in the legal system (at least not in the U.S.).

But if you want to use that name for doing business–setting up bank accounts or whatnot–then yes, you’d probably have to set up at least a DBA (doing business as). Those requirements change from state to state in the U.S., and I have no idea about international structures. I hope that helps. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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shayla mcbride September 29, 2016 at 6:24 pm

Here’s a cautionary tale. Honoring my Italian roots and my mother’s long-ago nickname for me, I picked the name Naura Milano as my primary pen name. Got the e-rights, created the first blog/website. Only then did I have smarts enough to Google it. Result? A gazillion hits for Natura Milano, an Italian cosmetics firm (maybe…it was all in Italian). So, I decided to honor my Irish roots instead! Googled that: success! Under 500 matches! The next nom de plume I’ll do in the right order: check first.

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Jami Gold September 29, 2016 at 6:45 pm

Hi Shayla,

Yes! In my “be Google-able” post I linked to in the post above, I mentioned that step of Googling first, but thank you for the reminder here! 🙂

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