Saturday, 9 August 2014

You Need a Pen Name and Shit-Hot Rod Is Already Taken

Signs of a problem: web browser open on baby names; another tab open on search results for ‘Shit-Hot Rod’; you’re surrounded by practice autographs.

The symptoms: confusion; strain; feeling overwhelmed.

Your first problem was hoping to call yourself ‘Shit-Hot Rod’. Remember what I said about modesty? In addition to making you look unfashionably arrogant, if you choose a first name like ‘Shit-Hot’ you are setting particularly high standards. Yes, you must believe that you are shit hot, but it’s best to let the reader conclude this for himself. Unless you have start-up capital, you might not be getting your debut novel professionally edited, so it’s best not to hand sharp-eyed readers opportunities to be any more smug than is absolutely necessary. A macho name matched with a typo is just inviting mockery.

The next thing to do is consider the genre in which you wish to write. Picking a genre and sticking with it (at least at first) has been shown to help build a following with more speed than having an inconsistent style. Snaring readers with Hearts and Devotion – A Love Story, then bringing out The Whore Killer – A Gritty Crime Slasher could confuse, not to mention alienate, your existing readers.

Once you’ve picked a predominant genre (or genres), select a pen name that goes with it. You might get away with Dick Bullet if you write old-school crime thrillers, but such a name might have the wrong tone for a romantic title. Similarly, Tiffany Feathers might not inspire confidence in a writer of political, action-packed war novels.
Book stores often filter words. The blacklist for reviews can be different from the blacklist for book details, so even if you can persuade stores to let you call yourself Shit-Hot Rod, reviewers might be banned from using the pseudonym, thus creating an extra barrier to collecting ratings.

Another thing to consider is the length of your pen name. Whilst something individual will help you get noticed in online stores, you will soon tire of having to type Camellia-Rose F. Monroeberry-Smith Junior, not to mention the struggle you’d have keeping tweets to 140 characters.

Having chosen a pen name, make sure that you check the web for namesakes. It’s true that ‘Draco Malfoy’ is a popular search term, but people are unlikely to come upon your book when there are hordes of wizards to sift through first.
It’s also worth checking that the domain name and Twitter handle for your pen name are available. A URL like www.mark-smith-8.com does not inspire confidence.

Have you chosen your pen name? Good, now you’re one step closer to becoming a totally splendid hotshot author.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By David Wailing
www.davidwailing.com

Lots of good advice there from Rosen. I would add a simple question: do you really need a pen-name? What’s wrong with your own?

As a young writer, I was a bit embarrassed by my surname, since it literally sounds like someone crying out in pain. Or firing a harpoon into a sea mammal. So I announced my pseudonym would be ‘Damien Wade’. It sounded so mature, so snappy, so dark and dangerous! I visualised how cool it would look on an embossed hardback cover. Publishers and readers alike would love Damien Wade much more than silly old David Wailing!

Only once I was a proper grown-up… this would have been, ooh, a couple of weeks back… did I realise what a pretentious nob I was. (Just saying the word ‘pseudonym’ out loud in public should have been a giveaway.) It’s the quality of your writing that people care about, not what you’re called.

Plus, sometimes having a slightly bonkers name can work in your favour, as Rosen Trevithick will surely agree. It certainly helps if people are Googling you. Don’t you want your old school mates to discover you’re now a totally splendid hotshot author?

Rumours that I’m considering using the name ‘Drake Howler’ to write erotica about sea mammals are completely unfounded.

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