…is hard to spell, pronounce or remember?
A writer sells a product, but that product keeps on changing names. Your books or short stories have different titles. What doesn’t change is your name. That’s your branding. And we tend to buy products of a brand we trust, right? If Sally Sullymunder wrote a great book, you’ll buy her again.
So you want a brand name people will remember, and be able to pronounce when they’re talking to the bookseller or telling their sister what they want for Christmas, and spell if they’re looking you up on Amazon or Google.
You might immediately say, yes, but what about Ondaatje? Didn’t stop him from being successful did it? I don’t know how to pronounce Cherryh, either, and I have trouble remembering if it’s Fiona McIntosh or Macintosh. None of those things have stopped those writers. (Larke, btw, can easily be spelled Lark.)
And what if your name is Ann Smith. Is it too common to be distinctive? Maybe the Cherryh was a plus, because people didn’t forget it?
Let me say here I would rather be Ondaatje than have something too common. My French publisher is Pygmalion. Recently I wanted to find their webpage. Have you any idea how many “Pygmalion” hits you have to sift through to find a French publishing imprint? When someone googles you, you want your name to be up there, not someone else’s, or worse still, lots of someones. There are very few Glenda Larkes in this world.
(Here’s an irony for you: Google “Noramly” and you get over 25,000 hits, and every one belongs to either me, my husband, or one of my daughters…and all the people who spelled normally incorrectly.)
Is your name appropriate?
What do I mean by that?
Well, if your name is Candy Truelove and you want to write hardnosed political thrillers or police procedurals, you might think about a pseudonym. Remember it’s about the branding. I suppose you could also argue that the combination of Candy Truelove and the title “Macabre Murders in Manhattan” might be memorable…
And then there’s the whole gender question…
Unhappily, there is a lot of evidence out there – some, but not all of it, anecdotal – that a lot of men will not read books by women. For example, see here. There’s a lot less evidence for the opposite. If you don’t believe me, google “men won’t read women writers” and see what you come up with.
I didn’t know this was the case when I started out. It would never have occurred to me that it was true! I had much more faith in men than was actually justified…
Quite frankly, if I was looking for a pseudonym now, I would go for a gender neutral name: Morgan, Kelly, Terry, Kerry, Robin or something like that.
Of course, as a feminist, you might want to say you will stick with a female name, dammit, and show them what they’re missing! If so, I salute you.
Men don’t have to worry about this, unless they want to write straight romance. Then I’d say they might need to worry about their sales too if they keep the masculine name (and found a publisher who let them do that).
Women do have one thing going for them: more women buy books than men, and they read more too, at least in some parts of the world. (Google “more women buy books than men” if you want to browse for evidence for that statement.)
The other reasons I gave for using a pseudonym were fairly self-explanatory:
You would rather be anonymous because your books may upset people close to you
You are a very private person and want to keep your private life separate.
You intend to write in different genres and use a different name for each genre
And for not using a pseudonym:
You want everyone to know you write books
You have a real public persona already and that will help sell books
Of course you can still have a pseudonym, and not keep your real identity a secret. Anyone with the slightest curiosity can find out that Glenda Larke and Glenda Noramly are one and the same person. All my friends know I am a published writer under another name.
From the above, you can deduce that there are no hard and fast rules about whether to use a pen name or not. You have to weigh up the pros and cons and decide for yourself.
There is still one more post on pseudonyms to come: how to go about using the pseudonym once you have chosen it, copyright issues, etc.