How to choose a pen name

If you’ve read my About Ryan page then you already know that Ryan Colvert is a pen name. There are lots of reasons why authors use pen names  — sometimes it’s business, sometimes it’s personal. In my case, it’s just that my real name is fairly easy to misspell or mispronounce. It seemed better to give people a name that they can easily share.

Once you decide you want to use a pen name, how do you choose one?  What makes for a good pen name?

These are the criteria I settled on when I was choosing mine. I’d be interested to hear if you have other thoughts.

  1. The surname should start with a letter that isn’t at the very beginning or the very end of the alphabet. This may be an out-of-date guideline at this point, but the idea is that you don’t want your book to be on the top shelf (above customer’s heads) or the bottom shelf (by their feet) in the bookstore. You want it to be somewhere around eye level.
  2. The name should be short. You want it to fit on the cover of your book in large letters, so potential customers can see your name from across the room.
  3. You want a name that’s unlikely to be misspelled or mispronounced. I mentioned this as my primary reason earlier — you just want to make it easy for people to talk about you or search for your name on their favorite book-purchasing web site.
  4. Choose a name that is suitable for your genre. You probably wouldn’t want a name like “Rose Lillypetal” if your stories are full of graphic descriptions of monsters disemboweling their victims.
  5. Make sure the domain name and twitter id are available. Google the name and check Amazon as well to make sure that you won’t be confused with someone else, especially another author.

Strangely, I didn’t choose Soren Kierkegaard as my pen name. The picture above was taken in the cemetery where he’s buried when we visited Denmark.

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