Agent Miriam Kriss On: What’s In A Name? (When Should You Use a Pseudonym?)

Miriam Kriss is an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency representing commercial fiction and she represents everything from hardcover historical mysteries to all subgenres of romance, from young adult fiction to kick ass urban fantasies, and everything in between.

Miriam’s co-agent, Irene Goodman, offers manuscript critiques on eBay every month, starting on the first day of each month, with all proceeds going to charity. Click on the link for more details on these critiques and charity auctions.

 

Aspiring authors tend to be quite focused on the day when they’ll be able to walk into a bookstore and see their name on a book cover. And well they should be, because the road to get there is a hard one and without a lot of dedication it isn’t going to happen. But what aspiring authors don’t tend to give a lot of thought to is whether they want it to be their real name on that cover and if not who it should be instead. Pseudonyms are understandably not something that authors give a lot of thought to before they’re published. But in a world where many aspiring authors are already networking and working to build their platform by blogging and tweeting, perhaps they should be.

An author’s name, real or otherwise, is his or her brand. Ideally that name is going to become a promise to your readers that when they pick up a book with it on the cover, they’re going to be able to count on getting a certain style and caliber of writing and story. Sometimes, when an author is writing in more than one genre, it makes sense to create a kind of sub-brand, a “Coke” / “Diet Coke” scenario that lets readers know that, while these books are written by the same person, they don’t have exactly the same audience. My client Lilith Saintcrow, who writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy under that name, employs this strategy with her YA novels, which she writes under the name Lili St. Crow. In other situations where the audiences for multiple genres are separate, the author may choose to use a completely different name. A famous example would be Nora Roberts, who writes her futuristic mystery novels as J.D. Robb.

Your name is also going to be important when you create your website, which even in a world of increasingly interactive media is a critical part of creating your brand and letting people find out more about both you and your books. So the first step when deciding on a pen name (or even if it would be a good idea to use a pen name rather than your real name) has to be to sure that 1) no other author is using it; and 2) that the URL is available. If you’ve got a pen name in mind and the URL is free, go ahead and snap it up. It’s also a really good idea to make sure your pseudonym something that most people can spell easily, so they can find it in search engines and bookstores. Additionally, if one of the reasons you’re using a pen name rather than your real name is to protect your privacy, realize it is only effective if you don’t leave links between the two, especially online.

Those are the practical concerns. On another level it’s a good idea to make sure your pseudonym feels like the name of the person who you want readers to believe has written your books. Joanna Midnight might be a good name for an urban fantasy author but is a poor name for an inspirational author. Some authors actually have separate personas for their pen names, complete with wardrobes, that they put on for signings and other events where they’re going to be “in character” as the author of their books. I’ve had shyer clients who actually found this very helpful with public appearances.

Finally, when choosing a pen name make sure it’s a name you’re happy being known by and comfortable writing, hopefully you’re going to have to be signing it a lot.

And remember: If you’re looking for a professional manuscript critique for a good cause, go to irenegoodman.com for more details.

 


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3 thoughts on “Agent Miriam Kriss On: What’s In A Name? (When Should You Use a Pseudonym?)

  1. Scooter Carlyle

    I use a pen name for two reasons. I’ve been told repeatedly that my real name sounds like a romance author. I write contemporary fantasy, and the protagonist is a Montana rancher’s daughter. Scooter Carlyle sounds like a Western nickname.

    I teach very young children in an extremely conservative, rural school district. I don’t want my younger students stumbling into my writing online and showing it to their parents. I have a right to freedom of speech just like anyone else, but I thought it best to avoid problems instead of having to mop them up. My music program depends on community support, and I can’t afford to have a break in rapport.

  2. Miriam Kriss

    Hi Kristan,

    That’s a good question. The reality is that unless you’re very very careful, yes odds are good that a person who is determined would be able to figure out your pen name. That includes being careful who registers your domain name, and never linking between the "real" you and the "author" you anywhere online. I know of authors who are scrupulous about it, making sure even to a PO Box in a different town for work and never mentioning online or in public that they have children. But privacy isn’t the only reason or even the main reason some authors have pen names and if it is a branding issue then no, it isn’t a big deal that people will most likely figure it out. It still serves its purpose of telling readers what to expect when they open the book. For example, the Nora / JD thing was a secret when the series first started but then she went public with it to the extent that she actually wrote a book with herself, told in two parts in her two different styles, complete with two author photos on the back as both Nora and JD. Even if you get a new pen name to escape bad numbers on previous books, it’s enough to have the new name, even if people know it’s the same author the computers won’t care and it will let you have a fresh start.

    Cheers,
    Miriam

  3. Kristan

    Very good advice, and something I have been thinking about lately. A follow-up question: do you think it’s an issue that people will probably/possibly find out your true identity, even if you use a pseudonym? In this day and age it seems almost impossible to hide something like that. At the same time, Nora/JD is no secret, and it doesn’t seem to be a problem. But I don’t know if that’s just because of the level of success she has reached…?

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