“The most important part of a product is the name”
-- Pointy Haired Boss from Dilbert TV show
Pen name, nom de plume, author name, whatever you call it, it’s what you put on your business card, book cover and how a potential customer finds you. Choose wisely or not only will nobody have heard of you, they won’t be able to find you. If you aren’t an author, but are starting a small business, just pretend I’m talking about selecting a business name instead.
Before It’s Too Late
In an ideal world, you need a name that is consistently used before you first get published. If you change it after, it gets harder. My friend Jody has a real name that matches another author, so she researched and chose a pen name. Then she discovered that name was confusing people who knew her and introduced her at events. She’s farther up the ladder than I am, and has books out. Now she has to deal with setting up her new new name, and deciding what to do with her old books. While I’d normally say, “Be like Jody”, not this time. I know she put work into deciding her pen name the first time, and she’s capable of handling it. I want you to be forewarned with everything I’ve learned.
I can sum up how to decide if you need a pen name with the little quote I made up:
Use a pen name if it solves a problem for you
You might be writing sensitive work and don’t want your employer or family to know. Or like Jody and I, your real name shows up as other people in Google. Know that in the 21st century, pen names don’t hide forever. Somebody will connect the dots on your accounts and figure it out. But it will help you build a brand, and keep your day job separate.
You’ve got three patterns to choose from:
Use Your Real Name
Use Initials/Maiden Name
Make Up a Cool Name
Assuming you haven’t decided on a name yet, take a few minutes to jot down some names for yourself and go through the exercise.
Checking On Your Name
The goal is to find out if a name candidate is already in use. Unlike gas stations that are happy to build across the street from each other, you do not want to compete. The ideal name has nothing near enough that if a potential customer searches for it, they’ll find you.
The first step is to check Google.com and Bing.Com, the top search engines on the planet at the time of this writing. You need both, because their results vary. Type in the name and see what comes up. Ideally the results will be vague, and not a specific person or company’s page.
Next, in the browser address bar, type in a URL with the name as the domain name. In my case, that’s http://klforslund.com to see if anything comes up. A site may come up that clearly looks like somebody’s using it. That kills that candidate name. If you see a placeholder site come up offering to sell it to you, don’t panic, but you MIGHT have to pay more for it. If the browser says “404 page not found” or similar error, you have hit the jackpot. Nobody owns it and it will be cheapest to buy.
You’re not done testing that name. Head over to Amazon and search for the name there. You want to be very certain no other author (especially living) is using that name and Google might not have indexed it yet. Again, you’re looking for “no results found.”
Another test is on social media, if you have an account already, or have a friend who does, use it to search within the tool for that name. An end goal is to have a website and social media presence, so avoiding any real people if possible is best.
I had my real name, KL Forslund and my steampunk persona Kensington Locke. Searching for my real name turned up several prominent people in Sweden. Like Jody, I didn’t want to try to fight for position with real people. My steampunk name, while clever, was a play on a product from the Kensington company who makes locks for computers. Guess what dominates search results and has a bigger budget?
I chose to use KL Forslund because the domain name was open, Google showed no significant results and Amazon and Facebook were also void of existing people. Perfect. If you search for my author name name, you can see I dominate the results. I didn’t need to hire an SEO expert to do it.
In future installments, I’ll break down the process of claiming your name on the internet. So stay tuned. If you have any questions or want to bounce name ideas, please leave a comment.
For more articles in my Author Platform series, click here: