Names vs. 'Nyms:
Deciding Your Author Name

Jane Doe... Jane A. Doe, PhD... Janie Ann Doe... Or perhaps, “Ann de Baets” is more to your liking. Choosing your author name is an important decision, and there are a variety of factors to consider. Whether you plan to publish under your legal name, or create a new author name, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Should I Use a Pseudonym?

A pen name provides an opportunity for you to share your story while concealing your identity. Below are a few scenarios where this option would be a good choice.

  • Writers of Multiple Genres: If you write both fiction and non-fiction, you may wish to separate your author persona by using different names.
  • Credibility: Depending on your book's subject matter, and your choice of profession, it might be preferable to keep those two worlds separate. For example, let’s say you are a lawyer by profession. Perhaps when a prospective client searches for you online, you don’t want the first thing they see to be your children’s book, Waggy: The Wiggly Warthog Wonder Who Writes.
  • Legal Concerns: Perhaps, your autobiography includes details of unproven accusations, such as, if you were a victim of a crime that has not been prosecuted. Changing everyone’s name (including your own) might be a good choice. This allows you to be honest about your experiences without saying anything that could put you into legal hot water. (See this blog post on defamation.)
  • Safety: If telling your story could put your safety at risk, a nom de plume would allow you to publish your book while maintaining a low profile. Here is one author's perspective on this, in What's in a Name.
If you plan to go this route and need some inspiration, here is a handy website to help you create an anonymous pen name.

    Or, Maybe I'll Use My Real Name?

    For most writers though, a pseudonym is not necessary, and it may even get in the way of growing your platform. Here are a few good reasons to use your real name.

    • Credibility, Take Two: Let’s revisit the earlier example, where you work at a law firm. If you have written a book offering advice to churches on preventing lawsuits, having a presence online (say, a bio on your firm’s website) will help to reinforce that you are a trusted source on the topic.
    • Credibility, Take Three: If you have credentials related to your subject matter, using your real name and including your title, designation, etc., will be an asset for marketing. Many authors want to be humble and hesitate to include their title or degrees. For a potential reader though, this quickly relays that you have authority on the topic and can be trusted.
    • Platform: Ask yourself how you are currently known in the circles you frequent. If you are actively doing speaking engagements, have a website or a lot of followers online, you will want to use the name that you are already known by. That will further aid in growing your platform and drawing attention to your book. Speaking under one name, and writing under another would be very confusing, especially for interviewers.
    • Middle Initial: There is not a right or wrong answer regarding whether you should include your middle initial in your author name. It is slightly more formal, but a great option if you would like to differentiate yourself from someone else.

    Final Tips for All

    Regardless of the name you choose, here are some tips for everyone to keep in mind.

    • Search First: Use Google to search for your name as you plan to list it, typing it in quotations. If there is another author already publishing under your name, or other content not related to you, you may wish to tweak your name (and reconsider that middle initial). You can’t control the internet, but you can be strategic in separating your book from unrelated content that is already out there.
    • Be Consistent: Once you have finalized your author name, make sure that your social media, website, business cards, etc., all use your author name precisely the same way. (If you publish under Rev. John F. Doe, but are simply John Doe on Facebook, your readers may not find you.)
    • Practice Your Signature: Before you have a book signing or other event, make sure to practice your autograph—especially if you're using a pseudonym.

    Still uncertain? Ask your Project Manager for their perspective and they will be happy to provide their professional opinion.

    About this Contributor:

    Jen Jandavs-Hedlin has worked in the publishing industry since 2003, and at Word Alive Press since 2009. She is passionate about reading, writing, and helping authors to share their stories.

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