Choosing to use a pen name can be a tough decision. Don’t think of it as losing your identity, rather gaining an extra personality. Knowing you want a pen name is only half the battle. How do you choose a pen name?
1) Narrow Down Your Genre
You should already know what genre you are writing for. If you don’t, stop everything and figure that out. Narrowing down your genre is the first step in getting to know your audience. Consider names that flow well with your chosen genre. For instance, if you write for children, think light-hearted, easy to pronounce names. Likewise, mysteryous names for the mystery writer, sexy harlot names for the romance author, and a great detective sounding name for the crime or thriller author.
2) Variations of your Own Name
If you aren’t looking to stray too far from your given name, start with some variations. Use your initials and keep the last name. Try out your middle name as first name, or first and middle. You can also do some variations of your name. My name is Michelle so I could use Mich, Elle, Chelle, Shell, Shelly, Michael, Mitchel (which I use), Mitch, and so on.
3) Name Generators
I love all the name generators found online these days. They are perfect to use when naming characters and places in my books. Why not use one to find a good pen name? Here are two you can try:
If you know anything about the Actor’s Guild, no two actors can have the same name. That isn’t necessarily the case in the writing world, but it should be an unwritten rule. Your name should be as unique as the books you create. Therefore, once you narrow down a few pen names, run them through some search engines and see how many hits you get. Likewise, run the name on Amazon to see what sort of competition you would have. Ideally, you want a name that is not already taken; this will ensure you dominate any search engine as well as give you the ability to purchase the domain name.
Choosing a pen name opens a world of opportunity. Once you figure out some basic tips on how to choose a pen name, the process can be both entertaining and exciting. Who knows, perhaps you’ll come up with a few great character names in the process. Happy hunting!
People are often curious about what an author’s writing process looks like. Every author has their own style and their own process for completing a novel. Below, I list out what my typical writing process looks like.
My ideas come from everywhere. It may start with something I read or watch, and wonder would happen if they made a different choice. It could start with a simple idea such as writing a story about Christmas or about fairies. My current work in progress all started with a Fairy Door; I wanted the Watson children to go through a fairy door. I crafted my story around that idea.
Whatever the idea may be, it is normally a short thought or sentence that I build a story around. “What if the elves tried to ruin Christmas?” or “What if the kids turned into fairies?”
I don’t do outlines. I tried it once and ended up changing the entire book halfway through, making the original outline a waste of time. I consider my first draft the outline of the book.
I start with my premise and idea and I write. I write books straight through, beginning to end. I let the book unfold as I’m writing. I know who my main character(s) will be, and I keep a running list as new characters are created. These characters tend to reveal themselves as the story progresses. For the most part, I’m never exactly positive where the story is going to go or even how its going to end.
I love this process because I can honestly say I have no idea where the story will end up. I am often surprised at some of the twists and turns my stories end up taking. Its as if I’m on my own journey and I, mostly, enjoy it. I wrote a rough draft of a suspense/murder mystery book many years ago; at the time of writing it I had no idea who the murderer would be. The reveal came to me near the climax of the book and I knew who it had to be and why.
There are times when a story isn’t quite coming together for me. I may not like where its headed, I may be stuck on a certain part, or I just can’t get into a certain character’s head. I try to power though and just keep writing, but sometimes I must put a pin in it. If I really get stuck, I walk away from the book for a while. Sometimes, I put the book away for a long time and work on something completely different.
I really struggled with my current book about the fairy door. The story wasn’t flowing the way I wanted it to, and while I had written some good stuff I was stuck at where to go next. I had to shelf it and move to other things. Then, out of nowhere I had an idea that turned the book around. I can’t go into much detail or I’ll give too much away right, but I’ll revisit this later.
The main goal of the first draft is to write and keep writing until the story is done. This will be my incredibly detailed outline and from here I have something solid to work with.
Once the first draft is done, I let it sit. Sometimes as little as one week, and sometimes as much as one month. Then, I rewrite the entire thing. I use the first draft as my guide, copying the parts I like and reworking the rest. I start this in a brand-new document as if I’m writing for the first time.
After this draft, the story is usually much better and with more detail. Everything flows together well and the parts I may have skimmed through, just to get it written, are fixed. At this point, I’m happy with the story and, if for any reason, I feel the story needs work I do this entire process again until I’m satisfied.
Now, this is when things start to get interesting. The first edit is me reading through the draft and make changes. I correct spelling and grammar errors and make sure the story flows well. During this phase, I like to hide in my office with the door closed because I have to read out loud to hear how it sounds. Once I make changes and I’m happy with the story; it’s time to send it out.
Next, I send my story to two of my faithful critics. They read through the story, point out plot holes, suggest word upgrades, help with sentence structure, and give their overall opinions. Of course, they check for spelling and grammar as well. I have two people I use, family/friends so it doesn’t cost me anything but a few hits to the pride.
Once I have my two manuscripts with edits back, I go through them. I put on my thick skin and read through the suggestions. This is the hardest part for me. This is where the constructive criticism takes place and I have to take it all with a grain of salt. After the initial zing, I can see how changing parts of the story only make it better. With each edit and each book I write, I know my writing improves.
I read through all the edits, most of which I accept, but there are a few suggestions I don’t use. I know how I want the story to go and I know my characters well; some suggestions don’t mesh well with either of those things. However, I take all suggestions to heart and think them through. Normally, I find some sentences or paragraphs that need to be reworked based on edits, which I will highlight and take notes for the next edit.
After making suggested edits, I go back and read through the book again. At this point, I work on the areas I highlighted and aim to tighten up the story.
At this point, I am also looking at chapter length, meaning word count. I am currently writing lower middle grade chapter books and they like consistency. They want to know each chapter will be roughly the same length. I have found ten pages per chapter is a good goal; this is ten pages in the completed book not in the Word document. For me, this is roughly 1050 words per chapter give or take: no less than 1020 and no more than 1080.
Getting these numbers to work can be, well, work. Not to mention I’m also looking at my final word count, which for my particular genre is around 10K total words. It can be a chore to get these numbers where I want them to be. It often means a lot of chopping huge chunks of the book. If a sentence or paragraph doesn’t move the story forward, then it must go.
2nd Outside Edit:
Once I’m satisfied with the story, it’s time for a professional copy edit. This is where I pay someone to read my book, make changes, correct spelling and grammar, check for inconsistencies, and help make sure the story really works.
Again, this is where I put my ego on the shelf and prepare myself for the “red ink” return. This constructive criticism can be a bit tougher because I am paying someone to be bluntly honest. I remind myself this is all to make the story better.
Once I receive the manuscript back from the editor, it’s time to get serious. I review all the suggestions and make the necessary changes. Then, I read through the book as many times as it takes until I’m satisfied with the finished product.
From here, I move on to preparing the book for publication, which I will discuss in an upcoming blog series on Self-publishing. This is my basic writing process from idea to final draft.
One of the top questions budding authors want to know is if they should use a pen name or their actual name. What are the main reasons for using a pen name?
A brief history lesson: Back in the day, or many moons ago, or whatever phrase you like to use when referencing a time long ago, women weren’t “allowed” to write for profit. Therefore, women, being the intelligent humans they are, wrote under male names and made millions. Well, maybe not millions but at least they were able to get their work published and read.
Fast forward to today, and pen names are not as necessary as they once were. So, why do people choose a pen name at all?
1) Common Names
My given name is Michelle (Peterson) Miller. A very common name. We’ve all done a Google search on ourselves…haven’t we? My name brings up pages and pages and still more pages of sites.
New authors face an uphill battle from day one, attempting to get their books in front of readers. If readers can’t find you, how will they know what a fantastic product you have for them?
I knew I wanted to be easy to find, and therefore, a new name was essential.
2) Hard to Pronounce Names
I think my name is pretty simple, Michelle. Still, I can’t tell you how many times I get called ‘Melissa’ or ‘Miranda’ or some other girl name that starts with ‘M.’ I can only imagine life with a more complex name.
Again, new authors face a difficult challenge. We work hard to get our books in front of readers. In turn, we hope our readers not only enjoy our books but recommend them to their friends and family. If your name is too hard to pronounce, those recommendations can get lost in translation, so to speak. “Oh, I read this great book. What was that author’s name? It was something different, Rosalusamontogin, or something like that.”
It’s something to think about when writing your first book. If people can’t remember your name, they may not recommend you or look to find more information about you.
3) Sexism and Racism
I hate to go here, but unfortunately, sexism and racism run deep in the book world. I am part of many author and reader groups; and shudder at some of the things people say. “I never read female crime writers; they don’t know that world.” “Men can never write romance correctly.” “I won’t buy a book by an (ethnic group) author; they aren’t writing for me.”
Writing is a very male-dominated business, believe it or not. There is a reason J.K. Rowlings used initials instead of her first name (hint: it made her gender-neutral). She then chooses a male pen name (Richard Gilbreath) when she moved to suspense/thriller books. Several other famous authors have done the same (Looking at you Nora Roberts/ J.D. Robb). You can read about J.K. Rowlings pen name here.
In Romance, the roles are flipped. Many men will choose a female name to gain recognition in this area. I went the J.K. Rowlings route and chose Mitchel.
4) Writing in different genres
Some writers love to bounce from genre to genre. I get it; if you have a story to tell, don’t let the boundaries of genre stop you. Keep in mind, if you create a following in Romance and then jump to Horror, you may lose part of your audience. Likewise, if you get your start writing children’s books and switch to romance, there may be a few angry parents.
Perhaps you are writing more as a hobby. You want to test the waters, see if you can finish a book, try to publish on your own, and you just aren’t ready to share this part of your world with anyone. Some people simply want to keep their private lives separate from their public author persona. It can be fun to play an author role and hang that hat at the end of a busy day.
There are many reasons why someone may want to use a pen name. The question remains, Should I use a pen name? The only person who can answer that question is you. At the end of the day, it’s up to you.