Did you know that Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, being outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare? In contrast, little-known romance author Mary Westmacott doesn’t even compare except… she just happens to be one and the same person.
Many authors decide to write books using pen names, for a variety of reasons. Making the decision not to publish a specific book under your own name might have taken you some time and deliberation. However, coming up with pen name ideas, one of which will grace the cover of your book, could be the cause of many sleepless nights.
We’ve rounded up some tried and true tips to help you figure out how to choose a pen name for your Kindle book. And if your creativity fails you, we’ve also found some very effective pen name generators.
Before we jump into those details though, let’s talk a little bit more about why you might want to write under a pen name in the first place.
Why Authors Use Pen Names
If your name is hard to spell, frustratingly common or if it can be mistaken for an inappropriate double entendre, choosing to write under a pen name might just be easier for you as an author.
There are a few other deeper, more practical reasons you might want to consider when choosing the author name of your next book.
Gender Specific Pen Names
Historically, female authors were considered unqualified to write books worth reading, so some would write under a man’s pen name to make their material seem more valuable. The Bronte Sisters originally published their work under the pen names Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell, for example.
Before you start thinking this misogyny is a thing of the long-gone past, this perception remains true to this day in certain genres and is still a somewhat common practice. Instead of viewing it as solely as discrimination against women, you might consider it good marketing.
For example, the science fiction genre has a male dominant readership, and publishers have been known to suggest male pen names for their female writers. One of the most famous science fiction authors of our time, Andre Norton, is actually Alice Mary Norton, though she legally changed her name back in 1934.
If you know your audience well, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a pen name that will help your readership better relate to you, whether you’re a woman writing under a man’s name, or a man writing under a woman’s name. In fact, following gender bias has been shown to be an effective way to increase reviews for your books, which is one powerful way to increase sales.
A few notable genres that have expectations about the genders of qualified authors include:
Male Dominated Genres
- Fiction: science fiction, action & adventure, horror, thrillers
- Non-Fiction: war, sports, science, economics, technology, engineering
Female Dominated Genres
- Fiction: romance, family, chick lit, erotica, Christian
- Non-Fiction: relationships, memoirs & personal narratives
While writing under a pen name might not do anything to address the issues of gender bias in the field of writing, it can be a strategic marketing and sales technique.
Writing In Multiple Genres
Using a pen name isn’t all about gender inequalities all the time. If you decide to write in multiple genres, it can be a good idea to create a pen name to avoid confusing your audience.
The immensely successful science fiction author Isaac Asimov used a pen name to avoid having his own name associated with a young readers’ novel that was commissioned to serve as the basis of a television show.
Horror author Stephen King uses a pen name to allow him to publish more prolifically without watering down his high-value name brand.
And, as we’ve already mentioned, Agatha Christie published her romance novels under a pen name so that her loyal crime-loving audience wouldn’t become disillusioned with a change of pace.
If you’re looking to publish in multiple genres, using a pen name can help you grow unique, loyal audiences for each one.
Maintaining Your Privacy
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with predicting huge levels of success and fame for yourself and, if that’s the case, you may want to consider a pen name in order to protect your privacy.
Paparazzi may follow Hollywood celebrities closer than authors, but you can bet J. K. Rowling has her fair share of fans harassing her for autographs. If you’d like to keep yourself out of the limelight, a pen name is one way to help achieve a degree of anonymity. It’s not foolproof, but it will help.
If you’re planning on writing on a very controversial topic, you might not want to have your name openly associated with the content. There’s nothing wrong with having strong opinions that close-minded people might take offense to, and a pen name can help keep you safe.
Similarly, if you’ve already made a name for yourself in a specific field and you don’t necessarily want to split the attention or be associated professionally with the genre of writing you’ve chosen to pursue, a pen name is a logical choice.
How To Choose A Pen Name
Now that you have a great why, it’s time to start generating pen name ideas. It might seem easy at first, but this is a big decision that you’ll want to put some thought into.
The first thing that you’ll want to consider is who your audience is. If you get to name yourself, you may as well choose a name that your audience will be able to relate to.
We’ve already discussed gender, but if you know you’re targeting either male or female readers, choosing a pen name of the same gender will automatically make you seem more relatable.
If you know the age of your target audience, you can do a google search for popular baby names of that generation. For example, if you’re targeting men in their mid-30s, you might choose a name like Michael, Christopher, or Matthew, which were 3 of the most popular baby names in the 1980s.
For last names, knowing the demographics of your target market can help. Searching for last names that are most popular in a certain state, ethnicity or income bracket can help you choose a name that your audience is more likely to be familiar with. If you share a name with someone in their peer group, they’re more likely to subconsciously relate to you. You can even use two of the most popular first names from your previous search, such as Christopher Matthews.
Some authors choose their pen names to relate to their genre, more than their target market. Short erotic fiction author Rebecca Noon choose her pen name so that she could encourage her audience to “enjoy a nooner” and thriller writer Sam Bourne’s name was inspired by the Bourne Identity, a movie almost all thriller readers would instantly identify with.
When you’re naming yourself, you have full creative license to become your target reader’s ideal author.
The Best Pen Name Generators
If renaming yourself is causing you too much stress, you can also spend some time shuffling through pen name generators. Some of our favorites are:
- Name Generator: This is a fun tool to play with and it gives you tonnes of creative pen name ideas based on a series of questions you have to answer, including the name of the first street you ever lived on. It’ll generate names appropriate for different genres and even predict the title of your future best-seller in that space.
- Fake Name Generator: This site not only helps you generate a pen name based on gender, age, ethnicity, and country, but it also sets up you with a complete persona to help you visualize your new identity.
- Reedsy Pen Name Generator: Reedsy knows books and it stands to reason that they’d know how to generate a pretty good pen name. This is a very simple generator, allowing you to input the first letter of the name you want generated, as well as choose a gender and language of origin. Despite its simplicity, after generating tens of tens of names, somehow they all sounded very authorial and we were quite impressed with the tool overall.
- Fantasy Name Generators: This site will generate 10 random pen names for you to choose from depending on the category you select. It’s the most basic of all the generators on our list, but sometimes basic is exactly what you’re looking for.
- The Legit Pen Name Generator: This is a quiz-like generator that takes you through a series of questions before providing you with a pen name. In all honesty, the quiz itself built-up the suspense so much that it’s hard to say if the pen name generated lived up to the intrigue. You’ll just have to try it for yourself.
How To Create A Pen Name
Before you get too committed to the pen name you’ve chosen for yourself, there are a few more considerations to keep in mind.
Part of the “how to get a pen name” process is making sure that you’re the only author who is going to be writing under that name. Doing a Google search, Amazon search, and possibly even a trademark or copyright search through the USPTO are good ideas.
Our final tip on pen names is to check the availability of a domain name before you make any final decisions. Locking in your own url is a very strategic marketing and sales move and should be a consideration when it comes to choosing your pen name.
Once you’ve locked in your decision, it’s a fairly straight forward process to set it up on Amazon through your already created KDP account.
Deciding on a pen name, whether you choose your own or use a generator, can be a fun experience, but always keep in mind that you’ll have to maintain this name for as long as you want your book to be read – which could very well be forever. It’s worth putting some strategy into and making sure you feel confident about the name you choose.
Your new pen name will be a part of you forever, and you should be proud of it.