Your byline is important, not just in its frequency of appearance, but also in how it affects your income. Some writers operating writing businesses use a name other than their own if they pen web copy or advertising, for example. But for some types of writing, such as periodicals and books, your name is your brand identity.
Would you want to take your great-grandmother to Cecelia’s Daffodil Cafe or Death Wish Cafe? Without visiting either eatery, their names bring to mind the ambiance of each. Just as with a business name, your name in the byline evokes a response from readers.
If you were shopping for a picture book for your three-year-old, would you prefer one written by Jack Ripper, or from his pseudonym, Jimmy Rosedale? Which sounds like the author of a thrilling crime novel? Darcy K. Thresher or Dorothy P. Tompkins? Especially for authors wishing to build a following, a recognizable name that “matches” their genre can help sell more copies.
If my name were as unfortunate as “Deborah S. Heavy,” a pseudonym might help sell more copies of my book, “The Big, Fat Answer: Lifelong Weight Management for Good Health.” The military connotation of my last name evokes authority and professionalism, making it ideal for many kinds of writing.
Should you decide to use a pseudonym, choose one that elicits the emotional response you desire from readers. It’s a half step away from naming characters in a piece of fiction, really.
Names with short “i” sounds, like Cindy, Tim, Philip, or Missy, sound softer and more approachable – perfect for a picture book byline.
Names with short “e” sounds, like Ben or Kenneth, sound trustworthy, which can be important if you’re penning a book on investments or a how-to title.
Harsh consonant sounds sound more authoritative, forceful or exciting: Kate, Claire, or Cole.
Consider the derivations of Elizabeth: Eliza, Betsy, Betty, Beth, and Liz. Each one sounds like a different sort of person.
These are just a few examples of how a name’s sound influences impressions. Read the bylines of many titles in your genre to get an idea of the type of pen name that would work for you. Read suggestions in a baby naming book. Search online for the names you consider to make sure you select one that is unique. Using a middle initial can help make it more distinctive. Say the name aloud, and avoid initials that spell something undesirable.
Someone bearing a very common name may consider a variation of his name to distinguish himself from moniker Doppelgangers. Four Deborah Sergeants live in my county alone. One even shares my middle name, though with a different spelling. Since many of my potential editors search online for my articles, it’s important that my name stands out.
Search for your name online. If you receive scads of results for people who aren’t you, consider tweaking your name. For example, “Deb Sergeant” abounds online, but there’s only one Deborah Jeanne Sergeant. (If your name happens to be the same as mine, please go with something else, like D. Jeanne Sergeant, Debbie J. Sergeant, or D.J. Sergeant. Please–it’s better for both of us that way.)
Women should also consider the effect of changing their surnames should they marry or divorce. Every time a name changes, it gets more complicated to show clips to editors. I advise writing women who wish to change their names to hyphenate their surnames in bylines to link it to the old name, and eventually phase out the old name, if desired.
Otherwise, consistently use your byline throughout your work. If you’re “Marcela Maria Hernandez-Gonzalez” for business articles and “Marcy Gonzalez” for children’s short stories, make sure you stick with the right name in all of your correspondence with the respective publishers.
Of course, one’s experience and talent sells more writing than anything, but why let your name make selling more difficult?
Deborah Jeanne Sergeant has written magazine and newspaper articles full time since 2000. Her work has appeared in Home Business Magazine, Lancaster Farming Northeast, Diabetes Self-Management Magazine, Auto Restorer, and many more periodicals. She also wrote The Big, Fat Answer: Lifelong Weight Management for Good Health, available at Booklocker.com. Deborah is very thankful for the unusual spelling of her middle name, chosen by her wonderful big sister who was taking French in high school when Deborah was born. Visit Deborah Jeanne Sergeant online at www.skilledquill.net.