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How To Pick Your Pseudonym

Pictured: a pseudonym

JK! It’s Rowling.

One of my projects this summer was to self-publish three old novels I have lying around. They’re the sort that I consider good enough to enjoy, but not good enough that my hopefully ever-improving writing style should be associated with them. On top of that, they’re all more or less in the high fantasy genre, one that I hope to avoid in the future. The solution, naturally, is to put them up as ebooks under a pseudonym. However, that choice involves the difficult task of picking a fake name for myself.

Here’s a list of the considerations that I took into account when deciding on my very own pseudonym.

1. Not too fake-sounding

Check out a few pseudonym examples to see what I mean here. Any romance novel, for instance. Ava Bond? Brindle Chase? Erin St. Clair? You can just tell that those names were designed to sound exotic and cool. Other genres with common pseudonyms are similar: thrillers are full of Mike Steels and Jim Chasers. Lemony Snicket clearly wasn’t trying too hard to sound realistic. And I’m not saying that you don’t want to sound cool. But you don’t want to sound like you’re trying to sound cool, and that means trying even harder not to sound cool. It’s circular, I know. But do you want to be the next Dr. Awesome McCoolname? You might. You might.

Also, avoid alliteration. It’s just not believable enough.

2. Punchy

Your title needs to roll of the tongue with a definitive sound. It needs to be quick, but firm. None of this lollygagging around. Try saying the name “William Shakespeare.” It’s long and kinda boring sounding. That’s how you know that it wasn’t a pseudonym. Nicolas Cage, however, has that punch you need. Nicolas is a long name, which sets up the spike of that final, quick name: Cage. The guy started out life as Nicolas Kim Coppola, if you didn’t know. But he knew he needed a little more punch.

3. Varied syllables

This is related to the punchiness: look back at Nicolas Cage. A three-syllable first name verses a one-syllable last name. This makes the name seem more unique and not monotonous; it adds punch. As an example, try saying the name ‘Hieronymus Bosch’ without feeling a sense of power behind the man. It’s impossible. He’s a genius among names. If only that name were a pseudonym, it would be perfect. Still, the guy must have had cool parents.

Best fifteenth century name ever

Heronimus Bosch the stone-cold fox.

4. High in the alphabet

Okay, this is the most crass, commercial point I’ll be making. But if you want to sell ebooks, it doesn’t hurt to have a last name that starts with an A, B, or C. Some people might sort by the alphabet, and you’ll have an automatic foot up on the competition. That’s how the Asylum, a hack film company, works: They’re even moving on to numerical titles, with a popular on-demand title “#holdyourbreath.”

You don’t have to abide by this suggestion if you really can’t bring yourself to follow the same practice as the Asylum. I’ll understand.

5. Fits your genre

This is self-explanitory: just think through the genre that you want to write in, and look at the sorts of names that people use within that genre. People tend to associate emotions or personalities with certain names, as any baby name book will tell you. Normal names like Thomas and Robert are generally safe, if boring, bets. Just don’t fit your genre too closely — see my point number one.

6. The sounds can’t blend together.

Here’s where Nicolas Cage finally makes his blunder: try saying the abbriviated version, ‘Nic Cage.’ See how the two Cs slide together? You practically need to stop after ‘Nic,’ rest for a moment, and then start anew for “Cage.” I can’t be bothered with that: I just always call the guy Nicolas. Make sure you’re not demanding extra time from your audience to untangle the sounds of your own pseudonym. Don’t mix and match any “sh” sounds with “ch” or “th” sounds; don’t put a “b” sound in beside the similar “d” sound. Maybe you can run your finished name past a dyslexic friend to test it.

7. Make it pleasant.

Say “Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.” Now say “Lewis Carroll.” See how much easier that it on the eyes and ears? Dodgson’s publishers did.

Now, at this point, you may be wondering what name I settled on. My own process is almost worthy of it’s own post, but after a lengthy examination of my purview, and a skip through the past authors and actors from which I might be able to cobble together a new name, I settled on it. Adrian Bead. It has a few issues, I admit — it’s an odd name, and a little archaic — but I think it creates an image of a studious, slightly dorky yet slightly fun and cool type, which is just who I would want to author a high fantasy novel.

Who does Adrian Bead sound like to you? Leave a comment and let me know how I did.


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