When you’re writing a novel, how do you decide what author name to use on the cover?
Jessica posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Hi Randy, I love both your blog and e-zine!
My question is whether I should publish under a pseudonym or not. Unfortunately my name (Jessica Smith) is an incredibly common name and so I share it with at least one already published author, although she writes in a different genre to me and uses her middle name too. Does this mean I should publish under a pseudonym instead? Thank you for taking the time to answer my question!
Randy sez: This is a good question and it’s going to affect you for the rest of your publishing career, so it’s worth thinking about carefully.
When I started writing, I though you were “supposed to” use your legal name. So my first several books were all published under the name “Randall Ingermanson.” But NOBODY on the planet calls me “Randall” except telemarketers. Everybody calls me “Randy.” Furthermore, my name is long enough that it causes problems on the cover.
So I’ve recently switched to using the author name “Randy Ingermanson” which feels less formal and more right. Plus it saves two letters on the cover. This has caused me some hassle to make sure that online retailers know that “Randall” and “Randy” are the same person. In the long run, I think it’ll pay off.
It would have been smarter if I’d started off using the right name from the beginning.
Jessica, you have several options, each with advantages and disadvantages, and only you have enough information to decide which is right for you. I don’t know your middle name, so I made one up for you in the examples that follow:
- Use your name: Jessica Smith
- Use your full name: Jessica Gretchen Smith
- Use your initials: J.G. Smith
- Use a pseudonym
The advantage of using “Jessica Smith” is that it’s the name everybody already knows you by. When your friends and family search for you, they’ll find you easily. The disadvantage is that there’ll be a bit of confusion with that other Jessica Smith. However, she’s done you the favor of using her middle name, which leaves you free to not use yours.
The advantage of using “Jessica Gretchen Smith” is that it mostly removes the confusion with that other Jessica. Mostly, but not completely. However, this solution is less confusing than using “Jessica Smith” so it might be a good bet if your middle name isn’t too long. You do need your name to fit on the cover in a readable size font. That would be the main disadvantage I can see–if it makes your name too long.
The advantage of “J.G. Smith” is that you remove the ambiguity with the other Jessica. However, there might be another “J.G. Smith” out there, so this might just trade one ambiguity for another. Plenty of authors use initials. J.K. Rowling and J.D. Robb seem to have done OK that way. For sure, your name will be short enough so your publisher can put your name in giant letters on the cover. But you’ll always have to remind your family and friends to look for “J.G.” instead of “Jessica”.
The advantage of a pseudonym is that you have almost infinite freedom to choose a name that’s unique, cool, memorable, and short. The disadvantage of a pseudonym is that you have almost infinite freedom to choose a name that’s unique, cool, memorable, and short. Plus you have to constantly explain to people why you don’t use your real name. Plus, if you ever make it big, all those jerks who ignored you in high school will never know and won’t beat themselves up for being awful to you.
None of the above is a really bad option. If your middle name is short enough, then that option might be the best. But it’s up to you.
The really critical question is this: How important is it to avoid the ambiguity?
For example, if you were writing sweet Amish romances and the other Jessica were writing naughty erotica, then it would be Xtremely important and you should try as hard as possible to differentiate your name from hers.
However, if you were writing police procedural mysteries and she were writing category romances, it would probably be not much of a problem and you wouldn’t need to work quite so hard.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.