How do you choose your official author name? What if somebody else is already writing under your name? And then how does that affect your Twitter handle and your Web site domain name?
Tim posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I in the middle of the first draft my novel that I plan to get out through indie publishing in the next year. I am trying to build up my social media users through my blog and twitter with the user name timrgreenebooks for both. Making it easy to find me. Here’s the problem, there is already a published author using Tim Greene. His website is timgreenebooks.com.
From what I have gather, from his site he writes for younger readers while my target audience is YA. I prefer to use Timothy R. Greene as my writing name, but couldn’t use timothyrgreenebooks as twitter name since it is too long, which is why I shortened to timrgreene. What should I do? Should I think about using a pen name, or maybe go by T.R. Greene. I prefer not to go by T.R. as I think too many authors lately have been doing this to copy J.K. Rowling. Though I know she isn’t the first to do that. I want to settle this now, so everything matches up and establish my brand. What are your thoughts?
Randy sez: A quick comment first on privacy. Normally, I prefer to only use the first names of people who ask questions for this blog, so as to respect their privacy. In this case, that isn’t possible, because Tim’s question fundamentally involves his last name. But Tim is clearly OK with that. In order to post his question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page, he checked a box giving permission for me to quote him here on this blog.
Now, on to Tim’s question.
This is a general problem for authors. I’ve faced it and many of my author friends have faced it. I suspect there isn’t any one best answer. But I think it helps to at least make a list of all the available options, along with potential pluses and minuses for each option.
There are actually several decisions to make. They’re related, but they’re also distinct.
Question 1: What author name should you use for your published books?
Question 2: What handle should you use for social media?
Question 3: What domain name should you use for your Web site?
Tim lists a few options for his answer to question #1 as follows:
- Timothy R. Greene
- T.R. Greene (which he doesn’t care for)
- A pen name (unspecified)
And Tim’s listed options for question #2 are:
- TimothyRGreeneBooks (which he says is too long)
And for question #3, Tim lists only one option:
Let me make a few comments, first:
- Authors who have common first AND last names are very likely to have a name collision with other authors. This happens quite often, and readers will not be surprised if they have to do a little searching to find the right Twitter handle or domain name for such an author. (You might imagine that someone like me with a very uncommon last name would be safe. However, a friend pointed me years ago to the NSFW Web site of a woman named Randi Ingerman, which is remarkably close to my name. Randi has worked as an actor, model, director, and writer. I don’t think anyone will confuse me with her.)
- It’s usually not a huge problem to be writing under the exact same name as another author. There are a few exceptions. If your real name is “Stephen King,” it seems wise to choose a different author name. If you’re writing in the exact same category as the other author, it’s a good idea to use a different name than they do. And if the other author writes in a category that might offend your readers, you’re ill-advised to use the same name as they do.
- It’s perfectly OK to use a slightly different version for your author name, your Twitter handle, your Facebook name, and your Web site domain name. Everybody knows that it’s almost impossible to make all these names line up exactly. If somebody knows your author name and wants to find you on Twitter, on Facebook, or on the Web, they can do it with a minimal amount of searching.
- There are many reasons for using initials. C.S. Lewis probably used his initials because “Clive Staples” isn’t all that exciting or memorable. I’ve known female suspense writers who used their initials because they were concerned that readers might think suspense is a man’s category. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some male romance writers have used their initials for a similar reason. I’ve switched to using my initials for my time-travel City of God series, so as to create a little branding separation between those books and my futuristic science-based novels.
- It’s a good idea to always think about the “radio test”: If you’re doing a radio interview and you’re asked for your Web site address, how easy is it for a listener to get it correctly without you having to spell it out? By this test, “RSIngermanson.com” is a bad domain, because that middle initial “S” is too easy to confuse with “F”. This is one reason I changed my domain for my personal Web site years ago to “Ingermanson.com”. It’s still not ideal, but it’s better than it was. In Tim’s case, “Greene” is a problem, because anyone who hears it on the radio will think “Green.” This suggests that Tim might consider using “Green” as his author name to make it more radio-friendly (and it might possibly solve his name-collision problem). I know at least one author who tweaked the spelling of her name to make it easier on her readers.
With those points in mind, let me suggest a fuller set of options for Tim. I don’t have enough information to know which of these is best. That’s going to be Tim’s call. And there are probably other options I haven’t thought of. But these spring easily to my mind:
Author name options:
- Timothy R. Greene
- Timothy Greene
- Tim R. Greene
- Tim Green
- T.R. Greene
- Timothy R. Green
- Timothy Green
- Tim R. Green
- Tim Green
- T.R. Green
Twitter handle options:
- Any of the above with “Books” or “Author” appended.
Web site domain options:
- Any of the above with “Books” or “Author” appended, except “TimGreeneBooks.com, which is taken already.
In my opinion, any of the above choices would be acceptable to readers, with the proviso that Tim should stick with one spelling for the last name—either “Greene” or “Green”.
But I think it would be fine to use different variants of the first name. So Tim might use “Timothy” as his author name but shorten it to “Tim” in his Twitter handle and/or his Web site domain. Readers are smart enough to figure out these kind of minor variations. If somebody really wants to find you, they will.
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 the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.