TITLES AND PEN NAMES
Two of the most important things to consider both for the front of your book and for advertising and marketing purposes is the title and the author name.
WHY DO YOU NEED A GOOD TITLE
A catchy title is vital. Something which potential readers will remember and which will attract their attention.
You may already have one. The title could have been the first thing you thought of when the idea came into your mind and you worked a story around that. However, it could be that you’ve worked on the story for many, many months, finished the manuscript, done the editing and proof reading stages and still do not have a title.
WHY IS A TITLE IMPORTANT?
Choosing a title is one of your most important marketing decisions. If you are doing a series, one of the best ways to establish yourself as a writer, the title needs to be something you can tie into subsequent books. The title will be the first thing that makes an impression on your readers.
A bad title will put off readers and potentially damage sales.
WHAT DOES A TITLE DO?
First a title has to entice the reader into wanting to know more about the book. It does that by being intriguing. The reader must ask themselves, what is this about? And want to know more. But remember there is a line between intrigue and confusion and the title must not veer into the latter.
LOOK AT GREAT TITLES
If you are wondering about a title look at those on your local book store, or spend some time online looking. See what titles catch your eye. And try to work out why. Not all great titles are short, sometimes longer ones can pose a question which is irresistible to readers. Long titles can pose problems both for the layout of your cover and also in marketing where occasionally not all of the title is shown because of space constraints. There are long titles that work really well, but longer than 6 or seven words is probably too many.
WHY GENRE IS IMPORTANT
When people are browsing for books they will often choose titles that remind them of books they’ve liked in the past.
Any title you choose must match others of a similar genre. Obviously a romance should not have a title that sounds like a crime novel and of course the opposite way around.
Think of how the title will look on the tiny image which will be shown on the internet. This is where your cover designer will come into their best when they design the cover to make the most of your title and ensure it is eye catching.
Your title needs to unique, but also, especially in the case of non-fiction, having the subject in the title will help searches bring up the book. A book for instance about beekeeping, could be titled, Bee Stings and their prevention, the bee in the title will help search engines. Calling the book Stung will be catchy for a title, but will probably not bring up the book during a search of books about beekeeping.
Be very conscious of trying to entice readers, rather than putting them off. Try to be cryptic, but also to summarise the content. A big ask for just a few words.
HOW TO COME UP WITH A TITLE
If you are stumped for ideas for titles unhook any blocks you may have by free writing. Just sit down and think about the book, its content and come up with any words or phrases that relate to that.
Write quotes, song titles, band names, places. Just let anything come into your mind. If your book, or the series has a central character you can use them in the title, working with a name can help with the hunt for a title. Harry Potter is the obvious one that springs to mind here. You could also come up with a theme, Peter James has a series which all include the word ‘Dead’ – clearly these are not romances!
Using places names can also help. Especially if the setting for the book, or series is significant.
Other words that can help with titles are using phrases, or ideas that relate to the book. Does a main character have a catch phrase?
Try to sum up the context of the book in a few words.
Having one title and then a sub title can also work. My own book After, has the subtitle, sometimes the end is just the beginning. Intriguing as it poses the question what is the end? What is it the beginning of? After? After what?
USE OTHER BOOKS AND AUTHORS
Whilst you must never plagiarise other authors works you can use quotes from other famous books, ’Of Mice and Men’ for instance is inspired by a Robert Burns poem. You can come up with some wonderful phrases this way, which allude to the theme in your book. Biblical quotes, quotes from songs can all be of real help.
If you are totally and utterly stuck there is software which can generate a title for you, which might be worth a try.
You should not have swear words in a title.
Do not refer to other titles or authors.
Do not refer to a trademarked term
Don’t call it a bestseller – or make any reference to the sales rank
Advertisements or promotions must not be mentioned. Use of the word Free can cause problems as people may search for free books and the sales site algorithms will spit out the book.
TEST THE MARKET
If you aren’t sure about the title, or even if you are sure but want to get some opinions. You can do a assessment poll on Facebook. Or use the question to create a post on any of your social media, or newsletters. It is a good thing to involve your audience, and target readers even at this early stage.
Start by asking family and friends, however be cautious as they will usually err to the positive side. While it is great to nurse your ego you really need constructive thoughts plus your friends and family may not be your target audience.
Facebook groups aimed at authors can be a great help, you are asking people who are in the business and whose knowledge will be invaluable.
Survey Monkey is great for getting feedback. Encourage people to share the survey if you can to get the biggest feedback possible. Some may come back with other suggestions for you if they have them.
Playing around with words on a hand drawn book cover can also give you an idea of how the title will look. One word can look fabulous. Can smaller, less relevant words be designed so they do not take up too much space?
Keep trying and thinking and talking and then, sooner or later the perfect title will come up.
Your author name is going to be so much more than just a couple of words on the front of your book. It is going to be something that readers associate with your books, with good quality writing and amazing stories. It is also going to be your brand.
There is a personal choice to be made here, whether you keep your own name to write under, or the alternative is to invent a pen name. There are writers who become so well known as their pen name. Two writers collaborating on a book may use one of their first names and the other’s surname. Another writer uses her children’s first names as a pen name. It may also be, as in the case of J K Rowling, that the feminine version of her name was not considered suitable to be the author of a fantasy. There are some successful male authors who write romance and who use a pen name. You may decide to tough it out and use your own name regardless, but as a marketing decision, use one which will help your career rather than hinder it. Making money is not the time to be bullish about these things, if calling yourself a more saleable name will work better than your own, then use it.
Using a pen name can help market your book as you are treating the whole business as just that – a business, separate from yourself. That can make things easier for a lot of people, who prefer to almost hide behind a different name, taking on the persona of that name.
I’ve a writer friend whose own name is very similar to another famous writer, she rather embarrassingly for all concerned, her included, was given an award, but then discovered the award was actually meant for the other author! Since then she has changed the name under which she writes to avoid confusion. Hard to pronounce names can also be a hindrance and can be got rid of in favour of something easier to pronounce.
Personally I write under two names, children’s titles as Jacqui Broderick, adult ones as Louise Broderick, which is my second name. This came about as I did not own the domain name for my web site, so began another web site with a domain name I did own, – Louise Broderick. After the switch had been made it then became easier to write my two separate brands under different names.
Pros of a Pen name.
You may have a horrible name.
Your name may be similar to other writers, or your gender may not suit your genre.
Your name may be difficult to spell or pronounce
Your name may be very common it could be mixed up.
Your name is the same as another author.
You may want to write in different genres, and so a new name can help avoid confusing readers.
You may want to keep your writing life separate from your business or personal life.
The case for a pen name
You get to choose your name. You can make it romantic, memorable, posher, whatever you like.
You can publish your books without anyone knowing who you are.
You can write about your messy childhood, terrible home while no one will know who you are.
But – people like to know who you are and about you. With a pen name you are then faced with the issue of how to become ‘that’ person. Do you invent a whole persona and background? Can you ‘live’ as that person without anyone knowing.
Using yourself as the author can make things easer for marketing. If you do personal book launches, you tube, podcasts, it is all difficult if you are not YOU! But again this is a decision you must make for yourself.
There are many authors who do successfully use a pen name. So successfully in fact no one thinks of them as their ‘real’ person. J K Rowling, of course, Lee Child, Nikki French.
J K Rowling – when she was first published the publishing company felt her name, Joanne Rowling, would not attract both sexes of a book aimed at boys and girls, hence they said she was to use her initials. As she says she was so thrilled to be published she could have gone along with anything they had asked her to do.
She was later to launch another completely different genre – crime/mystery under another pen name, Robert Galbraith. Rowling said that she had enjoyed working under a pseudonym. Robert was the name of one of her heroes, Robert F. Kennedy and Galbraith came from a fantasy name she had invented for herself as a child, Ella Galbraith. There is a belief that she wanted to write under another name to keep the new titles separate from her Harry Potter series, but when they books did not sell well her ‘real’ name was revealed and of course the books sold.
Lee Child whose real name is James (Jim) Grant. Invented himself as Lee Child, coming from a background in show business it seemed perfectly normal to have a ‘new name’ The writing name came from a family joke. Overhearing a Texan, on a train, talking about a car, the Renault, Le Car, which he mispronounced. Everything in the family was then prefixed with Lee, and then when his daughter, Ruth was born, she became Lee Child and the name stuck.
Nicci French this is the combined name of a husband and wife writing team, Nicola Gerard and Julian French. Both write novels under their own names, but combine their names for their psychological thrillers. The couple live in Suffolk and have penned some twenty novels under their pen name. They write sequentially, one writing a chapter while the other edits and rewrites. Writing is so difficult, I cannot imagine anything more difficult than writing a book with someone. I have the greatest admiration for any friend or marriage partnership who can do this.
Orna Ross is the pen name of Aine McCarthy an Irish writer who combined the names of her two children, Ornagh and Ross to produce the name she writes under. She is a former literary agent, blogger and the founder of the Alliance for Independent Authors, a professional association for authors who self-publish their work She was been named one of the top 100 most influential people in publishing by The Bookseller, the UK publishing trade magazine.
George Elliott was the pen name of British Victorian novelist, poet, journalist and translator Mary Ann Evans. She was one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She wrote seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), and Middlemarch (1871–72). Most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.
Although the trend for female authors being published as men, as women were seen as too brainless to so be worthy of publication, was dying out, she wanted to get away from the stereotype of women solely publishing gentle romances and wanted to have her fiction judged on its own merit. She was already known as an editor and literary critic. Another factor in her decision to use a pen name was the fact that she was involved with a married man, George Henry Lewes.
John le Carré who is in reality, David John Moore Cornwell.
Probably the coolest reason for using a pen name—spies cannot use their own names when they publish books. Call for the Dead, his first novel, was written while he was an MI5 agent, but it was not printed until he had moved to MI6. When he told his employers they told him he had to chose a pen name. He saw the surname, of a tailers shop while on top of a bus, In London.
His name has now become famous for so many fabulous titles, many of which have been made into films, such as The Constant Gardener, The Night Manager, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy amongst others. Quite possibly people in St Buryan, Cornwall have no idea David Cornwell is the famous author.
Mark Twain came up with his name as a result of working river boats. Mark Twain is a term for Twelve Feet. His real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens and it is thought he used a pen name to avoid family repercussions from the subject of his books.
When author Eric Arthur Blair was ready to publish his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, he was concerned that his family would be embarrassed by the stories of their poverty. In order to protect them, he used a pen name. He chose the name George Orwell to reflect his deep love of England. George the patron saint of England, and Orwell the name of a river where he loved to go sailing.
There are also a number of authors who now have writers producing books under their names, these are so well known the name is more of a brand than an author. Steig Larsson died many years ago. David Lagercrantz, was commissioned by Larsson’s father and brother to write The Girl in the Spider’s Web with the names of Larsson and Lagercrantz both appearing on the cover. He died of a heart attack in 2004, having completed three novels and part of a fourth. The first of the trilogy was published in 2008.
Ian Fleming of James Bond fame died in 1964, but his character has lived on in more than 40 novels written by various authors.
Thriller writer Robert Ludlum, author of the wildly successful first three Jason Bourne adventure novels died in 2001. Since his death the Bourne books have been published, written by Eric Van Lustbader. A few posthumous Ludlum books came from unfinished manuscripts, like The Bancroft Strategy.
Ludlum had created the main character and the thematic scenario in which Bourne would operate, with the intention of someone else doing the writing. His name appears in a large font on the front of the book with the actual writer’s name squeezed in on the bottom.
There are all kinds of reasons to use a pen name and equally the same amount for using your own name. This is a decision you can make yourself, as a personal choice.
However there is nothing more satisfying as an author, no matter what name you decide to write under, than to see a finished book cover with your name on the front of it.
If you decide that there are other books you want to write that are in a different genre from another, perhaps one you are already established in, you can invent a pen name to encompass that work.
When devising a web site, if you are writing under multiple names, come up with a brand, or slogan that could be an umbrella term for all of the books, such as books set in the town, or the type of people you write about.