market and publish your bookHow do you know if a pen name is worth using?

First of all, if you’re still deciding whether or not a pen name is a good option for you, here are three good reasons to use a pen name… plus five ways a pen name boosts creativity… plus — to play devil’s advocate — here are seven reasons not to use a pen name.

But for now, let’s say you’re going to go with it. Perhaps you’ve even chosen a couple of possibilities as your new title…

The next step is to make sure whatever you choose is a really good pen name.

By good, I mean marketable, unique, and buyable. Here’s the process for figuring out if a pen name is worth using:

1. Test Your Pen Name on the Internet

Whether you have one name you’re really attached to, or several possibilities, the first thing to do is to test your pen name out online. Type it into a search engine with quotation marks around it — e.g., “Violet Willow.”

You use the quotes so the search engines look for that exact combination of names instead of pulling up lists that feature both names but not together as a unit. For example, the words “violet” and “willow” might both appear on a horticulture website, but that’s of no use to you.

Your first goal is to make sure the name hasn’t already been claimed by a celebrity. And on the same note, make sure there’s no negative ties to the name. You don’t want to share a title with a prisoner at a maximum security facility whose name is linked to multiple online articles about vicious crimes.

Take the same steps and check to see if your pen name is already in use by another author. If it is, research the status of that author. You might be able to compete with someone whose celebrity isn’t yet huge… but it’d be silly to try and be the second Nora Roberts or Lee Childs. You’d never get noticed.

If this doesn’t narrow down your options and you’re still not sure what to choose, pick the option that’s easiest to read. Consider nothing longer than two syllables. This isn’t a requirement, but thumbnails are a reality when readers scan book covers… and name recognition counts for a lot.

2. Claim Your Pen Name

Once you’ve confirmed the name isn’t already in play by someone notable (or notorious), see if you can buy it as a domain name (web address).

Using the example above, the best-case scenario would be to buy Or, if that’s claimed, you can go with variations like or

Then, do the same thing across social media platforms. Create a profile and claim your name on the platforms you plan to use in your self-marketing efforts. That could include any combination of the following:

  • Facebook Page
  • Twitter Profile
  • Instagram Account
  • LinkedIn Profile
  • Goodreads Account
  • Wattpad Account

Do your best to get your profile names to match up whenever possible.

3. Register Your Copyright

To link your pen name with your own published material, you need to register a copyright.

You can do this using your pen name, your real name, or both names. It’s as simple as filing a form and sending it with samples of your work to the U.S. Copyright Office.

4. Practice Using Your Pen Name

Let’s assume you’re going to do well as an author and happy readers will clamor to buy your book and then stand in line for hours waiting for you to sign it.

For fun (and practical reasons), practice writing your new name. Come up with your signature flourish. Get comfortable signing it so you don’t have to pause like a first grader thinking about which letter comes next.

And finally, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you love the name. So refer to these guidelines as advice, not as hard and fast law.

To finding a pen name you love,

mindy mchorse, author and copywriter